The U.S. and Canada are both in the middle of a mental health crisis. In 2018, over 48,000 Americans died by suicide and over 17 million adults suffered at least one major depressive episode. Suicide and major depression occur at high rates in Canada as well.
Due to increased stressors during the coronavirus pandemic, including job loss and financial insecurity, uncertainty over how long this will last, concern for people in high-risk groups and the physical distancing required to limit the spread of COVID-19, the risk of depression and anxiety is even more prevalent.
Everyone feels sad, irritable or has trouble sleeping once in a while. But these feelings usually pass after a couple of days. How can you tell the difference between these feelings and depression? Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that may cause severe symptoms. Also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, an adult must have symptoms for at least two weeks to be diagnosed with depression. Depression affects our ability to feel, think and handle daily activities. Some people describe depression as “living in a black hole” or a feeling of impending doom. Others feel lifeless, empty, hopeless and don’t care about anything, including things that once brought them joy.
Symptoms of Depression
If you identify with several of the following, you may be suffering from depression:
- You feel hopeless and helpless
- You’ve lost interest in friends, activities and things you used to enjoy
- You’re much more irritable, short-tempered or aggressive than usual
- You’re consuming more alcohol, engaging in reckless behavior or self-medicating
- You feel restless and agitated
- Your sleep and appetite has changed
- You can’t concentrate or your productivity at work has declined
- You can’t control your negative thoughts
Depression in Men
The symptoms above can be displayed in both men and women. However, depression in men also often manifests itself as anger and restlessness. Since these symptoms aren’t usually associated with depression, the condition is often overlooked in men. Left untreated, depression can become a serious health condition.
The three most commonly overlooked signs of depression in men are:
- Physical pain. Depression can cause physical symptoms – such as backache, frequent headaches, sleep problems, sexual dysfunction or digestive disorders – that don’t respond to normal treatment.
- Anger. This could range from irritability and sensitivity to criticism or a loss of sense of humor, a short temper or even violence.
- Reckless behavior. This can include escapist or risky behavior such as pursuing dangerous sports, driving recklessly or engaging in unsafe sex. Drinking too much, abusing drugs or gambling compulsively are also potential signs of depression.
Health care professionals and family members may not recognize these symptoms. Because depression symptoms in men can go longer without being diagnosed or treated, the condition might develop into a more severe mental health problem. Men suffering from depression are more likely to complete suicide than women when they attempt suicide.
Help Is Available and You are Not Alone
Major depression isn’t willed away; don’t try to tough it out on your own. It takes courage to seek help – from a loved one or a professional. Most people with depression respond well to a combination of help from a professional and self-help steps such as seeking social support, exercising, eating a healthier diet and making other lifestyle changes.
Depression doesn’t improve overnight – it usually takes several weeks to notice changes in your mood. People recovering from depression usually notice improvements in sleep patterns and appetite before improvements in their mood.
Teletherapy is surging in popularity during the pandemic, making it easier to see a clinician from home. Therapy helps by teaching new ways of thinking and behaving, and changing habits that may be contributing to depression. Therapy can also help people understand and work through difficult situations or relationships that may be causing their depression or making it worse. Many LIUNA Health & Welfare Funds cover teletherapy.
Medications called antidepressants can work well to treat depression, but they can take several weeks to be effective. Sleep, appetite and concentration problems often improve before mood lifts when taking medication, so it’s important to give medication a chance before deciding whether it’s effective.
Lifestyle improvements such as eating healthier, getting more exercise, meditation and connecting with friends and family can all help improve mood.
National Depression Screening Day, October 8, 2020
Mental health conditions such as depression are real, common and treatable. Recovery is possible and you are not alone.
Take an online depression screening to determine if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. This screening is intended as a guideline, not as a replacement for a doctor or therapist.
Depression and Bi-Polar Support Alliance (DBSA)
DBSA online support groups give people living with depression and bipolar disorder a safe, welcoming place to share experiences, discuss coping skills and offer each other hope.
Mood Disorders Society of Canada (MDSC)
The MDSC works with public, private and non-profit sectors throughout Canada to improve access to treatment, raise awareness about mood disorders and support policies and programs that eliminate the stigma associated with mental health.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]