How to Know If/When You’re Depressed

Before I start I wanna say that it’s legit ok to feel sad sometimes. Humans are not supposed to be happy all the time. That’s impossible. Humans are supposed to feel a wide range of emotions. Even emotions that can be very uncomfortable or just plain suck to feel. That’s life. Hiding from those emotions or pretending you don’t feel certain emotions doesn’t fix a damn thing or make you a more evolved person (but that’s another post for another time). So what’s the difference between being sad and being depressed? Mental disorders, in many cases, are more extreme/intense (aka outside of the average person’s experiences) versions of everyday emotions and experiences. Anyone who has ever taken an abnormal psychology course probably has heard of the 4 Ds method of thinking about mental disorders: Deviance, Distress, Dysfunction, and Danger.

  • Deviance: Whether someone’s behavior is acceptable in their specific culture (or cultures) and society. For example, “disorganized speech” (where someone is impossible to understand due to a disorder in how their thoughts are put together) is a symptom of schizophrenia. It is incredibly important for therapists (and all mental health professionals) to understand someone’s background/context before diagnosing them. The situation changes completely if the person was speaking in tongues while praying. In that case, speaking in tongues would not be considered disorganized speech aka a symptom of a mental disorder because it is an appropriate part of that religion/culture. See what I mean?
  • Distress: Do the symptoms this person is experiencing cause them (or the people around them) clinically significant distress (EG: a lot of anxiety, sadness, pain, etc)? If you’re wondering why causing other people clinically significant distress in written into the diagnosis: For certain mental disorders (personality disorders, etc) and in other situations, a client may not notice their symptoms or the impact these symptoms have. This is called having “poor insight”. But just because the person can’t tell that anything is off/wrong, doesn’t mean that their loved ones and others around them aren’t affected. Example: A spouse who is currently having a manic episode and impulsively spending all the rent money. A therapist could still use this information to diagnose their client.
  • Dysfunction: Do the person’s symptoms affect their ability to function in society (hold a job, pay bills, maintain social relationships/obligations, personal hygiene, etc). This does not mean the person’s whole life has to be dysfunctional. Symptoms could affect 1 area of someone’s life so much that it qualifies. For example, social anxiety symptoms that affect a person’s ability to go on successful job interviews, but don’t come up when hanging out with friends would still count.
  • Danger: And finally, do the person’s symptoms cause them to be a danger to themselves or others. [Note: Danger alone does not mean someone has a mental illness. Lemme say that again: violence, abuse, and any other kind of danger (emotional, physical or otherwise) alone does not mean someone has a mental illness. So stop saying every person who is engaging in violence has a mental disorder. That’s NOT true at all. It adds to the stigma against people living with mental disorders (who are more likely to be victims of crimes/violence/abuse/neglect and therefore are always shafted in terms of healthcare and treatment because of this stigma). And it lets people who engage in violence, and this society that enables them, off the hook instead of really addressing root causes of violent behavior.

A given mental disorder does not have to have all 4 Ds, but usually will have at least one. The 4 Ds method is a nice guideline/tool for thinking about what makes something a mental disorder.

