Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses affecting about 11% of men and 16% of women in Canada. When it comes to depression, most of the information out there is on its symptoms and getting diagnoses. Depression has its ups and downs, but it can be easier to deal with when you recognize the levels of depression and hold self-compassion as you go through each stage. Because depression varies from person to person, studies haven’t been able to propose a set of stages that pertain only to the experience of depression. But some researchers have been able to notice patterns between the stages of grief and the diagnosis of depression.
Symptoms of depression
If you think you’re dealing with depression, it’s important to look out for common symptoms.
- Feelings of despair and guilt that last longer than two weeks
- Low energy and constant fatigue
- Disinterest in your activities and hobbies, and loss of motivation
- Disruption in sleep patterns
- Loss of appetite
The five stages of depression
In life, there are many instances where you may experience grief — the loss of a loved one, the end of relationships, or even news of a medical condition. But what happens after receiving a depression diagnosis? And are there stages of depression? Although there’s no set checklist for depression and how it can make you feel, there are five common depression stages that also tie in with the Five Stages of Grief coined by Dr. Kübler-Ross. Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages that a dying patient may go through after a terminal diagnosis, which was later recognized as the five stages that grieving people go through (DABDA). We can also apply these as the 5 stages of depression:
Kübler-Ross emphasized that the stages of depression are not linear, and not everyone will go through every single stage. Being diagnosed with depression can very much be analogous to the five stages of grief. Learn more about the levels of depression.
When symptoms are first recognized, a person can have trouble accepting that depression is possible. Even if they’ve been experiencing symptoms for a long time, they can have a hard time accepting the reality of depression. They may even continue to convince themselves that the feelings are temporary and will soon go away. Denial can come in many forms such as avoidance, procrastination, and keeping busy. It can also feel like confusion, numbness, and shock.
A person experiencing depression can go through a period of self-victimizing and anger. Mental health disorders tend to have a certain stigma attached to them, which may leave people wondering who to turn to and what to do. The overwhelming feeling of confusion and fright turns into anger as the person wonders why this is happening to them. This becomes more elevated if the person doesn’t have enough information about their condition and what brought about symptoms — which could lead to feelings of impatience, rage, frustration, and embarrassment.
Another potential stage in the grief mode cycle is the bargaining stage. Negotiations begin when a person tries to avoid depression. Along with bargaining comes guilt and self-blaming. When an individual is diagnosed with depression, they may start to go through the ‘what-if’ process which can bring on false hope. This stage is also when bargaining statements begin, for example: “if you do this, I’ll change that.” — even if these statements aren’t true. Bargaining can also feel like shame and insecurity, as an individual ruminates on the future or past, compares themselves to others, and over-thinks and worries.
A person experiencing depression can withdraw from others and self-isolate, as the feelings of hopelessness wash over them. The symptoms of depression can become worse, especially for someone who has either been in denial or has been convincing themselves that they don’t have depression. This can send them into a dark headspace, leading to more extreme depressive thoughts. This stage can even bring about symptoms that were not previously present in earlier stages.
What is the last stage of depression? Though it may take some time, acceptance is the stage where a person accepts the fact that they have been diagnosed with depression, and that they’re living with a disorder. This stage requires time, adjustments, and knowledge that there will be good days and bad days. Acceptance creates space for mindful behaviours, self-compassion, validation from self and others, and the courage to take steps to live with the disorder.
It’s important to note that acceptance doesn’t mean that symptoms, distressing emotions, and trauma simply disappear. However, it’s positive in the sense that the struggling person has accepted the fact that they have depression and are potentially more open to treating depression.
Just like other mental illnesses, there are different types of depression that affect people in unique ways. There are no clear causes of the development of depression, with research suggesting that genetics along with your current and past environmental factors contributing to the risk of developing the disorder. The same can be said for its treatment. When it comes to treating depression, many sure methods are used to alleviate the symptoms, including psychotherapy, medication, or electroconvulsive therapy.
Getting back on track
The first important step after recognizing signs of depression is to speak with a mental health professional to determine treatment options. Just like the development and experience of depression is not linear, healing is also unique from person to person. But, there are steps you can take to alleviate symptoms and improve the experience of living with depression.
Treatments don’t affect people equally. That’s why it’s important to stay open-minded during the treatment process. You’ll likely discover that some treatments work better than others. It can take trial and error to find what’s right for you. Different treatments include:
Psychotherapy, more commonly known as talk therapy, can help treat depression, with studies suggesting that some people can see results within five to ten sessions. A therapist has all the tools and resources to help you come to a diagnosis and recognize the cause of your symptoms. They’ll help you set a plan to manage depression based on your needs, helping you feel better sooner.
Medications such as antidepressants can be used on a short-term or long-term basis, based on your needs and your symptoms. Speak with your doctor to learn more about medication options.
Lifestyle changes such as exercising, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding substances can help with your depression as well.
Support from loved ones
Seek support from family and friends. Talking with family and friends, or even a support group can help take the pressure off of dealing with depression alone. Remember: there is no shame when it comes to experiencing depression — it is a common mental health disorder experienced by millions.
Get help for depression
These stages of depression can be difficult to navigate but what’s important to remember is that depression is treatable. The first step to recovery is understanding your symptoms and at what “stage” of depression you’re in. You shouldn’t have to struggle with depression in silence and speaking with a professional can help. Our counsellors are here to assist every step of the way. Speak with a counsellor today.