“This music is so depressing”, “He looks so depressed”, “This shift is so slow it’s depressing”. Carelessly overused, inaccurate, and at times, belittling, the term depression leads to confusion when we are going through real distress, and are trying to figure out what to do about it.

Depression is a medical illness.  The disease (?) affects the brain, which in turn can affect the rest of the body. (1,2,3) Depression can affect anyone, regardless of age, income, race or gender. Fifteen percent of adults in North America will have suffered from depression at some point in their lifetimes. (26)

Everyone feels down from time to time. However, with depression, these feelings are more severe and occur nearly every day for two weeks or more. (4)

Depression may be caused by one thing or a combination of factors including biological, psychological and environmental –like feelings linked to social or family life. (4)

Below we will try to explain what depression can look like, feel like, or how it can express itself in a person. Although; it should be kept in mind when reading this list that people experience depression at different intensities and on many levels.

Depression is a severe medical condition and should be diagnosed by professionals. This information listed here does not replace getting proper help and guidance from your doctor.

Emotional Symptoms (4,6)

How does depression feel? What are signs that I might be depressed?

  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or numb
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or anxious
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Less interest or participation in activities normally enjoyed, feeling “bored”, listless
  • Feeling guilty or worthless “I’m not good enough” “I’ll never deserve to be happy”
  • Repeated thoughts of death or suicide “They’d be better off without me” “No one would notice if I was gone” “I can’t do this anymore, it’s too much for me to handle, I give up”

Environmental Factors (6)

Depression can often be triggered by very stressful life events, such as:

  • The death of a loved one, a move, a divorce or breakup, financial difficulties or job loss
  • Social isolation or loneliness, which can come from bullying, abusive relationships. etc
  • Periods of relationship conflict, whether personal, work or home
  • Demanding work or a stressful workplace
  • Health issues, especially when the health issue is ongoing

Physical Symptoms

Depression isn’t always just a mental thought, it can show up as a real physical issue that might seem to be something else entirely.

  • Low energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Changes in appetite or weight (eating more or less)
  • Sleeping more or less, just not wanting to get out of bed or insomnia
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol, typically to “black out” levels
  • Self-destructive behavior, loss of control, or uncontrolled rage, usually out of nowhere and without any real just cause
  • May include headaches, aches, pains, digestive problems, dizziness or lightheadedness

Biological Factors

Primary theories suggest that depression is caused by an imbalance of naturally occurring substances called neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord.

Serotonin and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters in the brain that appear to be involved in the symptoms of depression.

Types of Depression

Just as there are many different signs and symptoms of depression, there are different types, usually categorized into four groups:

Stress-related depression may be caused by sudden stress or a significant event like a breakup, losing a job, bad grades, or the death of a loved one. This is a fairly obvious type of depression to spot – a major life crisis spins a person into a “bad time”. Typical treatments include talk therapies and possible antidepressants, depending on the severity of the episode. Stress-related depression can lead to more severe forms of depression. (1,2,3)

Seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) tends to come around the same time each year, usually in the fall or winter, when there is less sun and the days are shorter. Western British Columbians suffer from SAD quite frequently, and to different intensities. Seasonal depression has many of the same signs as depression like feeling down, tired, short-tempered, craving sweets and starches, headaches, and having problems sleeping. (5)

Treatments range from upping your vitamin D dosage and broad-spectrum lighting to medication.

Chronic depression (dysthymia) is not a severe type of depression, but symptoms can stay with you for a long time and affect your daily life. Without treatment, chronic depression can lead to major depression. Many people with chronic depression suffer from major depression at least once in their lives. A lot of chronic depression is treated with low-dose antidepressants, talk therapies and mental exercises.

Major depression is a severe form that can lead to problems at home, school, and work. It can keep you from being able to study, sleep, and find joy in things like sports, music, friendship, and sex. While some people only suffer from major depression once in their life, others suffer from it many times. (3) Major depression needs professional help, be it therapy, medication or both.

Bipolar disorder (manic-depression) can involve extreme changes in mood. May change from feeling depressed to feeling very active or talkative to feeling “normal.” (4)  Sometimes this can look like someone on a sugar high; hyper, chatty, seemingly very happy, then crashing hard and being very low, or even angry for no reason.


Reduced-Cost Counselling BC
BC Crisis Centres
What is Depression?
Foundry BC (Up to age 24)

How Bartenders are Rallying for Mental Health

My name is Wil Wheaton. I live with chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed.