What is clinical depression, and what does it look like?

Man sitting on bed, with head in his hands

Written by Nathan Smith, a mental health advocate and writer behind My Brain’s Not Broken

So, what is clinical depression, and what does it look like in a person’s life?

Like other types of mental health conditions, depression can manifest as a temporary episode or a more severe, long-term form of depression. The type of clinical depression I experience is considered one of those long-term forms of depression. 

The symptoms of clinical depression are similar to symptoms of other depressive disorders, which include (but are not limited to):

  • Feelings of sadness, despair, and loneliness
  • Losing interest or pleasure in normal activities and hobbies
  • Problems sleeping (insomnia or too much sleep)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Trouble concentrating, focusing and making decisions

Clinical depression isn’t necessarily caused by some life event. Major life events often are precursors to mental health struggles, such as the death of a loved one or a traumatic event. However, clinical depression can be diagnosed when someone is experiencing depressive symptoms — with or without a trigger. 

So, what does clinical depression look like for someone experiencing it? Each individual person has their own challenges when it comes to their mental health. That means my challenges with clinical depression look different than the challenges others face. 

To me, living with clinical depression means that I am constantly working to manage feelings of worthlessness, shame, sadness and self-hate. It means that there are days where I will wake up and just be… sad. For no reason. I might lose the energy to do anything, or even just the desire. Sometimes I’ll start crying, and there’s no real trigger for it. 

The simplest way that I can describe living with clinical depression is that I must focus more on the symptoms that happen in my day-to-day life and make peace with the fact that there might not be a known reason for why I’m feeling the way I am. Clinical depression impacts me daily, but things have improved over the years, and I’ve been able to lead a fuller life as I’ve learned to navigate these challenges in a healthier way.

Over time, I’ve started to learn more about managing my symptoms and dealing with those feelings. Instead of trying to rid myself of my symptoms or focus on being “happy,” I’ve learned how to manage depression so that I can still live my life. There are plenty of times that depression beats me – but the more I learn, the easier it is to deal with the impact. And while I wouldn’t say that I’m “less depressed” than I used to be, I see it as a major win when a depressive episode lasts hours instead of days. 

I view living with clinical depression as a journey, and while I might never be free from it, I can live my best life possible knowing the unique challenges I have ahead of me.

Definitions and other medical information were borrowed from the Mayo Clinic.

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