Beat the Blues

Signs and Symptoms of Depression


Depression Symptoms

Symptoms of depression can include reduced mood, loss of pleasure and enjoyment, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, lethargy and fatigue, poor sleep and appetite, and withdrawal from our usual activities. Symptoms can also include heightened feelings of guilt, low motivation and drive, and low self-worth and confidence. In some instances, people experience greater levels of frustration, feelings of apathy, suicidal ideation, and increased drug and alcohol intake to camouflage symptoms.

We all experience some fluctuations in a few of these symptoms from time to time. For example, during the course of the day, week, or month we might notice mild fluctuations in mood, enjoyment, or confidence. However, we usually return to a set-point without these symptoms intensifying or persisting. However, in depression these symptoms occur more frequently and can be more pronounced. In some instances people can experience prolonged symptoms of depression that persist for weeks and months and sometimes years. Often it can be difficult to relinquish and find pathways out of these symptoms. Furthermore, these symptoms can lead us to feel isolated, ashamed, and disconnected from our usual selves. People often describe operating under a heavy blanket or a dark cloud. Touching base with a psychologist can be a useful first step to overcome stigma and to normalise symptoms.

Causes of Symptoms

There can be many different reasons (biological, environmental, cognitive, and behavioural) for the onset of these symptoms. In some cases there might be a genetic predisposition, hormone shift, or a change in brain chemistry (e.g. altered serotonin or dopamine levels). Having a number of recent stressors and crises such as the loss of loved one, unemployment, or work pressure can also precipitate symptoms of depression. In one sense we might be having a very normal response to the complexities of our life. Evolutionary theories postulate just this - that we tilt towards symptoms of depression as a way of conserving resources and recovering during times of stress and difficulty. It is almost as if the body goes in to a 'type of hybernation' e.g. withdrawal, loss of interest, and decreased activity to conserve energy and minimize the likelihood of incurring another stressful event.

Behaviourally, we might stop activities that are pleasurable, rewarding, and challenging. As such, we end up depriving ourselves of interactions and activities that are a vital source of emotional nourishment. At a cognitive level we might continue to have a range of negative automatic thoughts and beliefs about the world, others, and ourselves. For example, a common theme is for people to think negatively about themselves, to perceive themselves as not being good enough or as being unlovable. We might hold underlying assumptions, rules, and expectations for ourselves that when broken result in negative feeling states. Such thought patterns can lead to drops in mood, states of aloneness, and sadness.

Over-arching, a number of theories demonstrate that earlier experiences within our families can predispose us to experiencing greater levels of depression. For example growing up in a violent or critical family system has the potential to perpetuate states of helplessness/hopelessness and impact levels of self-esteem. Indeed, there can be many current and predisposing factors that can lead to these symptoms. Overall, these symptoms have us disconnected from our vitality and energy. 

Therapy for Depression

Therapy aims to identify the factors that might contribute to these symptoms. It might involve challenging thought patterns and self-criticism, building a more nurturing and compassionate inner world, increasing positive activities in our days, and shifting our agency and locus of control (sense and perspective of what we can influence and change). Working together in a therapeutic relationship can be a great way to find pathways through depressive states to find hope, optimism, and joy. If you are wanting assistance in managing symptoms of depression feel free to call on 0451 491 395. (disclaimer: the above information is intended for a general understanding of depression symptoms and is not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a trained psychologist). If you (or someone you know) are at an immediate risk of harming yourself please call 000 or lifeline on 13 11 14.