What does depression look like? How do you put a face on an emotion that is often masked by subtle abnormalities, but not always directly expressed? As health care professionals, our number one priority for individuals is to maintain their highest level of well-being. The capacity for which we measure health is not limited to just the physical being, but the state of mind as well. The importance of mental health has become widespread in health education. Now it is more vital than before that we continue to grow and develop our understanding of the complexities that often warp our mental wellness. So, what exactly, is depression?
Depression can be defined as a pathological, constant and pervasive state of mood (Gelenberg & Hopkins, 2007). According to authors Richardson and Adams (2018), signs of depression include changes in everyday behaviors like a decrease or increase in appetite, memory fog, sleep disturbances, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and a decrease in energy (Richardson & Adams, 2018).
Patients who are dealing with chronic illnesses are also more at risk and likely to develop depression (Richardson & Adams, 2018). Depression can also begin as a string of events that turns into an overwhelming mental breakdown.
Picture this: an individual dealing with an ongoing illness may also begin developing financial issues due to time off work or increasing medical bills. Over time, the illness progresses and bills begin to stack up. Then, outside of health concerns, they may also begin having family issues and feelings of isolation may arise. This individual may begin to experience anxiety, exhibit erratic behavior or show signs of total sadness.
Depression, however, can also manifest as a feeling of emptiness, void of any emotion at all. Therefore, it is important that we learn to pinpoint the deviations in an individual’s behavior and understand what their form of depression looks like, this can then assist your health care professional formulate a tailored treatment plan.
Other signs to look out for in everyday encounters with individuals are major deviances in behaviors that are not perceived as normal for that individual. If an individual is usually upbeat and positive and over time, becomes reclusive, inhibiting feelings of anger or begins to view things in a negative light, then the individual may be showing signs of a major cognitive change or depressive symptoms.
It is essential to not only care for individuals with the best of our abilities and skill but also to get to know them. Pay attention to the things they talk about, how they carry themselves, habitual behaviors that may suddenly or even gradually change. Something as simple as being attentive to patient behaviors and actively engaging with those you care for may make a significant difference in the type of care they receive.
Every individual will not be able to express what they are feeling or is willing to be open about depression. As health care professionals, we must be able to bridge the gap, to start the conversation, and be attentive to not just their physical care, but mental health care as well.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression please connect with your primary care physician. You may also call Mentalhelp.net at 1-866-277-8525 where someone will answer 24/7. If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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Gelenberg, A.J. & Hopkins, H.S. (2007). Assessing and treating depression in primary care medicine.
The American Journal of Medicine, 120(2), 105 – 108.
Luann Richardson, Susie Adams (2018). Cognitive deficits in patients with depression, The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 14(6), 437-443. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2018.03.006.