So what is Depression? Because I refer to the kitchen in my home as “my kitchen”, I find it the easiest to think about mental health disorder diagnoses like recipes. Every recipe needs ingredients and these ingredients have to cook for a certain amount of time before the meal is ready. To make a major depressive disorder, you need to cook at least 5 of the following “ingredients” for at least 2 weeks [These symptoms must cause distress or dysfunction and the symptoms must not be caused by anything else like medication/drugs or another medical condition]:
Must Have At Least 1 From Here:
  • Feeling depressed (or other people think you look depressed) nearly every day; Kids might look irritable instead of depressed
    • Translation: Feeling shitty, cranky/irritable, down, etc so intensely that it causes distress and/or dysfunction, etc
  • No longer interested or no longer enjoying all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day
    • Translation: You just don’t care about the stuff you used to or the same stuff doesn’t make you feel good anymore. You might find yourself pulling away from people and being social
And At Least 3-4 From Here To Meet The 5-Ingredient Minimum:
  • Huge weight loss/gain or appetite decrease/increase
    • Translation: Eating can either feel like a chore, be your new best friend, or all of the above depending on the context. The important part here is that your usual behavior has changed
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
    • Translation: You have problems falling sleep and/or staying asleep or you sleep for hours more than you usually do
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day that other people gotta be able to see
    • Translation: Agitation – Looking agitated (think restless movements like nail-biting, skin-picking, pacing, fidgeting, etc) to people or Retardation – Looking as if your speech, thoughts, and physical movements have slowed down, taking longer than usual to react, and/or you are talking much less, much quieter or with much less feeling. Psychomotor retardation is what can make doing every day activities (showering, cooking, household chores, paying bills, answering emails, doing homework, work, etc) feel impossible to do because it feels like you are physically incapable, almost like there are invisible weights/pressure on and all around you.
  • Feeling fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
    • Translation: Feeling tired to the bone. Even the smallest activities might make you feel exhausted and you don’t get shit done the way you usually do
  • Feeling worthless or excessively/inappropriately guilty nearly every day
    • Translation: Holding yourself to unrealistic expectations, constantly ruminating/reviewing past mistakes, and/or seeing everything as evidence that you ain’t shit or blaming yourself for things that couldn’t possibly be your fault
  • Difficulties concentrating or indecisiveness nearly every day
    • Translation: Feeling distracted often, having trouble remembering things, and/or making even small decisions feels incredibly hard
  • Repeatedly thinking about death, thinking about suicide, thinking about suicide with a specific plan on how to do it, or attempting suicide
    • Translation: Passively wishing you could go to sleep and not wake up and believing that others would be better off if you weren’t alive on the lower risk end of the spectrum and constantly thinking about committing suicide, having a specific plan of how to do it, and/or attempting suicide would be on the higher risk end of the spectrum

I’m telling you all this, not so y’all can run around diagnosing people on the internet or IRL. Diagnosing a whole human being is not something you can do after reading a few pages in a manual. There’s so much work that goes into diagnosing a client: proper information gathering, taking into account the many parts of what makes each disorder, how the disorder develops in theory and in real life, risk factors, cultural issues, gender-related issues, and then comparing similar symptoms within multiple disorders to make sure that the diagnosis is as accurate as possible, etc. Basically, y’all, what I’m saying is take these good tips I’m giving you at face value and stay in your lane before you cause damage trying to diagnose or read someone’s mental status. Thanks!

This information is to build self-awareness so you can recognize possible signs and symptoms in yourself. Having a clear understanding of the symptoms and what makes those symptoms flare up is key. This post does NOT give you the ability to self-diagnose a major depressive disorder. Unless you have been diagnosed by a mental health professional, you cannot say you are clinically depressed (I should write a post about the overuse/inappropriate use of mental diagnostic labels & how it’s used as a shortcut to actually using more accurate/descriptive words for how you feel. And how people being uncomfortable delving too deep leads to using labels that don’t fit…). Again, what this post does do is help you identify any potential symptoms and give you a basic level of understanding. The first steps to healing are education and awareness. From there you can think about your options: using coping skills, asking for support from loved ones, looking for treatment, etc.

If you are experiencing these symptoms and want to access mental health treatment, places to start could include calling your insurance company to see what is covered, going Open Path Collective‘s website, filling out an intake for free/low-cost mental health services at nearby nonprofit organizations/community-based organizations, speak to your doctor about referrals, or checking directories like Psychology TodayNational Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, Therapy For Black Girls, etc.

