Lately, I’ve been wondering if there’s a difference between depression and “a slump.” After losing someone to suicide, I think it’s natural to become hyper-vigilant to ensure we don’t miss any warning signs from others. I am finding it hard to strike a balance between being mindful and being overly concerned about someone’s behavior. I mean, how can you really know? I also don’t want to become super-annoying to people if I repeatedly check in with them when they are just having a bad day. When thinking about my dad and the “symptoms” he may have had before taking his life, I would have characterized them as “a slump.” To me, that meant he wasn’t quite acting like himself for a short period of time – I’m talking a few weeks. He seemed to mope around a bit and didn’t jump at the chance to do some of his usual activities or hobbies. When talking with him about what was driving his worries and trying to understand them, he always seemed appreciative of the “thoughtfulness” and said things like, “you have a good point” when we suggested that they didn’t seem big enough to warrant the way they seemed to be weighing on him. In hindsight, the irrational nature of his worries could have been a sign. And, maybe the downplaying of them only made him feel worse, guilty or “crazy.” Knowing that he was an otherwise happy-go-lucky guy and the life of the party, it seemed natural that he would pop out of this in due time.
When I think of depression, I think of the way individuals are depicted in medication commercials. They stare solemnly out the window, sometimes with tears in their eyes. They hide in bed with the covers over their head while the rest of the family is carrying on as usual outside. They seem to be inconsolable and might even block out people who try to talk to them. Does this create an unrealistic set of expectations in our minds? I feel like this is what I would be looking for in order to diagnose that someone is in more than just a slump (in my non-expert opinion).
I even tried to Google depression vs. slump and was met with dozens of articles bearing headlines like:
- “How to snap out of depression”
- “How to get out of a slump in 12 steps”
- “9 ways to get out of a slump and make a comeback”
- “Depressive slumps and how to break them”
There was nothing from the major expert suicide or mental wellness resources within the first few pages of my web results. To me, this indicates that there is widespread confusion over what constitutes depression and when to be concerned about a loved one. They make it sound like a depressive slump is something you can evict by reading an article or dusting yourself off. I would argue that individuals with true depression are buried so deep in their feelings of helplessness, pain and despair that there is literally nothing that could break them of this outside of suicide or intensive therapy. Surely no article or the simple tips within would have made a difference. I just think there is a major lack of awareness over the symptoms and what to do if you think someone may be experiencing depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America outlines the following symptoms of depression. As I read them, I do begin to distinguish a difference between the severity of depression and a slump. I feel like I can now check the box on many of these points and say that my dad was, in fact, displaying them. I just never would have had this insight before. I also noticed they didn’t put a timeframe on the symptoms. Again, I thought a few weeks were no big deal, but clearly that could be all it takes.
Symptoms of Depression
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed.
Tips for Beating a Slump
On the other side of the spectrum, some of the 9 ways to break from a slump included “looking your situation in the eye and making peace with it,” and “lift up others and help them get what they want out of life.” To me, these do sound more like tips that could help someone who might be in a funk, feeling bored or otherwise not facing a mental illness like clinical depression. In looking at the depression symptoms above, I’m guessing it’s unlikely that an individual who resonates with this article would display many to any of those symptoms.
It’s human nature to experience peaks and valleys in life. I think I can say that I have experienced both a slump and minor depression in my life. Having depression doesn’t mean you are automatically destined for suicide. People who are proactive with recognizing they need help and seeking expert assistance in the form of medication and ongoing counseling or hospitalization do have a good chance of recovering. I have always erred on that side. I think the issue is that we need to educate more people about the symptoms and treatment available so that it’s easier to distinguish depression vs. a slump. It might make it easier for all of us to know when to be mindful or hyper-vigilant – not only with loved ones but with ourselves.
Image from emptysuitcases.com