What 'I Don't Feel Good' Means For A Person With Depression
By Sarah Fader
Updated July 29, 2019
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
Depression is one of the leading causes of disability in the world today. According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people have been diagnosed with it, and this number appears to be on the rise. It is estimated that close to 10% of the world's population suffers from this debilitating mental disorder.
'I don't feel good' can mean different things to different people, but for a person suffering from severe depression, these feelings and emotions can be particularly harsh and difficult to handle.
Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Depression
Depression is sometimes difficult to diagnose because its symptoms and severity can vary significantly from one person to the other, and particularly between women and men. It is not always debilitating, but if any two or more of these common symptoms present, a person could be diagnosable:
- 'I feel hopeless and helpless, and there's nothing I can do about anything.' This feeling denotes a strong sense of powerlessness and inability to change one's situation or the perceived causes of the low mood. If pervasive, it can be particularly disabling.
- 'I don't feel like doing anything, even fun stuff. Sometimes I just don't feel anything at all.' If one doesn't care any longer about interests such as favorite pastimes, hobbies, social activities like a visit from a good friend, and physical intimacy, or sex, then the ability to enjoy life has been lost. This is often associated with dulled affect.
- 'I pick up/lose weight because my appetite has changed.' Some depressed people lose their appetite while others eat more to make themselves feel better. Either way, if a change in body weight exceeds more than 5%, it could be a sign of depression.
- 'Sometimes I feel restless, angry, even violent for no real reason.' A short temper and 'sensitive' nerves could be another sign that a person's body chemistry is out of whack.
- 'I hate myself.' Self-loathing often holds hands with feelings of guilt and a deep, pervasive sense of worthlessness. In addition, a person is overly self-critical when depressed.
- 'I just want to sleep all the time, or I lie awake in the early hours of the morning.' Hypersomnia, insomnia, or both, often present in depressed persons. Not getting enough sleep can exacerbate the lack of energy or general listlessness.
- 'Sometimes I cannot help myself - I often gamble, or I love to do dangerous stuff like driving too fast.' Reckless and dangerous behavior can signify depression in some people, especially when it's uncharacteristic.
- 'I can't concentrate on anything; my mind is so scattered.' A difficulty with focusing, memory, and decision-making are all signs that the brain-chemistry is unbalanced, and that a person could be suffering from depression.
- 'My back and head are constantly sore, and I don't know why.' Inexplicable symptoms in the body can also include stomach ache, painful shoulders, neck pain, and aching muscles.
What Causes Depression?
Important to note is that depression is a disorder with potentially varied and complex causes. Science has shown that depression is most likely brought on by an interaction of several aspects, which can include the following:
- Imbalanced chemicals and hormonal activity in the brain
- Uncontrolled and unremitting stress, or stressful life events
- Certain medications
- Certain medical conditions
- Genetic vulnerability
Imbalanced chemistry and abnormal hormonal activity in the brain
In the brain, the amygdala, the thalamus, and the hippocampus play the most significant roles in depression. In an average person's brain, the brain cells produce neurotransmitters or chemical 'messengers' that help with the normal functioning of the senses, also with standard learning, movement, and moods. In a depressed or manic person, this complex set of systems is compromised, which can significantly affect how he or she feels every day.
Previously, it was thought that the adult brain has only a limited regenerative capacity, but research has shown that neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) takes place throughout adulthood. However, in some depressed people, the hippocampus is smaller, and according to experts, the culprit for this shrinkage is severe stress. The hippocampus is associated with mood regulation and cognitive functions such as long-term memory and recollection. It is believed that stress leads to decreased expression of growth factors in the hippocampus, thereby affecting nerve-cell production or neurogenesis. This accounts for its smaller size, or atrophy, in depressed individuals.
Interestingly, animal studies have shown that the use of antidepressants enhances neurogenesis. Experts have wondered why antidepressants typically work only after two weeks or longer. The results of these studies led them to conclude that during this period, the brain forms new nerve cell connections, with improved exchanges of information between the nerve circuits. Simply put, the medication helps the brain to regenerate itself and, therefore, to work better. This is a departure from the previous belief that the medicine boosts merely the concentration of neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain, which was thought to improve a person's mood.
Uncontrolled and unremitting stress, or stressful life events
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stress as, among other things, "…a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation". A certain amount of stress is needed and healthy, but uncontrolled stress, resulting from traumatic life events such as the death of a loved one, losing a job or the breakup of a close relationship, can alter the delicate balance in the body's chemistry, and cause an avalanche of harmful responses. Even early childhood trauma and losses can have a profound effect on the body later in life.
This complex process involves hormones secreted by a person's adrenals, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus, as well as numerous neurotransmitters. Hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances are associated not only with mood disturbances and disorders but also with many diseases and health issues. Some go as far as saying that "depression can occur in association with virtually all the other psychiatric and physical diagnoses."
Certain Medical Conditions
All physical illness can increase the risk of depression, but the link between certain conditions and depression has been shown as more tenuous. In some cases, it is clear that physiological changes are the culprit, such as in the case of hypothyroidism, which can cause significant fatigue and low mood. In that instance, treating the thyroid should see the symptoms disappear.
However, in the cases of cancer, erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease, the cause of depression may be more psychological in nature. It can be said that these belong to 'Stressful life events,' as anything severely affecting one's health is bound to affect one's mood. Here, independent management of depression might be called for.
Conditions that can increase the risk of developing depression include:
- Cardiac disease
- Degenerative neurological conditions, i.e., multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease
- Endocrine disorders where specific glands produce too little or too much of a particular hormone, such as in the case of hypoadrenalism, hyper, and hypothyroidism. These are probably the best known among risk diseases for depression. Hyperthyroidism can cause manic symptoms, while a sluggish thyroid can make a person feel very depressed and tired.
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus, type 1 diabetes or celiac disease
- Severe viral infections such as hepatitis, HIV and mononucleosis
- Erectile dysfunction.
Western medicine continues to accomplish what was once considered impossible feats and has saved countless lives over the centuries. However, it is by no means a perfected science, and often, medical treatment of one disease or disorder makes another one pop up elsewhere in the body. This phenomenon is euphemistically referred to as the 'side-effects' of medication.
The following types of medication can cause depression or depression-like symptoms as a side-effect:
- Antifungals, antimicrobials, antivirals, and antibiotics
- Drugs to treat hypertension and heart disease
- Hormones, including anabolic steroids, oral contraceptives, estrogens, etc.
- Sedatives, sleep medication and tranquilizers
- Others such as some antacids, anticonvulsants, cancer drugs, analgesics, etc
People with a genetic vulnerability to depression and a family history of depression need to be especially vigilant when taking any of the abovementioned.
Genetics and epigenetics are other complex fields of study in the search for the cause of depression. Over time, more and more indications emerge that some individuals may have increased susceptibility to develop depression due to their lineage. This means that a family history of depression can point to a person's genetic vulnerability to the disorder. This is most clearly demonstrated in studies of identical twins, who share the same genetic coding. This and other studies have shown that if one twin has bipolar disorder (a subset of depression), chances of the other developing it as well are approximately 70%. This is a high percentage, but it is not 100%, which indicates that extraneous factors play an essential role in the development of depression too. How biology and the environment interact in leading to depression remains a relevant field of study.
Recently, two genetic sequences that appear to be linked to depression have been identified by geneticist Jonathan Flint, University of Oxford, UK. The study cohort of thousands presented with severe melancholia and was comprised mostly of women. His team's encouraging findings corroborated, even strengthened other scientists' findings in this area of genetic research, and holds far-reaching implications for future treatment of the disorder.
If 'I don't feel good' Becomes Overwhelming
As mentioned, the causes of depression are varied and complex, and a one-size-fits-all approach is impossible. Previously, people suffering from low mood were often told to 'pull themselves together,' but this type of advice is insensitive at best, and irresponsible at worst. It is not a condition to be treated lightly, as suicide is one of the greatest associated risks.
So, if a person feels so overwhelmed by a low mood that he or she cannot or battles to function normally, or entertains thoughts of ending it all, it is time to reach out for help. In this case, getting fast and efficient assistance is of great importance, and BetterHelp can be the perfect online consultation room to visit. Our experienced, skilled counselors and therapists are qualified to deal with people suffering from any degree of low mood. Depression need not be dealt with alone.