• Betsy Fitzpatrick

Sadness or Depression? Tools and Resources to Identify and Destigmatize the Disorder

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

Since 1990, Congress named the first week of October Mental Illness Awareness Week, an initiative aimed to educate the public and destigmatize mental ailments. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 322 million people worldwide live with depression (Source: Our World Data). So, what’s the difference between feeling low and having depression, and what are some useful tools or resources we can use for ourselves or to help others in need?

Confusion between having the blues and suffering from depression is deeply problematic. The identifying characteristic of depression is that it is rooted in abnormal sadness about all aspects of life, while sadness stems from specific situations and/or life events. With depression, there is no specific trigger. Life may be full and fruitful, yet we still feel hopeless. A good example is people in the public eye who seem to have it all. It is a common misconception when someone says, “What do they have to be depressed about?” But that’s just the thing: having a dream job or lifestyle does not erase depression. In fact, there may be shame and a lack of understanding for those living in a fishbowl.

Depression in Teens

Adolescence is a complicated, tumultuous time in anyone’s life. Every teen has experienced feeling down from academic pressures, friendships, relationships, sports or other competitive activities but since they typically haven’t dealt with any real-life situations to help cope with issues that come up and put things into perspective, it is harder them to see when the fog will lift, and know that there is almost always a silver lining.

Depression in teens is increasing at a rapid rate. Recent studies reveal that as many as one in five teens suffer from clinical depression.* It is even more challenging to discern the disorder from mood swings associated with hormonal changes. While we don’t want to be hypervigilant, recognizing symptoms of depression in teens is essential to their health in helping them receive the care that they need. A key can be looking at a list of symptoms and noticing if they have been present for longer than two weeks, or if there seems to be no known cause for the change in behavior. For a list of symptoms, visit Mental Health America.

At any stage in life, it may be hard to ascertain which category you or your loved one falls under. If this is true, you are not absolutely alone, so much so that a trio of MIT doctors just developed an app that analyzes a user’s everyday interaction with their phone to identify depression, which in turn, sends alerts to the patient and their doctor. While this may seem invasive, there are many effective tools and life choices to invest in your self-care and connect with safe communities to help you decide whether you need to see a therapist, or if you’ve already been diagnosed, to use in between therapy sessions.

Here are some things you can do to support and nurture your well-being:

  • Mental Health Screening offers a free, anonymous screening on their website.

  • Apps such as What’s Up? features a daily diary, a habit tracker, guides for self care and breathing techniques, as well as a forum to connect with others.

  • Meditation has never been easier with Insight Timer app at your fingertips. You’d be surprised at how many people in your life already have the number one downloaded meditation on their smartphone. With over 2,586 free guided meditations, music tracks, talks and courses, there is something for everyone, or simply set the timer and a gong will ring you back into your day.

  • While we typically think of social media as diversion that can be harmful to our mental health, some, like Olympian skater Gracie Gold who recently went public about her struggles with depression, use platforms such as Pinterest to find inspiring quotes and images to lower stress and boost motivation.

  • When we we are feeling low, the last thing we want to do is leave the house and get exercise. But studies prove that it not only aids in treating depression, it can greatly improve your mental health. Your body emits endorphins with high intensity workouts such as running, cycling, and crossfit. Deep breathing in yoga targets your autonomic nervous system, thus easing depression.

  • Comfort food seems like a soothing, temporary solution for depression but depriving your body of essential nutrients and vitamins increases your risk of mental ailments. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains keep your brain healthy. Water also reduces irritability and keeps you focused.

While none of these suggestions are a cure or replacement for therapy and/or medication, everyone should be empowered by personal choices and measures that they can take to practice self-care and invest in mood-boosting habits.

Depression is a serious illness; it is important to distinguish the difference between sadness and a clinical condition. With awareness months, articles, technology, hotlines, and online chats, help is available 24/7. Knowing that we can’t will our way out of depression, simply snap out of it, and understanding that it is not a sign of weakness are some first positive steps.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.