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Depression

What Is It?

Depression is a mood disorder which means it impacts how a person is feeling. It can cause a person to feel sad much of the time or they might lose interest in the things they used to enjoy. Depression affects how a person thinks, acts, and feels. A person with depression is affected physically and emotionally. Depression can make it difficult to do normal daily activities. 

Myths About Depression

FACT – Depression looks different for everyone and not everyone feels sad all the time with depression.

People often think depression and sadness are the same thing, but they are not. Sadness is an emotion people feel, just like being happy or mad. Everyone feels sad from time to time as a reaction to life. If someone’s sadness goes away and do not impact their life, it is likely not depression. Depression is more than feeling sad. There are some people with depression who do not feel sad. They feel nothing. Depression is different for everyone who has it.

FACT – There is not just one cause of depression.

Mental health is influenced by many different things. The causes of depression are complex. It could be many different factors, such as life events/circumstances, genetics, and medication side effects. This is why successful treatment can look so different for everyone. Depression is wide-ranging in experiences, causes, and treatments.

FACT – Depression can impact anyone.

Depression does not impact just one group of people. More than 264 million people are affected worldwide by depression. Depression impacts people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups, occupations, etc. People of all walks of life can be impacted.

FACT – Depression can impact anyone of any age. 

Have you ever been told you cannot have stress because you are just a kid and heard, “Just wait until you are an adult and then you will see what stress is”? Well, that is not true, is it? Just because you do not have the same stressors as an adult. It does not mean you cannot have stress. It is the same with depression. First, depression does not have to be caused by life events. It can be caused by things like chemical imbalances and genetics. A person can have a seemingly wonderful life and have depression. Second, younger people can face many challenges in their lives. Just because someone is young, it does not mean their life has been without challenges. Third, there are many challenges in the world today which you face which other generations have not faced before. Technology and social media have created a whole new set of problems, expectations, and stress. 

FACT – Depression is an illness.

PET scan of the brain for depression – Mayo Clinic

There is a very real biological side to depression. If someone has depression, they are not “making it up,” “looking for attention,” nor are they “choosing to be depressed.” If you were to look up brain scans, there is a visible difference between someone with depression and someone without depression. If a person has depression, their brain has less activity which can make it harder to think clearly and do the things which need to be done in a day.

FACT – A person who is struggling with depression needs professional help.

If depression is left untreated, there is a chance it will become more severe or last longer. It is not just a phase a person will grow out of and become better. It is not someone being a moody youth/teenager.  The person needs proper help to help cope with their depression. Depression comes with a high risk of suicide. Therefore, it is important to get professional help.

FACT – Everyone experiences depression differently.

You might have heard some version of the phrase “When I had depression, I could…They should be able to, too.” There is no one size fits all experience for depression. There is a wide range of symptoms, and everyone experiences it differently. Even if there are two people who have the same symptom, like exhaustion, it will be different for both. One may not be able to get out of bed. The other could be able to do all the tasks the day requires with tiredness nagging them. Everyone’s experience is different, and everyone’s experience is valid.

FACT – There are many different types of treatments for depression

There are many successful treatments for depression. Treatments could include medication, therapy, and alternative therapies, like music and art therapy. In addition to medication and therapies, encouraging a mind-body connection can also help support wellness. This could include relaxation techniques, music/art/drama therapy, exercise, or meditation.

If a person is taking antidepressants (medication) and feels numb, this is an indication the person needs to visit their doctor. Antidepressants should not make a person feel numb. Numbness can be a symptom of depression and the goal of antidepressants is to help relieve the symptoms.

FACT – It is possible to be okay.

With help and healthy habits, it is possible to manage the symptoms of depression. Treatment has proven to be successful. Since there are many causes of depression, it is about finding the appropriate types of therapy which work for the individual.

Causes of Depression

This is a complex subject. There are some people who feel that depression is because of a personal flaw. This is incorrect. Personal flaws are not the cause of depression or any other mental illness. This is based on the stigma and misinformation surrounding mental health. It illustrates the prejudice people face with depression and other mental health concerns.

The cause of depression is different for everyone. For many people, there is not just one cause. The causes can range from genetics, chemical imbalance in the brain, stressful life events, trauma, losses, or medical problems.

What Does It Look Like?

NOTE – This is not for self-diagnosis. If you feel like you or someone you love is struggling, please seek help.

Depression can look like many things and everyone with depression has a different experience. To be classified as depression, the symptoms need to be present for at least 2 weeks. These symptoms occur close to every day, all day.

