You might think you know what signs to look for in yourself, or others, when wondering if you or someone you love is battling depression. But, things that might not look like depression, but actually are, often get overlooked because not all depression presents itself with the same set of symptoms. While we have made major strides in the collective mental health conversation (thank you, Carrie Fisher), we still have a lot to learn about depressive disorders, their signs and symptoms, and how to best treat them.
When most people think of depression — especially those who have never suffered from depression — they might imagine a lingering sadness. While it's true that some forms of depression can be brought on by a sad event, depression and sadness are really not the same thing at all.
"Because we associate depression with its primary symptom of pervasive sadness, many of us struggle to tell the difference between these two common psychological states," Guy Winch Ph.D. wrote on his blog The Squeaky Wheel on Psychology Today. "This is a huge problem."
Winch explained that sadness is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences. While it's often "triggered by a difficult, hurtful, challenging, or disappointing event, experience, or situation," once that event is over the sadness usually goes away. Depression is totally different.
"Depression is an abnormal emotional state, a mental illness that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in pervasive, and chronic ways. When we’re depressed we feel sad about everything," Winch explained. "Depression does not necessarily require a difficult event or situation, a loss, or a change of circumstance as a trigger. In fact, it often occurs in the absence of any such triggers. People’s lives on paper might be totally fine — they would even admit this is true — and yet they still feel horrible."
Because people most often associate depression with sadness, if it doesn't present that way, a serious problem could be missed if you don't know to look for uncommon signs of depression. Here are some things to be aware of that might not look like depression, but actually are.