Speaking with Dr. McMullen About Signs of Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
Here at TMS BrainCare we recently sat down with Dr. McMullen to discuss the different ways to identify depression, and how suicidal thoughts figure into understanding depression. You can view the discussion on Youtube. Following is a summary of the points he addressed.
Recognizing the Start of Depression
It is important to note that there is no guaranteed first sign of depression, especially for someone experiencing depression for the first time. Those who have recurrent depression might recognize the starting symptoms due to familiarity or notice a trigger. However, generally speaking, depression will often first manifest as a loss of energy and a decreased ability to maintain regular sleep habits.
Symptoms of Depression
- Change in Sleep Patterns: This can involve both insomniacs (the inability to sleep), and sleeping more than usual.
- The decrease in Enjoyment: Those activities that you usually find enjoyable will begin to provide less of satisfaction than usual.
- The decrease in Appetite: This symptom is connected to the decline of enjoyment. Food may not taste as good to you, and the will to eat may decrease.
- Loss of the Ability to Concentrate: Suddenly, reading, staying engaged in a movie or television show, or just being capable of completing work becomes difficult.
- Drop in Self-Esteem: Your feelings of confidence and self-worth are not as easy to access or are impossible to obtain all-together.
Depression and Grief
The loss of someone you love can trigger a depression, though grief in and of itself is not depression. The grief that leads to feelings and acts of isolation can be a sign of depression. If feelings of self-worth decrease during grief, this may also be a sign of depression.
Suicidal ideation can manifest in three different forms: passive wishes for death, fantasies about suicide, and the planning of suicidal acts. An understanding of these three levels of ideation can help judge the extent of the depression being experienced.
Passive wishes for death do not include ideas of personally ending one’s life. This includes thoughts such as, “I wouldn’t mind if I died,” “If I got cancer and died that wouldn’t matter.” These thoughts are typical of a more moderate depression.
Having suicidal fantasies is indicative of a deeper depression. Suicidal fantasies include thoughts and considerations of how a person might end his or her life. These thoughts can vary in frequency. The more common, the deeper the depression.
When an individual starts making plans to commit suicide, he or she is experiencing severe depression. If you or a loved one is experiencing these thoughts, it is important to get in to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible.
Depression the Illness
Dr. McMullen is careful to emphasize the fact that depression is an illness. It should not be thought of as a weakness of character. Depression is an actual disease that can and should be treated and not looked down upon.
To emphasize this point, Dr. McMullen relates the stories of both Abraham Lincoln’s and Winston Churchill’s experiences with depression in their lives. Both of these men were considered to be strong people, both by contemporaries and scholars of history.
When seeking treatment consider first asking a physician, friend, or family member to recommend a psychotherapist or psychiatrist that is trusted and reputable. For more severe cases of depression, it would be best to first seek out a psychiatrist, because a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help stabilize current thoughts and feelings.
Psychotherapy is an excellent and legitimate way to treat depression, so it should always be considered as an option.
If you are seeking treatment for a friend or family member, be sure to accompany that individual to the first appointment. Having someone around can be a great comfort. Don’t forget to ask questions for and on behalf of your friend/family member. If you are experiencing depression yourself, see if someone close to you will attend that first appointment with you to provide that feeling of security.
The better we understand depression and its symptoms the better we can care for each other and ourselves.