What is Depression?

I’ve struggled with depression for about as long as I’ve been a musician. (I told my story on Punksburgh. Read about it here.) What’s the connection between depression and being a musician? Is there one?

Well, recently we talked about some factors within the music industry that make musicians depressed – things like pressure, (lack of) self-confidence, time management, and financial concerns to name a few. Today we’ll explore what depression is.

Let’s start from the beginning. What is depression? What are the symptoms?

trees (2 of 2)
Photo by Trevor Richards.

The National Institute of Mental Health has a ton of information on depression, symptoms, and treatments. Please go here to read more, because depression is both serious and common. This is just a quick overview.

Depression (also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is serious. It affects every aspect of one’s life (and often the lives of close family and friends). Genetics, biology, environment, and personal psychology (we’ll talk more about the personal psychology aspect in some upcoming posts) all play a role in the development of depression, according to current research. Those with a personal or family history of depression, those experiencing major life changes, trauma, or stress (like being in the music industry?), and those with certain physical illnesses or taking certain medications are at an increased risk of experiencing depression.

How do you know if you have depression? You can take this quick Depression Test from Mental Health America to get an idea.

Clinically, to be diagnosed with depression, you must experience some of these symptoms for at least two weeks (most of the day, almost every day). Experiences of depression don’t look and feel the same for everyone – for example, some people experience all of the symptoms but at a very mild level that doesn’t interfere (not too much, not all the time) with their lives; whereas some people have just some of the symptoms but experience them so deeply that the interference with daily life is extreme.

Symptoms of depression are:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Are you experiencing any of these? If so, please read more here and here so that you can determine some next steps that are best for you. Please also see my Resources Page for agencies and programs that can help you right now. (This resource is great, too.)

Next time, we’ll look at how symptoms of depression often manifest in musicians and ways that musicians can cope. If you haven’t yet, take my Coping Techniques survey to anonymously tell others the ways that you cope.

Last but not least, I want to share these two TED Talks. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in them, but I found them both to be interesting and helpful in different ways (and I actually really, really agree with a lot in them). I hope they’re helpful and inspiring to you.

This one is a little kitschy at times, but Ji-Hae Park plays the violin beautifully (oh, that second song!). She talks about how she turned her depression into a way to help others with music.

And this one feels a little macabre at times, but Andrew Solomon‘s intensity is valid. He talks about the difference between sadness, grief, and depression and that the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.

One thing to think about: Even if you feel alone, you’re not. There are others out there struggling and overcoming. You can find evidence of that in these words, in these TED Talks, in these photos, and in (I’d say) all music. Be well.

trees (1 of 2)
Photo by Trevor Richards.