If you listen to the myriad wellness influencers, it seems all you need when you’re down is a quick walk to make everything OK. They’ll tell you to nap, get good sleep, eat veggies, and exercise. Maybe they’ll include meditation and community service in the mix. And the truth is, for many people, these lifestyle changes may be enough for them to start feeling better. But for many others, they are just the tip of the mental health iceberg.
For people with chronic depression, anxiety, or both, self-care is not enough. Of course, you can — and should — integrate all the healthy lifestyle habits mentioned above. Serious mental health issues like depression, however, call for mental health treatment.
In our can-do, hustle culture society, you are often told to “push through.” This advice can be dangerous and lead to worsening conditions. Therefore, it is critical to know the signs that your depression needs stronger treatment than self-care.
The first sign you need help is feeling like you need help. Again, you will hear far too often that all you need is more grit. While there is a time and place for standing alone, sometimes the only way to get there is with help. Think of a baby learning to walk — no one tells that baby to “suck it up.” Instead, they offer support and guidance.
When you struggle with depression and can’t escape it, you are in the infant stages. You require support, guidance, and resources to pull yourself up and out. So many people feel guilty for needing help, but you mustn’t fall into that trap. Everyone needs help at some point in their lives, and if you think it, trust those feelings. You may need a therapist, medication, or mental health rehab to put yourself in a position to provide your self-care.
Sometimes, you are in too dark a space to recognize your feelings. You’re unsure what you need, but know what you aren’t feeling. Listlessness and lack of interest in life are signs of depression. When days go by, and you care nothing for your usual joys, you need help. For example, if you’re a new mother and you’re not interested in your infant, you could be experiencing postpartum depression.
In addition to a lack of interest in life, you may feel depleted of energy. These two feelings often go hand in hand. You’re so tired, even exhausted, that you feel incapable of leaving your bed. You might even sleep so much that you can’t sleep anymore but still have no energy.
An extreme lack of energy with no identifiable medical condition is often associated with chronic depression. It’s not something you can exercise or mani-pedi your way out of. It will take treatment to restore you to your usual levels of animation and interest in the world around you.
Another clear sign of depression is self-loathing. This self-hatred goes beyond the typical thinking your thighs are too big or feeling guilty for something you did. The self-loathing rooted in depression goes much deeper. It leaves you thinking constantly about how you deserve the bad things that happen to you. You might question your worth or value despite what others say or do to reassure you.
Unchecked self-loathing can lead to negative behaviors, worsening the situation. Often, people who hate themselves turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. At its worst, self-hatred can lead to suicidal ideation and suicide itself. Again, these feelings of despair cannot be treated with a quick fix and rarely go away on their own.
An extension of self-hatred turns your feelings outward and causes you to hurt others. It is bad enough to hate yourself or not care what happens to you. Taken to the extreme, it can lead to violence and reckless behavior. You might drink or do drugs and get behind the wheel, accidentally harming strangers or loved ones. You may even lash out and project your hatred onto a specific person or group and aim to hurt them.
At its root, violent and reckless behavior is rarely about the people you hurt or potentially hurt. Instead, it is usually based on self-hatred, mirrored onto others. Your hatred needs an outlet, and reckless or violent behavior provides it.
If you feel ongoing impulses toward violence, hatred, or recklessness, it is not you. It is your mental health in serious need of intervention. When you get help for your self-loathing, you’ll find your violent thoughts dissipating. You can learn to channel your anger in healthy ways.
While everyone can use a dose of self-care in their lives, chronic depression and self-loathing call for serious help. You should never expect to pull yourself out of depression on your own. Doing so won’t help, but it can also cause the situation to deteriorate. What begins as listlessness can lead to substance abuse, self-loathing, and worse. Before your feelings of depression continue into a downward spiral, heed the signs and get the treatment you deserve.