 

If you feel like you want to hurt yourself and need someone to talk to, here are a few suicide hotlines (in the United States):
  1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK); Available 24/7
  2. The Trevor Project Hotline (LGBTQ youth) – 1-866-488-7386; Available 24/7; TrevorText: Text the word “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200; 7 days a week 3pm-10pm EST; TrevorChat: Click this link for the chat portal; 7 days a week 3pm-10pm EST
  3. Trans Lifeline – 1-877-565-8860; Available 24/7
  4. Mental Health Hotline – 866-677-5924
Depression doesn’t make you a failure. You aren’t a bad person. You aren’t weak. You aren’t a sinner. You just going through some shit right now. You don’t have to go through it alone. Hope this helps. Let me know if y’all want more of these kinds of posts in the future. Thanks for reading.
Next post will be about workplace relationships among coworkers and employers “dating” employees on 2/11/18.

 

Making the Most of Your Time While Unemployed

So you lost your job. Whether you were fired, quit, asked to resign, etc., loss of a job is still a significant, routine-altering change. I mean you already had your lunch spot set up for months, even years. Even if your workplace was toxic, you were sipping the poison slowly and what didn’t kill you…made you incredibly unhappy, but let’s move on. Well, regardless, it is finally over and you might be wondering what to do next. For many, sudden unemployment is a life or death situation in this economy, especially for marginalized people struggling with low incomes, no generational wealth, debt, and job discrimination. Hopefully, you are able to secure unemployment insurance (for as long as it exists). And to be real, until you make sure you have stable housing, finances, and food situation, it’s gonna be very hard to focus on anything else. So I’m moving forward with this post, assuming that your basic survival needs are being met and you are able to focus on other needs.

Loss of a job is like any other kind of loss. You now have to adjust to this change and move forward. I would like to offer some suggestions on how to make the most of your time while unemployed:

Allow yourself some time to get your bearings.

This is especially the case if the way you left your former job was rocky or if the job was overall a toxic place to be. In many ways, it may feel like leaving an abusive relationship and you may have to heal from that. Or if you had to leave a job you enjoyed, you may need space to mourn that loss. Some people have to leave due to an injury or disability and that is another kind of loss and huge change to deal with. Many people are also living with depression, anxiety and/or many other mental health concerns and the stresses of unemployment can heighten these symptoms. I would suggest at least week or 2 of just letting yourself be. No pressure to accomplish anything (beyond applying for unemployment or whatever other social service benefits you might need while unemployed). Take this time and do some emergency healing. What helps you escape significant stress? How do you cope? Do you like to hide away? Cool, stay home, hibernate, text your friends, and watch movies until you feel more like yourself. Do you need a change in scenery? Maybe sleep over at a friend’s place for a week, like you’re on a vacation. Whatever you choose to do for at least a week or 2, do it for you with no shame. Giving yourself time to rest and recover from your last job is not only good for your mental health, but it will also strengthen you for the job hunt ahead.

Process what happened.

Whether you were fired or quit, having to leave a job unplanned sucks at best. Whether you feel relieved, overjoyed, angry, sad, resentful, exhausted, etc., there is nothing wrong with wanting to talk about it. Find consenting people to vent to about this or write about it in a journal, on your blog, etc. You’ll feel a lot better once you get some time to talk through what happened. And depending on how things at your job ended, you might need to talk about it a lot while you are adjusting to this change. That’s ok.

Structure Your Days

Part of what makes being unemployed difficult is the psychological piece. In this capitalistic society, work gives people a sense of purpose and on a basic level, work literally sets the schedule for people’s lives. It can be comforting and comfortable for many people to wake up at the same time everyday and know exactly what you have to do. Once you lose your job, that piece of comfort and certainty disappears. Now, you (and your body) have to figure out when to sleep, when to eat, and how to spend all the hours in the day. In the first few weeks, it is very easy to fall into an unemployment blackhole, especially if the situation at the last job did not end on good terms. Many of us have found ourselves laying on the bed/couch, feeling without direction. Fill up your day with stuff that feels fulfilling & healing. Set an alarm, apply for jobs, pick up hobbies, clear up your Netflix queue, maybe make a checklist, but be careful that it doesn’t become an obligation.

