“Today it took me an hour to motivate myself to get out of bed”.

“I just don’t have the energy to go about my routine”.

“I used to love riding my bike, but lately I just don’t enjoy it the way I used to”. 

I’ve been hearing statements like this throughout the pandemic, and they’re usually followed by the question “Am I depressed?” As a therapist, when folks ask me questions around diagnosis, I typically ask them what it would mean to have that label attached to what they’re experiencing. Would it change the way they help themselves? Will it be validating? Could it be limiting in some way?

Diagnosing is a tricky business and can have both potential benefits or consequences. When it comes to the word “depression”, it is often used in a casual way without the implication of an official diagnosis; folks will often clarify or use a more descriptive or specific label if they’ve received the diagnosis from a therapist, such as  “Dysthymia”, “Major Depressive Disorder”, or “Substance/Medication Induced Depressive Disorder”. There’s a whole set of diagnosis that fall under the general “Depressive Disorders” category. Treatment for an individual with a depressive disorder will vary not just based on the diagnosis itself, but (hopefully) on a holistic view of the individual. There are also other diagnosis that may have signs that can be labeled as Depression by folks without a mental health background. Delving into each one and looking at the signs may not be helpful in this space- instead, let’s talk about signs to look out for that may indicate it’s time to make some changes or seek help. 

A Brief Self-Assessment to Help Yourself!

  1. Is there a noticeable change in my normal patterns? 
    1. Sleep Patterns: Am I sleeping more than usual? Less? More tossing/turning?
    2. Eating Habits : Am I eating more than usual? Less? Drawn to different types of food compared to my normal?
    3. Social Habits: Am I socializing more than normal? Am I isolating myself more often? 
    4. Frequency of Different Feelings: Sad more often? Unusually happy? Numb/apathetic?
    5. Distractive Habits: Am I keeping myself distracted with TV, scrolling through my phone, etc more than usual?
    6. Emotional Threshold: Am I getting upset, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed more easily than usual?
    7.  Energy Levels; Do I have noticeable changes in energy? Do I feel exhausted all the time?
  2. Is there an environmental factor contributing to the above changes? Examples can include ( but aren’t limited to) abusive relationship, toxic work environment,  stressful time (upcoming test, deadlines, financial challenges, etc), difficult political environment,  experiencing grief ( big changes/transitions, loss of loved one, trauma or anniversary of a trauma). 
  3. Does the disruption in my normal feel conquerable?
    1. If yes- Can I come up with a self-care plan to help me get back to myself?

This plan can include taking care of physical health, setting boundaries with yourself or others to center self care, leaving a toxic environment, taking some time off from work or school to rest, setting aside with uplifting company, finding healthy emotional outlets, doing things you enjoy, engage in spiritual activities, etc

  1. If no- who can I reach out to for support/help right now? ( Both in terms of who you feel safe with and who is accessible)  

This can include family ( biological or chosen), friends, mentor, trusted adult or peer, crisis line, or a mental health professional! 

This self assessment can help an individual understand where they are in terms of their overall well-being and help them start to work on a plan to center their wellness and heal. It never hurts to seek out help in talking through this self-assessment or coming up with a self-care plan. Professional help ( typically psychotherapy and medication)  can always be sought out as well, or even be a part of the self-care plan! 

A bottom line for every individual to keep in mind when they navigate feeling unwell or depressed, is that they are the expert of their own experiences. They best see the full picture of their life and are their own fiercest advocates! Whether one chooses to work on a plan themselves to work with a professional, they are in charge of their healing and have the capacity to heal and thrive!

By Areeba Siddiqui