The Hidden Symptoms of Depression
Are You a Secret Sufferer? by Austin Hackney
Insomnia, anxiety, unshakable sadness, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and suicidal thoughts are common signs of clinical depression. But studies show that many people, women especially, can suffer from depression while masking their illness behind less common symptoms and behavior. If you are familiar with any of the following hidden symptoms of depression, you may suffer from a mood disorder without realizing it.
In a society which condones alcohol abuse as the norm, it’s easy to hide your depression behind excessive alcohol consumption. Up to 33% of women suffering depression use alcohol to cope with their feelings. But the effects of alcohol abuse can make matters much worse.
In the early stages, one or two drinks can help lift your spirits. But in the medium-term alcohol makes depression worse and more frequent. In the long-term, heavy drinking can also lead to addiction and even death. If you’re drinking to manage your emotions, you may mask an underlying depression.
Over-Eating and Putting on Weight
So-called “comfort eating” is common enough. Who doesn’t crave a slice of chocolate cake as a “pick-me-up” after a long day? But over-indulgence in food of any kind can mask deeper problems.
If you’re depressed, fatty and sugary foods can lift your mood. But the effects soon wear off. You’re also less likely to take exercise.
Over-eating, eating unhealthy foods, and not exercising lead to obesity. Putting on weight also increases the risk of heart attack. Whether you turn to food for comfort every day or binge on chocolate in a crisis, poor eating habits may suggest depression.
Depressed people shun social engagement. They feel anxious around other people and may lack interest in friends and family. Spending time on the internet as an alternative to real-life interactions is a common way of escaping feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Several studies show there’s a link between excessive internet use and depression. But virtual reality is no substitute for real human contact. Internet addiction can become a problem in its own right.
Turning to the internet because you’re depressed soon becomes a vicious circle. Research shows that virtual relationships lead to increased feelings of unhappiness, anxiety, and isolation. If you’re always online, seeking contact through social media and forums or stimulation from gambling sites and pornography, you may have depression.
Sexual Obsession and Risk-Taking
Many women who suffer from clinical depression lose all interest in sex. But others can develop an uncontrolled desire for sexual stimulation to escape negative feelings and the “emotional numbness” often associated with the illness. Coupled with low-self-esteem such impulses can lead to risky sexual behavior.
Promiscuity, choosing dangerous sexual partners, sleeping with strangers, and having unprotected sex may all be symptoms of a hidden depression. Sex may work for emotional relief but also as a subtle form of self-harm. Risky sexual behavior can also lead to sexually transmitted disease, physical abuse, and loss of self-respect.
Shopping and Debt
People may joke about “retail therapy” but for those suffering from depression, compulsive shopping can be a serious problem. The pleasure of something new and the sense of change and promise it brings can be a temporary lift from feelings of depression. But it doesn’t last and leaves the real problems unresolved.
Many women who use shopping as a mood-booster become addicted. They might shop in secret, which online shopping makes easy to do. This can often lead to secondary problems such as overusing credit facilities and falling into bad debt. If you’re using shopping to distract yourself and feel better, you may have depression.
It’s normal to experience “ups and downs” but if those changes in mood are sudden and exaggerated, it could be a sign of depression. Depressed people may go for long periods in which they feel emotionally “numb”. But a depressed person can also become hypersensitive; flying into a sudden rage, laughing uncontrollably, or crying for no reason. If your mood swings from one extreme to another you may have a bipolar depressive disorder.
Inexplicable Aches and Pains
Medical statistics show over 40% of people with depression are first diagnosed after complaining of physical aches and pains which have no obvious cause. One study showed a link between chronic lower back pain and depression. Depression can often manifest in a range of physical symptoms and may go undetected for a long time.
If you start a new exercise regime, or if you become inactive, you might experience aches as your muscles adjust. You should always get back pain checked out by your doctor. But if you’ve made no changes in your lifestyle and the doctor can find nothing wrong with you, it may be the symptom of a hidden depression.
Short-Term Memory Loss
When under stress or sleep-deprived, short-term memory is one of the first brain functions to fail. Sleep deprivation and depression are often linked. But even if you’re sleeping well and don’t feel anxious, depression can still cause problems with remembering and learning new things.
Research shows that during a period of depression the body’s production of cortisol increases. Too much cortisol can lead to unexpected weight loss and sleeplessness. It also shrinks the areas of your brain which deal with short-term memory. If you’re more forgetful than usual, you may be depressed.
High Self-Care Deficit
The nursing theorist Dorothea Orem coined the term “self-care deficit”. It’s a measure of how well a person looks after themselves. Ignoring basic self-care such as eating, washing, cleaning your teeth, or taking vital medicine may add up to a self-care deficit.
Depression and low self-esteem are linked. If you don’t value yourself, you may stop taking care of yourself or caring about what other people think about you. Losing motivation to carry out basic self-care could be a sign of depression.
Don’t Suffer in Secret: See Your Doctor
Depression is a recognized and treatable illness. Many women hide the symptoms of depression because they are ashamed of not being able to cope. But the longer you leave depression untreated, the more difficult it can be to manage. Don’t suffer in secret. See your doctor.