During 2011, project researchers at Durham University conducted an on-line questionnaire asking people about their experiences of depression. It was developed in consultation with researchers from the UK mental health charity SANE. Click here to find out more about the questions posed to participants about their experiences of depression, and click here to read about the general themes that have emerged from the responses overall.
Here are some representative examples of responses to some of the questions:
Describe your emotions and moods during those periods when you are depressed. In what ways are they different from when you are not depressed?
“When I am depressed I feel as if there is no future for me. Some days I don’t want to get up because I fear that I will do everything wrong and I don’t want to let people down. I hate everything about myself and wish I could change but I know that I never would be able to. It is as if I am being suffocated and I feel trapped with no escape apart from death but I don’t actually want to die but at times it feels like the only option I can choose. I hear a voice that confirms everything I think about myself and sometimes it feels as if it is the only one that will tell me the real truth about myself. Other times I have no feeling at all and I am just numb to everything and everyone. When I am not depressed I feel as if I can breathe again and I know I have some sort of a future even if it isn’t a good one which is better then not having one at all.”
“Sometimes it is difficult to know this as the non-depressed periods creep up on you and before you know it you are questioning why you feel ‘ok’. But generally when you are not depressed you don’t foresee a bleak future and there is a sense of mental clarity and that things can be achieved – positivity but not a false positivity. When I am depressed it builds and builds from a low moment that triggers something that then accelerates through a thinking process that is eternally negative that links one bad thought/experience to the next until you try and shake yourself out of it. This is essentially a dark time of hoplessness and fears for the future. I think these dark times are very individual depending on triggers and experiences of each person but broadly the same low outcome and low feeling is the same. sometimes it is very very confusing.”
Does the world look different when you’re depressed? If so, how?
“Yes. When Im not depressed I feel like I can cope with the little things daily life throws at you. I can experience joy and can see good in others and on rare ocassions myself. When I am depressed, all the little things that life throws at you combine to become a huge blob. Each little thing reminds me of every other little thing that has ever happened and it becomes a huge mass of bad things that appear to be constantly happening. Each little thing is evidence for my worldview that life is not worth living. The world looks very bleak. Every tragic event, every injustice gets added together and seems to be all that exists in the world. Not only am I unhappy, I cant understand how other people can be happy living in this world. The world looks very overwhelming, every little task seems like a mountain to climb. I feel overwhelmed by the sorrow I see in the world and cannot see any point to anything. Why bother trying? Why even exist? Everyone looks like a stranger. I cannot feel warmth or affection for people I am close to. I cant even be close to them. They irritate me and in my mind they become the opposition. It feels like nobody understands me or cares and again I collect evidence for this. The world feels cold and hostile towards me. In reality I am cold and hostile towards the world. When Im not depressed other possibilities exist. maybe I wont fail, Maybe life isnt completely pointless, Maybe they do care about me, maybe I do have some good qualities. When depressed these possibilities simply do not exist.”
“Often, the world feels as though it is a very long way away and that it takes an enormous amount of effort to engage with the world and your own life. It feels as though you’re watching life from a long distance. At times it felt as though I was looking through a fish eye lens, and couldn’t see clearly around the periphery, or even very well at all. I felt slightly pulled back from reality, as though there was cotton wool between my brain and my senses. A feeling of exhaustion often prevented me from being able to interact with the world, adding to the inability to process what was going on around me.”
Do other people, including family and friends, seem different when you’re depressed? If so, how?
“Absolutely. I feel very separate from people, fearing that if I talk about how I’m feeling they’ll reject or disapprove of me. And yet, on the flipside of that, I can become very clingy and over-reliant on people, particuarly my boyfriend, and fear that without him I’ll somehow disappear. Seeing people becomes a huge chore, so I avoid friends, but then get upset when I’m not invited to things, feeling rejected and left out. I also feel afraid of my emotions and attitudes towards others. I can spend time with people I love, but be convinced that I hate them, that they’re the problem and I need to get away from their influence.”
“When I was depressed, I also became much more paranoid. I assumed that if a friend didn’t text me back after a few minutes, they hated me. Tiny off-hand comments would make me believe even my own mother hated me. I always assumed that the root of this hatred was my awful personality. I thought that the other people in the building I lived in (even those I didn’t know) were making fun of me behind my back. It sounds ludicrous now, but that’s how I genuinely felt at the time.”
How does your body feel when you’re depressed?
“I experienced massive exhaustion, where my body wouldn’t co-operate, as though I’d been very physically active for a long period and needed to rest. Often the emotional and mental pain during depression was so severe it was very nearly a physical pain. It often felt as though I literally had a broken heart and that my chest was tight. I also suffered symptoms of anxiety with depression, which tightened my stomach.”
“physically i feel like a really bad you have no energy and feel totally drained. even the simplest of tasks seem to take 10 times the energy it normally would. its like walking around in lead boots.my head gets in a fog and confusion is great.also find it hard to regulate simple things like body tempreture and u feel permanently run down.i also find that my physical illness’ worsen or get harder to control when depressed”
How does depression affect your ability to perform routine tasks and other everyday activities?