Go Outside

This can be really hard for more introverted people or people dealing with depression symptoms for example. However, finding a reason to get out at least 1-2x a week is medicine for the mind and body. Even if it’s taking an extra long walk back from the corner store or doing laundry. Some other suggestions: go to the gym, visit friends, go to the library, check out any free/low cost activities in your area, etc.

Ok…Now, What’s Next?

Think about where do you wanna go from here. Did you learn anything from your last job experience? What do you want to leave behind or take with you for the next job?

This is a great time to reflect on the choices you’ve made up to this point. Is there anything you’d do differently? Do you need to refocus/regroup?

With self-reflection, comes growth, y’all.

Maintenance

Once you give yourself time to heal, took some time to process your emotions until you feel lighter, got your schedule down, and find time to go outside at least 1-2x a week, now you’re ready for the hardest part of unemployment: maintenance. It could take months for you to find a new job in this economy. There could be days when you feel more hopeful than others. There could be days where you feel hopeless or lose confidence in your skills. Or days where you feel so frustrated and angry that you feel like doing something reckless. It could help to plan for those days. In therapy, this is called a safety plan. You hope for the best, but it’s always good to have your backup plan in place for when something pops off.

Some questions to ask yourself when planning for the worst:

  • What are some signs that let you know you’re starting to feel hopeless, sad, frustrated, etc? Do you feel it in your body? Do you get headaches? Do your hands shake? Or is it more in your head/thoughts? Do you get racing thoughts, for example? It’s good to be aware of yourself.
  • What are some things you can do to cope with these feelings/this situation? What are some barriers to (aka what stops you from) you using these coping skills and how could you overcome those barriers?
  • Who can you contact for support?
  • What kind of support do you want from them?
  • Do you feel comfortable calling emergency services? What hospital would you want to go to in a worst case scenario? Do you have any suicide hotlines handy?

Unemployment does not have to be a hellscape. Just like after any other loss, there’s room for healing and change. Following these suggestions can help you proactively make the most of your free time, focusing on healing and personal growth. Changing this usually unpleasant experience into a period of transformation also allows you to reflect on any lessons learned and re-examine your wants/expectations while you’re in the process of figuring out your next move.

Be kind to yourself. Invest in yourself. You might be surprised by all the things you are capable of.

Thanks for reading. Next post: “How to Know If/When You’re Depressed” on 1/28/18.

Welcome to QueeringPsychology

 

This site was previously a casual blog that I created because it bothered me to see how much and how often knowledge was hidden from people based on race, gender identity, class, etc. When I was in my applied psychology M.A. program, it especially felt like I was crashing a party no one invited me to. People like me, the communities/identities I rep, are always seen as the victims, clients, patients, criminals, dependents, corpses, case studies, etc. Never as the creators, professionals, healers, researchers, change-makers or anyone with agency in the world. Systemic factors keep many of us out (or try to push us out) of the rooms where a lot of knowledge is being given. And to keep it 100, many of us who do get into those rooms do a trash job of packaging what we learn in lay, real life terms and spreading it to our communities.

As a psychotherapist (See About Me for more info), I have always had an interest in bridging gaps in knowledge and I want to use this website as a way for me to share, not only what I know, but how to apply it to daily life. One of the schools of thought I work from, believes that you have the power you need to heal yourself and thrive already within you. I just wanna share some tools and some food for thought with y’all to aide in your healing.

Just like I mentioned in this thread on Twitter, I want to publish written and video posts applying my knowledge of psychotherapy to various topics and issues, including demystifying therapy and mental health, LGBTQ-related issues, Blackness, interpersonal relationships, trauma, whole body health, etc. with future guest writers/speakers to speak from identities and to issues not in my lane. I also will eventually use this site to advertise for clients once I am ready to set up a private practice.

I will be posting every 2nd and 4th Sunday.

Thanks for reading.