Symptoms could include:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of pleasure or interest
  • Significant weight fluctuations/eating more or less
  • Sleeping more or less
  • Restlessness or slowness in movement
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Sleeping all the time or not at all
  • Not changing their clothes, showering, or taking care of themselves
  • Eating more or less
  • Poor concentration
  • Withdrawing or not wanting to do anything
  • Daydreaming or seemingly off in their own world
  • Missing assignments, work, school, or other commitments (outside of unexpected life events or occasional incidences)
  • Fluctuating emotions
  • Poor attendance at school or activities
  • Recklessness
  • Increase in phone, video game, substances use, or other forms of escapism
  • Negative self-talk
  • Apathetic or emotionless
  • Unexplained body pain or physical problems, like stomachache
  • Acting like nothing’s wrong or no noticeable changes (the person might be hiding what they are going through for a variety of reasons)

 

It is important to remember that, while some people may display some of these signs, it does not necessarily mean they have depression. They could be coping with a difficult time in their life. This is why it is important to start a conversation with the person. If you do not feel comfortable talking to the person, you must tell someone who will have the conversation.

What To Do If You Think You Have Depression?

If you feel like you are struggling or any of the signs sound like what you are going through, please seek help. Seeking help can sound like a daunting task and it can seem overwhelming, but it is so important. You deserve to feel better and be happy.

  1. Remember, no one is 100% all the time. It is okay not to be okay. It is about seeking help when you need it.

  2. Tell someone you trust. Find someone you trust who will help you connect with professional help. You deserve to feel better and get help! If you tell someone and they do not listen to you or do not take you seriously, tell someone else. Sometimes people are caught in their own things or biases and that is not a reflection of you! Remember, you deserve professional help.

    Professional help could include a medical doctor, counselor, spiritual leader, or elder. A doctor will be able to diagnose you if you have depression. When you go to the doctor, they will ask a series of questions. These questions relate to your last few weeks. Part of depression can make it difficult to concentrate which can make these questions tricky. To combat this, you or your parents/guardians can take notes of your experiences. In addition to a doctor, counselors can help you to work through the emotions and difficult experiences.

  1. Practice self-care. Self-care is taking time for you to care for your own health and wellness. Make healthy choices for your mental health and practice positive coping skills. Find people who support you. Developing a support system of loved ones (including pets!) and professional help (including helplines) can help you with your depression.
  2. Believe in yourself. You’ve got this! You deserve to be happy, and it is possible.

In addition to seeking professional support, there are many things you can do to support your wellness. Check out the Tips for Wellness below or the Wellness Sessions. 

How to Help a Friend Who Has Depression

When someone tells you they are struggling with depression, it can be scary and hard to know what to say. That is a terrifying thing. It is easy to become caught up in emotions. Many people fear saying the wrong thing. We often want to try to fix our friend’s problems or counsel them, but that is not our job. Your main job is to tell someone and connect your friend to help.

The following are some guidelines of what to do when your friend tells you they are struggling and how to handle those difficult conversations. There is a good chance your friend will talk to you before they talk to their parents/guardians. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a helping professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider. 

The person is telling you something scary and personal to them. This is terrifying for both of you. Take a moment to gather yourself and take a deep breath.

Give the person the time and consideration you would like if you were struggling. Be the friend you would like helping you in this situation by giving your friend your full attention. They deserve it. It will also help you know what your friend is trying to tell you. While you are listening, be understanding and compassionate. Give your friend the space to talk. 

    1. Do not judge your friend. What they are coping with might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to them. Therefore, it is valid.
  1. Sometimes when someone tells us how they are struggling, we react with anger or judgement because we are scared. We might say something like “Oh my goodness! How could you say/think something so stupid?”; “Don’t be dumb”; or “How could you say something like that?” As you can imagine, this is not helpful for your friend. What your friend hears is “you are stupid/dumb.”
    1. Do not interrupt your friend. Being interrupted is very frustrating. It can make the person feel like they are not being heard.
    2. Put your phone down! Have you ever talked to someone who is on their phone, and they don’t hear a word you say? It can be very frustrating. Treat your friend with the respect they deserve.
    3. Be the best friend you can be and the person you would like if you were in that situation.

Your friend needs to get help. This is not something you can deal with without professional/adult help. Sometimes, it can feel like adults do not listen or take problems seriously, but this is something you need to talk to an adult about. Help your friend think of someone they trust.

  1. Try saying something like, “Have you thought about who else you could talk to about this?”
  • “Have you told anyone else?”
  1. “Who do you feel comfortable talking to about this?”
  • “Okay, let’s find you some help. Who do you feel comfortable telling?”