“Sometimes it felt impossible to live normally. I would often go through life not really sure of what I was doing or why, almost on automatic pilot. By the time the days’ normal activities, such as work are finished, any additional activities were impossible due to shear exhaustion from the exertion of paying attention to the day and getting through it. Even getting out of bed was a struggle, and many times on the way to work I felt like simply curling into a ball and staying there.”
“Things seem almost impossible. Just getting out of bed is difficult. I used to eat a lot of ready meals or things that wouldn’t take long to prepare, or I’d just snack, because cooking just felt too difficult. It was an effort to do things like have a shower and get dressed. Everything was so difficult. It would take a lot of encouragement for me to begin to do anything.”
When you are depressed, does time seem different to you? If so, how?
“It goes very very slowly. Like I remember lying awake at about 4am in my uni room and it was going so slowly, all I had to do was get through to the morning so I could get some help and it seemed almost impossible just to get through those few hours because it was taking so long.”
“Time is elastic when I have depression. In the early hours of the morning, when I can’t sleep, I can lie there feeling like an hour has passed – only to find, when I look at the clock, that it’s only been three minutes. Conversely when I’m sitting on the sofa knowing I have to get up and do something I can say “I’ll do it in a minute,” and then when I get up in what feels like barely a minute’s time I discover I’d actually been sat there for a further hour.”
How, if at all, does depression affect your ability to think?
“It feels as though my brain slowed down, like there was all this fuzziness to work around to get a coherent thought. It was very hard to think about a big picture of something, and to hold any thought in my mind for a long period. My ability to concentrate on anything for very long was impaired, and often the logic and reasoning required of me took a huge amount of effort. Critical thinking was very hard because of the need to think of several things at once. Multi-tasking was next to impossible.”
“I find it extremely difficult to think. Often, stringing a sentence together is too much effort – hence I don’t talk to people either in person or on the phone, don’t reply to texts and don’t look at emails. I can’t read when I’m severely depressed, or watch TV. I just lie there. I seem to physically have difficulty formulating words when I (rarely) attempt to talk.”
In what ways, if any, does depression make you think differently about life compared to when you are not depressed?
“Life seems completely pointless when depressed. Depression is the worst feeling in the world and when you’re absorbed in its depths you just dont even want to be there, anything to stop the numbness and pain. You can’t see far into the future so you can’t see aspirations or dreams. Everything I ever wanted to do with my life before seemed impossible now. I also would think that I would never get out, that I’d be depressed forever. It brings quite irrational thinking because it’s not a rational illness. It makes you think all sorts of things about life and yourself that aren’t true. I thought I’d never escape from the depths of depression and never achieve anything with my life.”
“It’s much more difficult to see the positive things that surround me and in the grasp of depression I tend to catatrophise events that happen or imagine events happening. Being motivated to look after yourself and enjoy life is also a challenge to me when depressed and the world seems a cold and calculating place to live in, it makes me feel lonely with life.”
If you have taken medication for depression, what effect did it have?
“It made me less depressed at first but now seems to have little effect.”
“The medication almost always works, though suffering from recurrent depression due to bipolar it’s a vicious circle of getting ill, being medicated, feeling Ok, coming off the medication, feeling normal then eventually back to getting ill…”
“I think it probably saved my life. It made the symptoms bearable and most important enabled me to get to sleep at night. I have tried to come off medication several times and completely crashed, becoming suicidal and almost hysterical. I have managed to reduce my medication by about 10% and would love to get off it completely but I honestly don’t know if I ever will. I am very frightened of life without my meds.”
“It’s made me dizzy, act irrationally, made me seem drunk. I have lucid horrible dreams. I have never completed a course because my family can’t handle me when I’m on them.”
Are there aspects of depression that you find particularly difficult to convey to others? If so, could you try as best you can to indicate what they are and why they are so hard to express.
“Yes. What it is I’m depressed about. I find it difficult to understand my own feelings/thoughts and consequently it is very difficult to explain or describe them.”
“I find it hard to express what depression feels like – people so easily dismiss these feelings as being over-emotional, as being a woman or of just being “that time of the month”. I don’t know how to express to others that I am ill – that this is as serious as any other illness – but I don’t want to be treated differently because of it. I don’t want special treatment, but I do want fair treatment but when you complain or ask for this then people get defensive, as if you are making it up. There is an institional or societal level of misunderstanding of this and it is so hard to fight that stigma, especially when you are fighthing in the depths of depression and are not at your best to articulate this. When I have tried to explain this when I am “compis-mentis” and in the “right frame of mind” it seems as if people are telling you not to dwell on the past, to remain positive and to think about the future but there is a fear that it will come back – the inevitable black cloud hanging over the future.”
What do you think depression is and what, in your view, caused your depression?
“Depression is a chemical imbalance within your brain, that manifests itself with emotional symptoms. It is much like any other physical illness, but lacks understanding by other people because you cannot see it, and it expresses itself in uncomfortable ways.”
“Depression to me is like a big, deep, dark, pretty much pitch black hole. Depression in medical terms is a mental health illness or psychiatric illness.”