If I asked you to describe what a depressed person looks like, you probably wouldn’t have pictured someone like me. While I was struggling with depression, I still showed up to work every day, took care of my appearance, and did my hair and makeup everyday. I didn’t lock myself in my apartment with dishes piling up in the sink — you would have no idea based on just on appearances.
I hadn’t (yet) experienced that major, suffocating form of depression that makes getting through every single day a herculean task — but I also didn’t feel like myself. Normally an energetic and social person, I felt apathetic about seeing friends and attending social functions that used to excite me.
Just because I still appeared to be high functioning didn’t mean there wasn’t something going on under the surface. Not all mental illnesses show up in the dramatic ways we imagine or as depicted in the media. Living with even a milder mental illness can still seriously impact your quality of life — and potentially turn into something more serious if not caught and treated early. I advocated for myself with both a therapist and a psychiatrist, and here are some of the subtle signs that you should take care of your mental health, too.
If you’re an avid runner, and suddenly the idea of lacing up your sneakers doesn’t sound appealing, you’ll want to pay attention whether this feeling is persistent. The official term for this feeling is anhedonia, which means an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable.
Whether you’re getting too much sleep, or not enough, sleep changes can be one of the biggest signs that your mental health is off — and it may manifest in either sleeping too much or insomnia. Either way, if your sleep schedule is different than usual, take notice.
Fatigue is one of the core symptoms of depression, but it’s not limited to just feeling tired. It includes low energy, but also an inability to focus or make decisions, which is caused by an imbalance in dopamine or serotonin.
If you find your memory’s not what it used to be, it could be a sign of depression. A 2016 studyfound that depression is linked with both a “reduced working memory capacity” and slowed processing speed. Though this may be scary and frustrating, but it’s a fairly common sign of depression.
We’re not always the most accurate observers of ourselves. While we can identify our own thoughts, it may be difficult to identify our behaviors. If family and friends notice that you’ve been acting differently, consider what they’ve said before getting defensive and insisting they’re wrong. Those who know you best can often see what you can’t see yourself.
Somewhat surprisingly, mental health issues can sometimes manifest physically. “Some physical symptoms [of mental illness] may include headaches, back and neck pain and gastrointestinal issues,” said Rachel O’Neill Ph.D., an Ohio licensed professional clinical counselor and Talkspace Provider. She added that “chronic widespread body pain” may also indicate mental health concerns.
When your mental health has been affected, you may find yourself withdrawing from friends, family, and isolating yourself. You fear that they don’t or won’t understand you, or you’re afraid of showing your true self. But in reality, connecting with someone, maintaining social connections, can help you get back on the right track.
Whether you want to eat everything in sight or the idea of eating makes you sick, a change in appetite is something to pay attention to. If you’re overeating, you may be self-medicating or escaping your current reality with food. A lack of appetite, on the other hand, may be caused by an increase in stress hormones in the brain, according to a 2016 study.
“Symptoms that persist might benefit from seeking medical evaluation,” said O’Neill. For physical symptoms that may be connected to mental health issues she suggests that “seeking counseling from a licensed mental health professional can be an effective first step in addressing them.” In short, any shifts in behavior — or anything that’s making you feel less yourself — is a wake-up call for you to keep an eye on your mental health.
Originally published on Talkspace.
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