 

  1. If they feel like they have no one they can trust, talk to someone you trust. Thinking of who to talk to can be really challenging when you are struggling because if can feel so lonely. If your friend is having a hard time thinking of someone to talk to, help connect them with resources, like a school counselor or family liaison worker. You can also offer your friend some helplines they can call when they are struggling too. If you are comfortable, you can also offer to go with your friend to talk to the adult. If the first person you tell does not listen, tell someone else.
  1. If your friend asks you to keep it a secret, you cannot keep it a secret. There are things we keep secret for friends, like their crush or that embarrassing story they swore you to secrecy about, but there are three instances where you must break your friend’s confidence. Depression comes with a higher risk of thinking about suicide.
    1. They are going to harm themself.
    2. They are going to harm someone else.
    3. They are being harmed by someone.

Talking to a friend who is struggling is challenging. Talk to someone about it to help cope with the stress of the situation. This does not mean gossip but using your own support system. Practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. For self-care ideas, visit the self-care section here.

How Do You Ask Someone About Their Mental Health?

If you have a feeling something is going on, have a conversation with the person if you feel comfortable talking to them. (If you do not feel comfortable, that is okay. You just need to tell someone who will have the conversation with them and connect them with help).

The following are some guidelines of what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal or not doing well. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a counselor, doctor, or another professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider.

Before You Have the Conversation

    • Make sure you have time for it
    • You are in a place the person will feel comfortable talking to you
    • Approach the situation with compassion
    • Make sure you are willing to listen
    • Remember you can initiate the conversation and let them know you are there, but it may take some time before they talk to you.

 

DO NOT keep it a secret. You must tell someone so the person gets help. You must connect the person with a mental health professional.

  1. Take notice. If you feel like something is going on with someone, there likely is something. Trust that gut instinct.
  2.  Talk to them. Open the conversation in a nonjudgemental and compassionate way. Start off by stating a change you have noticed. Use “I” statements so it does not feel like you are accusing them.
  3.  Example: “Hey, I have noticed you have been cancelling plans lately. How are you doing?” or “I heard you putting yourself down in class. What’s been going on?”
  4.  Listen. Listen to hear and understand. If you do not understand something they are saying, paraphrase and ask them to clarify. Listening means putting down your phone and giving them your undivided attention. Let the person talk. Do not feel the need to fill the silence. Allow them the space they need. Sometimes, we want to interject our opinion, but this is about the person, not your opinions. While you listen, approach the situation with nonjudgement and compassion.
  5.     Connect the person with help. If their level of risk is high and they cannot keep themselves safe, connect them with emergency services. If they are not a danger to themselves, they still need help. Connect the person with a counselor, agency, or person they can talk to about what is going on in their life.

Follow-Up Support

  • Have fun!
    • Make plans of things you like to do together. Remember not to force them into anything. Give them the option to join.
  • Be understanding and patient
    • Your friend might cancel plans when they do not have energy. It is not because you are unimportant, or they do not care. They are struggling. Recovery takes time. Be patient with your friend.
  • Support your friend’s healthy choices, like therapy and healthy relationships
  • Remember everyone’s experience is different
  • Practice healthy boundaries
  • Take care of yourself

Things to Avoid

  • Comparing mental health journeys
    • Everyone’s mental health journey is different. For example, two people with depression could experience different symptoms. Their experiences can be very different.
  • Blaming the person for their illness
    • Depression and other mental illnesses are not a personal flaw. There are times when the person may not have the capacity to do certain things.
  • Downplaying the person’s experience
    • “At least…” This is a common statement. While it is well-meaning, it downplays the person’s experience. It implies the person should be grateful or happy it is not worse. The person has a right to be upset. They have a right to feel their emotions.
  • Toxic positivity
    • What it is? Toxic positivity is not allowing ourselves to feel our uncomfortable feelings. It can be when we feel like we must look at something on the bright side and not feel upset.
    • It is okay to feel upset about something. It is okay not to be okay. Positive outlooks can be a wonderful thing, but it is important to feel your feelings even if they are uncomfortable.
  • Pushing your values and beliefs on the person
    • They are their own person with a right to make their own choices, and what might work for you might not work for someone else.
  • Ignoring the situation
    • When a situation is challenging, avoidance might seem like the answer. Depression is not something to ignore. It will not just fade away with no intervention. Depression also comes with a high risk of suicide, so ignoring depression increases this risk.

Tips for Wellness

In addition to professional help, there are many things which can help support wellness, such as:

Prioritize and organize your time

  • Journal or talk about your emotions
  • Connect with others
  • Find support groups
  • Find healthy ways to relax
  • Declutter your life
  • Reach out for help
  • Practice gratitude (think of things to be grateful for. It could be as simple as clean air to breathe).
  • Exercise
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Go outside

**Please note: These are healthy coping skills which support mental health. It does not mean depression will disappear after practicing one of these things. These suggestions support wellness.

Further Resources

All articles referenced above are collated here for your convenience and further reading:

If you would like to speak to someone about mental health issues, the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7, offering information and referrals on any aspect of mental health.

Call toll-free: 1-877-303-2642

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