Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some form of depression affects about 264 million people worldwide. In the United States, 16.1 million people have major depressive disorder (MDD), which is just one type of depression.
Depression is a problem that many people have to deal with, but it’s also a disorder that can interfere with a person’s life in significant ways. Depression is often thought of as synonymous with sadness, which everyone goes through. But major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability, which means it can be severe enough to get in the way of you living your life in the way you may want to live.
Is it possible to live with depression without it causing severe consequences in your life, and how do you know when it becomes too much for you to handle on your own?
How Can Depression Impair Your Life?
Depression may be a common mental health issue in the United States, but it’s also a problem that can cause some serious consequences. Like other mental health issues, when depression is left unaddressed, it can start to take over multiple areas of your life and lower your overall quality of life. When depression causes you to struggle at work, neglect your personal health, or struggle in your relationships, it may already be lowering your ability to function. If your depression starts to affect your life in these ways, it has become an unmanageable disorder that requires treatment.
But how can depression impair your ability to function in your regular life? Depression can also cause some of the following consequences:
- Low energy levels. Feeling like you’re always tired can take its toll on your daily life. You may find it challenging to maintain a consistent schedule, complete tasks at work, or fulfill obligations. Even routine things like cleaning your room, doing regular chores, and even some points of personal hygiene may be difficult to do when you feel exhausted.
- Lack of motivation. A loss of interest in regular activities is one of the two major symptoms of depression. When that is combined with low energy, it may cause you to give up on family and career goals and other positive things you would otherwise pursue.
- Social isolation. Isolation is one of the biggest enemies of your mental health. Cutting yourself off from others can worsen mental health problems, and personal connections can often help you to feel better. But when you feel sadness, shame, or a sense of worthlessness, it can be hard to make connections with other people.
- Sleep problems. Depression can cause you to experience insomnia, struggling to get restful sleep each night. Other people experience hypersomnia, which is sleeping more than usual, and they still feel tired during the day. Sleep issues can limit your cognitive and physical functioning in the short term. But chronic sleep problems can cause obesity, heart disease, and other serious medical issues.
- Catastrophization. This is when you react to small challenging experiences by imagining that they indicate larger catastrophic problems. For instance, you’re catastrophizing when you’re late to a meeting, and you assume that everyone will be mad at you, which will lead to you getting fired and failing to pay your bills. In reality, you’re just running a few minutes late, but in your mind, you imagine that it will cause you to become destitute.
- Dietary health. Depression can alter your appetite. This may cause you to overeat to mask negative emotions. Food can offer mood-lifting benefits, especially comfort foods that are high in sugars and fats. This can lead to unhealthy weight gain in a relatively short time. You may also eat less and less due to low energy levels and motivation. This can cause you to lose weight quickly. Losing or gaining 5 percent of your body weight within a single month is one of the signs of depression, and it can cause serious health problems when it’s not addressed.
- Mental fog. People who deal with depression often describe a brain fog, which is a general cognitive impairment. This may mean you struggle to maintain focus, make decisions, or interact with the world around you in a meaningful way. You may look back on your day with hazy memories like you’re just floating through life. This can make daily tasks and activities challenging. You may find yourself making more mistakes, which contributes to stress.
One of the most severe consequences of depression is increasing thoughts of death and suicide. This may start with general thoughts of death and escalate to suicidal ideation, which is contemplating your own death and how you might make it happen. When feelings of despair and worthlessness start to make you think that life isn’t worth living, depression has become severe.
It’s important to realize that depression is treatable and that you may be able to feel better if you seek help. There are several ways to treat depression with both medications and psychotherapy. If you start to experience the life-impairing or life-threatening problems that can come with depression, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Simply reaching out to a trusted loved one may help you to feel a little better. Seeking treatment can help you start to address depression and the problems it’s causing in your life.
Can Depression Be High-Functioning?
“High-functioning” is generally a term that’s used to describe a mild disorder that affects your life in ways that don’t cause significant impairment. It’s often used to describe a disorder that you can live with without seeking treatment. But can you be high-functioning with depression?
There are several types of depression, and some cases are more severe than others. You may experience major depressive episodes that only last for a few weeks and then go away. You may also experience persistent depression that’s relatively mild but lasts for a long time. These cases of uncomfortable but mild depression may not cause you to struggle at work, neglect your home life, or put a strain on your relationship, but they still lower your overall quality of life.
Forgoing treatment for depression just because it hasn’t started causing serious consequences in your life will not address the way it affects your enjoyment of life. If you had a splinter in your hand, you might be able to go about your life without much interference, but you might enjoy your day more if you pull out the splinter.
On the other hand, depression can also be progressive. Depression can worsen over time and wear down your ability to cope with it on your own. More severe depression can start to have some of the effects that are mentioned above. In moderate-to-severe cases, it’s very difficult to be “high-functioning” with depression.
How Can Depression Be Treated?
Depression can be a very complicated problem that’s difficult to unravel on your own. Problems caused by depression can feed into one another in a vicious cycle. For instance, your low energy levels and mental fog can make it hard to concentrate at work. Mistakes at work can cause you to catastrophize, which increases your stress levels. Stress causes you to lose sleep, which lowers your energy levels. Since depression can cause so many problems that contribute to each other, coping with depression may take more than just gritting your teeth and getting through it.
But how can depression be treated? There are several potential approaches, but the treatment that’s right for you will ultimately depend on your specific needs. You can start by speaking to your doctor or therapist to begin to learn more about your needs and the treatment options that are available to you. However, there are a few common options that you may encounter.
Depression can be treated with prescription medications designed to address potential biochemical causes. Your depression may have to do with the levels of serotonin in your brain, which is a natural chemical tied to reward and motivation. Drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can help to raise the levels of serotonin in your central nervous system. These medications are in a class of drugs called antidepressants, which are first-line treatment options for depression. You may take a short-term therapeutic dose of the drug over a few weeks and then taper off. This may help correct any chemical causes of depression. If you have chronic depression, you may take the drug for longer.
Talk therapy with a clinical professional can help to unravel some of the issues that are causing depression or the issues that are caused by depression. You can learn to identify causes, vent frustrations, and learn coping mechanisms to help you better manage the symptoms of depression. General talk therapy is common, but you may also go through cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a therapeutic approach that’s designed to help you identify triggers and learn to cope with them in positive ways. Psychotherapy may be combined with medications to address both psychological and biochemical components of depression.