Understanding symptoms and tips for finding support

Depression may feel like something you may want to hide or even pretend is not there. It may be the last thing you want friends and family asking about. But giving your mental health proper care and attention may be a healthy path toward helping you get better. 

Being honest with yourself about how you’re feeling may help you navigate true depression or even certain days when you may feel down. Having open conversations may be one way to help decrease the stigma around depression, encouraging more people to speak up when depression happens to themselves or loved ones. 

Are there different kinds of depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the two most common forms of depression are:1

  • Major depression: This is having symptoms of depression most of the day, every day, for at least 2 weeks. Symptoms may keep you from daily activities, like sleeping, eating, working and enjoying life. An episode of major depression may happen once in a lifetime or several times.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): This is having symptoms of depression that lasts much longer, typically for at least two years. With this type, you might have episodes of major depression along with less severe symptoms. Things like loss of interest in activities, low energy or poor concentration.

Life events may also determine how, when or if other forms of depression develop. These types of depression happen under specific circumstances.1

  • Perinatal depression: This happens when a woman has major depression during pregnancy or after the baby is born (postpartum depression).
  • Seasonal affective disorder: Appropriately referred to as “SAD”, this type of depression happens when the seasons change. Ever feel blue when the sky is grey? Or maybe you get a little down when the sun sets at 6:00 PM? It’s a real thing, especially when daylight hours are short.
  • Depression with symptoms of psychosis: This is a severe form of depression where a person experiences psychosis symptoms, like delusions or hallucinations.1

What are signs and symptoms of depression?

Depression may show itself differently for different people. However, there are some common signs that may point to feelings of depression. They include:1

  • Feeling sad, anxious, or “empty”

  • Loss of interest in your favorite activities

  • Overeating or not wanting to eat at all

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Feeling really tired

  • Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that may not get better with treatment

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

You may read this list and think, “Some of these sound like me. Do I have depression?” Keep in mind the symptoms of depression may need to be present for most of the day, every day, for at least 2 weeks.1 If that sounds like you, schedule a visit and tell your doctor how you’re feeling. Or, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

How can I recognize the signs and what can I do?

If you’re anticipating a big life change that may be stressful, you feel yourself getting more anxious, or you know you experience SAD during the fall and winter, consider taking extra care of your mental health. Consider these ideas that may help you with feeling more content, less anxious and more in tune with recognizing possible signs of depression. 

  • Be around people you love (even seeing friends virtually may help) Spending time with family and friends – or even new acquaintances may help improve your mood.2
  • Stay active. Exercising reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which gives your brain feelings of happiness.3 Consider finding a physical activity you enjoy doing and make it part of your regular routine.3
  • Eat for a better mood. Diet impacts how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally. There are certain foods we can eat to help support a happy body and mind.4
  • Meditate. Meditation is gaining traction as a common practice to help manage stress and improve our mental clarity.5
  • Find a furry friend. Animals may be more than just cute to look at. Studies show that having a pet can actually help lift our mood.6 If you're not ready for a pet of your own, consider other ways to benefit from time with animals, like volunteering at a local animal shelter, fostering a pet or even visiting with a neighbor who has a friendly pet. 
  • Talk to a therapist. People often think of therapy as a way to fix something that’s broken. The truth is, many people may see a therapist as a way to proactively manage stress and help to stay on top of their mental well-being. Prefer a virtual visit? Apps like Talkspace offer 24/7 access to therapists whenever and wherever you need. You can also look into what mental health resources may be available through your UnitedHealthcare health benefit plan.

A note about finding help for your depression

Natural remedies for depression, like the ones listed here, may work well for some people. However, others may also need medical treatment for depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to talk to a health care provider who specializes in mental health and depression. They may be able to determine the best way to help. Learn more about how to choose a mental health provider.

You might also find helpful mental health resources that may be offered through your UnitedHealthcare benefit plan.

What kind of doctor should I see for help?

The first step in seeking professional help is to visit your primary care provider (the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly exam). Your doctor may do some basic screening and ask questions to learn more about your symptoms. You may also want to bring a list of your own questions. From there, you might be referred to a mental health specialist, like a psychiatrist or psychologist.7 There are also resources available to help you learn more about choosing a mental health provider. Remember, this is your health journey. You can feel empowered to ask questions that help shape a care plan that's comfortable for you.