Feeling sad is something that happens to all of us from time to time.
However, feeling sad for long periods of time can become quite detrimental.
If you or someone you know has been feeling sad, irritable, cranky or fatigued for longer than a week, they may be demonstrating the early signs of depression.
New Challenges for Adolescents and Young Adults
We are often told, either by friends, parents or grandparents, that our young adult years are the best years of our lives.
While this may seem the case in hindsight, the challenges faced during this time are often new, come frequently and can feel overwhelming. Some of these challenges can include:
- Starting your first professional or career-critical job;
- Moving out of home;
- Making your first large purchases (such as a new car);
- Developing (or ending) your first long-term relationship;
- Starting a family.
While these challenges are not especially unique, they can often come at unexpected times and tend to pile up quickly if not dealt with effectively.
Coupled with the pressure of high expectations from friends and family, feelings of stress, fatigue, irritability, worthlessness and sadness, can be common reactions to these new challenges.
While there is still debate as to the exact causes of depression, whether someone develops depression is often influenced by the methods individuals use to overcome new challenges.
For most adults, the methods used when facing challenges are often dependent on their past experiences.
This can be problematic for young adults, who are encountering a vast range of new challenges for the first time. Without past experiences that have been overcome or managed, young adults are often not equipped with strategies to help them cope in these new and stressful situations.
Depression is a Slippery Slope
It is important to remember that feelings of stress, fatigue, sadness and irritability are normal reactions to abnormal events in our lives. These feelings are not unique to young adults, or depressed people.
What differentiates someone experiencing a set of normal reactions to adverse events, from someone with depression, is the impact these emotions have on their ability to function.
For example, feeling stressed is an often regular part of life. However if you are unable to eat breakfast, or lunch and then dinner, or sleep at night, because you are so worried about something, that is a sign that your stress has started to impact your ability to function.
How do I know if I might be depressed?
Symptoms of depression vary, but usually fit into one of four categories:
- altered behaviour;
- unwanted feelings;
- negative or unproductive thoughts;
- and physical problems.
An important point to remember is that everyone will experience a few of these symptoms from time to time. This is completely normal and does not automatically mean that you may have depression.
It is when these symptoms become long lasting, overwhelming and, most importantly, begin to impact on your day to day functioning, that they start to characterise depression.
- Typical behavioural changes include difficulties in getting work or school tasks done, not going out with friends anymore, or withdrawing from friends and family.
- People experiencing depression frequently feel unhappy, frustrated, irritable, overwhelmed, and generally low in confidence.
- Physically, those experiencing depression frequently lack an appetite, are sick, run down, have difficulty sleeping despite overwhelming fatigue, or experience aches and pains in the absence of physical activity.
- Thoughts such as ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘I’m worthless’ or ‘People would be better off without me’ occur quite frequently, often intruding while people are performing normal activities.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of symptoms, neither does everyone experiencing depression present with all of the same symptoms.
However being mindful of these symptoms and their duration will go a long way to identifying when some professional help is needed.
What can I do?
If you think that you, or someone you care about, may be experiencing depression, know that help is available!
A psychologist is able to provide a positive setting in which those experiencing depression are able to challenge these intrusive thoughts and negative emotions, while also providing a number of behavioural strategies to improve day-to-day functioning.
Seeking assistance from a trained professional early on, even if you are not sure about what you are experiencing, is an excellent way to ensure you are able to make the most of your time as a young person, and are best equipped to face the challenges of adulthood.
Authors: Susanne Gilmour and M1 Psychology.
- Joiner, T. E., Brown, J. S., & Kistner, J. (2006). The Interpersonal, Cognitive and Social Nature of Depression. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
- Mazzucchelli, T., Kane, R., & Rees, C. (2009). Behavioural Activation Treatments for Depression in Adults: A Meta-analysis and Review. Clinical Psychology, Science and Practice, 16(4), 383-411. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2850.2009.01178.x
- Risch, N., Herrell, R., Lehner, T., Liang K., Eaves, L., Hoh, J., Griem, A., Kovacs, M., Ott, J., Merikangas, K. R. (2009) Interaction Between the Serotonin Transporter Gene (5-HTTLPR), Stressful Life Events, and Risk of Depression: A Meta-analysis, JAMA, 301(23), 2462-2471. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.878