What is a way to tell if someone has depression?

  • As an EMT who has seen depression in much of its ranges, as someone who has seen a friend with depression commit suicide and had no idea that things were that bad, and as someone who personally struggles with depression, I can tell you that it isn’t always easy, and here’s why.

    There is the stereotype of the person who sleeps all day, can’t drag themselves out of bed, cries all the time, talks about sad/morbid things, is constantly lethargic, but this only describes about 10% of the people with the most severe, classic depression symptoms. And you really won’t have to guess too much with those ones, they’re pretty obvious.

    Depression shows itself in many ways, as an EMT, I got decent at spotting it, but it can be tricky, so tricky that good friends can be left in shock when a close friend kills themself out of the blue. Here are some good tips, and although they may point to something, they may not, they are only grounds for further investigation (unless someone blatantly says they want to/feel like hurting/killing themself:

    • People with depression will usually reach out at some point, maybe not to you, but often they will make comments that hint at something burdening them. They may always be ‘tired’ (an easy way to brush off the ‘how are you doing?’ when you’re not in a good place) or they may just seem to withdraw out of the blue for weeks at a time (this is what happened with my good friend who stopped coming to the CrossFit classes I taught every so often, I’d reach out to him, and he’d come back. One time, he never came back…)
    • People may not even know they’re depressed if they’ve been dealing with it for a long time and it is mild and came on gradually. They may react defensively if you suggest it, or welcome it, YMMV.
    • Depression is different for different people, for me (I also had/have anxiety) and many though, it was often a persistent feeling of being overwhelmed, an inability to find pleasure or meaning in things, a general feeling that life was bleak, a newly pessimistic outlook, irritability, lack of interest, some concentration/memory difficulty, low energy, low libido, sleep issues, etc. If someone is constantly “burnt out”, this may be depression.
    • Different people cope with the aforementioned symptoms differently, but withdrawal is a common method, self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, sex, relationships, self-help stuff, etc, whatever can make them feel better than they feel.
    • Depression doesn’t always, but may follow a dramatic negative life event, loss of a job, friend, significant other, some large psychological stress that pushes past their ability to cope. Once you’re past that point, it’s more difficult to come out of it because your ability to cope with things is lessened, little things get to you more, your demeanor may mess with your relationship, you may withdraw from the very things that help keep you afloat, all these things contribute to the ‘downward spiral’ that people can get caught in.
    • People who are depressed will probably not share their feelings with an acquaintance or ‘kinda friend’, but if you’re close and you ask them, ‘Hey man, what’s going on? I can tell something’s getting at you.” They very well may tell you, after a bit of conversation obviously.People with depression don’t always know they have it, and may be resistant to admitting it, some may become angry for someone suggesting they have depression.
    • Depression comes and goes for some and it doesn’t mean the person is NEVER happy. Even depressed people can have good days where they experience joy/pleasure, the problem is when that becomes the exception. At times, I have felt mine lifted (partially) for hours at a time when i am engaged in an activity, having fun, etc, only to come back on over an hour or so, like a heavy, cold, wet blanket being slowly lowered onto my soul.
    • As for your question specifically, it depends. Oftentimes, irritability, anger, withdrawal from friends or activities they used to enjoy, catastrophic thinking, thinking people dislike them, sleep issues (too much or disturbed sleep), self-medicating, drop in work performance, mood swings, and more, especially if following a dramatic life event, may point to depression.

      *I will tell you that one of the most worrying signs in someone with depression however is when they drop off the map. If you usually her from them/see from them, and they suddenly disappear, check in with them. People with depression often withdraw when things get really bad, and a distraction, or a reminder that someone cares enough to reach out, may very well save their life. Just call them up and ask them to grab coffee, hang out, something, make it easy for them and don’t force them to talk about it.*

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