Depression feels different to everyone. No two brains are the same and no two experiences of depression can be the same. It is a condition that changes from minute to minute and day to day.
If you are reading this article, you are probably here because you think you are feeling depressed and need some help, or you think someone else is. Depression is tough, but this article will help you understand more about the condition, why it happens, and what to do about it. Stick with it, there is help available.
If you are feeling like hurting yourself or taking your own life, please call the emergency services, they are there to help.
Describing depression to someone who is lucky enough not to have suffered from it is difficult. How can someone know what it is like to feel completely alone in a crowded room of family and friends unless they have felt it themselves? Can someone understand how it is possible to feel empty and laugh at the same time? It does not make sense to feel guilty for things you have not done or felt anxious about trivial things you were fine about just last week. Depression is irrational, scary and something nobody should ever have to experience.
If you are wondering “what does depression feel like?”, you are fortunate that you have not experienced it. However, the symptoms are commonplace in normal life. Many people feel sad from time to time, but depression is more akin to despair. An overwhelming sadness that invades every thought and interaction. It is often accompanied by severe anxiety without any real identifiable cause, and thoughts of death (not necessarily your own).
According to the diagnostics and statistical manual (DSM) 5, depression includes the following:
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, you might have depression. Talk to your doctor, they can help you.
Any or all of the above symptoms can mean a person is depressed. The severity can range from feeling down most days to constant thoughts of self-harm and suicide. What does depression feel like? Like those symptoms.
Causes of Depression
About 350 million people around the world suffer from depression. Roughly 1 in ten people will develop depression at some point in their lives. The causes of depression are still relatively badly understood. The brain is an enormously complex system, with billions of neurons and trillions of connections. Making sense of it is a sizeable task, and even though scientists have been peering into the brain to see what causes depression for hundreds of years, it is only in the last 20 years or so that a proper understanding of the condition is being established.
As it looks now, depression appears to be a spectrum of causes and symptoms. There are common factors, however, and it is useful to look at them in some detail. To answer your question “what does depression feel like?” it helps to know what causes the feelings.
Genetics appear to be a strong factor in the development of depression. If you have family members who have suffered from depression before, you are much more likely to develop it yourself. This is due to your genes giving you a predisposition to the condition. It is not an inevitability, nothing is for certain with the brain.
Trauma is one of the leading causes of depression. A traumatic event you witnessed, or something terrible that happened to you, can cause or trigger depression. Life events are often the cause of sadness or anger, but when it gets too much, it can be depression. A strong blow to the head is also thought to be related to depression, especially if it induced a concussion. The brain is a delicate organ, when you hit it hard with something, millions of connections are lost and the brain cannot work as efficiently until it figures out a way around. Severe head trauma can radically alter how a person thinks.
Stress is a major cause of depression. Modern life is highly stressful and this is thought to be one of the reasons so many people in developed countries suffer from depression. This could be a stressful event or a prolonged period of stress.
Women who have just given birth are more likely to suffer from depression than women at other times. This is largely due to a lack of sleep due to the baby and the massive drop of hormone levels after giving birth.
Being lonely is a big cause of depression. Being socially isolated from family and friends can lead directly to depression.
Diseases that trigger the immune system in certain ways might be related to some forms of depression. Many illnesses can cause depression by making a person’s life intolerable, or through impacting their health so badly they cannot function.
Drugs and alcohol are common causes of depression.
What is happening in Depression?
Depressed brains are visibly different from healthy brains on fMRI scanners. This difference is because a depressed brain is responding differently to stimuli than a healthy brain. The trillions of connections in the brain mean there are almost endless ways the brain can arrange itself. Normally, a healthy brain is working in the most efficient way, with a good regulation of all the internal processes and no single part of the brain dominating others. When people get depressed, the brain is using different pathways and some parts of the brain are becoming dominant, drowning out the other parts of the brain.
When neurons connect to each other, they coat their connection with a protein called myelin. When that connection is used more, the myelin sheath gets thicker and the connection gets faster. Using the connectionless means the myelin gets thinner, the connection slower, and eventually, the connection is cut.
Because of this ingenious property of the brain, thinking certain things makes you better at thinking that thing. Learning to throw and catch a ball involves strengthening the connections that worked and pruning out the old ones. The downside to this is that the modes of thought that depression can bring get reinforced when you think them. Depression can become a habit, or after a while, a default mode for the brain. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to treat: there are lots of strong connections that need to be pruned in order for someone to learn to think another way. If the person can learn to use other thoughts instead of their depressive thoughts, they can help themselves deal with depression. Cognitive behavioural therapy is designed to help the person do exactly this.
You might have lived with depression for some time before realizing it was in fact depression. People with depression do not necessarily know they are depressed, just like something is wrong. If you have asked “what does depression feel like?” and want to know what to do, read on.
Mood disorders like depression are common. Many people do not get treatment for depression because they believe they should be able to cope with life. If you can view it as an illness and not your fault, it is much easier to get help.
There are dozens of drugs approved for treating depression. Many of the common ones can have severe side effects, like psychosis, extreme weight gain, suicidal thoughts (ironically), and there have been links to mass shootings in America and antidepressant use. They are, however, most effective.
Talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy can help you change the way you think. They are largely successful.
You came into this article asking “what does depression feel like?” and wondering if you should use CBD to help. At this point, the evidence is slim for CBD being helpful though a lot of people are using it. However, if you are only just identifying your depressed feelings, the first thing you should be doing is getting a diagnosis. Talk to your doctor, see what they have to say.
When you have a diagnosis, that is the time to talk about CBD with your doctor. They will evaluate the evidence to see if it is the best course of action.