In Clearbrook Treatment Centers Massachusetts, Mental Health

Depression is a pervasive and debilitating mental health disorder and a subject that demands clarity and understanding. Today, the experts at our Clearbrook Massachusetts rehab delve into the intricate world of major depressive disorder (MDD), seeking to convey what depression feels like from a clinical and experiential perspective. Depression is more than just a fleeting emotional state; it is a complex interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors that deeply impact an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This evaluation aims to address what it’s like living with depression and whether one can know when they are depressed, shedding light on the subjective experiences that often defy easy explanations.

When Does Depression Kick In?

Major depressive disorder, commonly referred to as depression, is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects the way you think, feel, and act. Fortunately, it is also treatable.

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can also cause a variety of emotional and physical problems and decrease your ability to function at work and home.

Though it can manifest at any point in a person’s life, depression, and its onset are influenced by a multitude of factors, both internal and external. While the precise timing of when depression “kicks in” varies from individual to individual, the age of onset is believed to be in a person’s 20s to early 30s.1

Some possible triggers or causes of depression include:

  • Adolescence and early adulthood: Depression often kicks in during the teenage years or early adulthood, possibly because of significant hormonal changes, academic or social pressures, and life transitions that commonly occur during this period.
  • Major life events: Traumatic life events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, financial difficulties, or chronic illness, can trigger depression at any age. These events can be overwhelming enough to trigger the onset of depressive symptoms.
  • Genetics: A family history of depression can increase one’s vulnerability to the disorder. Genetics plays a role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to depression, although it’s not the sole cause of the disorder.
  • Biological factors: Imbalances in brain chemistry, particularly involving neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, can contribute to the onset of depression and can occur at any age.
  • Chronic stress: Prolonged exposure to high levels of stress, whether related to work, relationships, or other factors, can also contribute to the development of depression.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain, thyroid disorders, or neurological illnesses, are associated with depression onset.
  • Substance abuse: Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug use, can both contribute to and result from depression. The co-occurrence of substance addictions and mental health disorders are common co-occurring disorders.

It’s important to note that depression does not have a single cause. Rather, it can be triggered by various factors. Moreover, depression may develop gradually over time or appear suddenly as a result of a particular trigger. Understanding what depression feels like contributes to early recognition of depressive symptoms and seeking professional help for effective management and treatment.

What It Feels Like to Have Depression

While the precise manifestation of the disorder may vary from person to person, generally, depression feels like a numbness or emptiness in which the person doesn’t feel happy, sad, or angry. For many people, depression can feel like an empty void of emotions or a sense of nothingness.

While explaining what depression feels like can be challenging, some common feelings and experiences are typically associated with this condition. It’s important to highlight that these experiences may not be the same for everyone, as the nature and severity of symptoms may vary.

Below are common depressive symptoms and what it feels like to be depressed:

  • Persistent sadness and emptiness: Depression often causes an overwhelming and enduring sense of sadness and emotional emptiness. This emotional state supersedes feeling “blue” or down and is more of a profound and persistent feeling of hopelessness.
  • Loss of interest and pleasure: A hallmark symptom of depression is anhedonia, the inability to receive pleasure or interest from activities and experiences that once brought joy or satisfaction. This means that once-loved hobbies, social interactions, and even basic daily tasks may lose their appeal.
  • Fatigue and low energy: People with depression often experience extreme fatigue and a general lack of energy, even after a full night’s sleep. This physical and mental exhaustion can make daily functioning extremely challenging.
  • Sleep disturbances: Sleep patterns are disrupted in depression. As a result, some people with depression may experience insomnia and struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, while others may oversleep or have difficulty getting out of bed (hypersomnia).
  • Changes in appetite and weight: Depression can lead to significant changes in appetite, resulting in either overeating (often comfort eating) or a loss of interest in food and eventual weight loss.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Cognitive challenges are common in depression, making it hard to focus, make decisions, or remember details. This brain fog can impact work, relationships, and overall functioning.
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness: Individuals with depression often experience irrational feelings of guilt and a profound sense of worthlessness, even when there is no logical reason for these emotions.
  • Physical symptoms: Depression is not limited to emotional symptoms but can also manifest physically. Common physical symptoms of depression include headaches, muscle pains, and digestive issues.
  • Isolation and withdrawal: Depressed individuals may isolate themselves from social activities, friends, and loved ones, and experience a sense of detachment from the world around them.
  • Suicidal thoughts: In severe cases of depression, thoughts of death or suicide may occur. It’s important to look out for the signs of suicidal ideation and behaviors and seek help immediately.

Understanding what depression feels like, especially if you’re someone who’s never had any exposure to the disorder, can enable you to help someone who’s struggling with symptoms. It’s also important to recognize that depression is a medical condition and not a personal failure.

If you’re experiencing any form of mental illness, it is okay and necessary to ask for help. Our Massachusetts inpatient drug rehab also offers a variety of mental health services, including psychotherapy services like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help individuals better understand their disorders and how to best cope with their symptoms. We can help you or a loved one, too.

Can You Be Depressed and Not Know It?

Despite how intense and disruptive symptoms can be, you can be depressed and not know it. This condition is often referred to as “masked,” “hidden, or “silent” depression. Depression can occur gradually, without a person realizing that depressive thoughts and feelings are increasingly dominating their life.

A person may not realize they’re depressed if:

  • They’re high functioning: Some people have high-functioning depression, which allows them to maintain a high level of functionality in their daily lives, which can mask the presence of depression.
  • They normalize their symptoms: Over time, some individuals with depression may come to accept their depressive symptoms as a normal part of their life, attributing what they’re feeling to stress, personality traits, or external circumstances. This can prevent them from recognizing their depression.
  • They experience physical symptoms: Some individuals with depression may experience more physical symptoms, such as stress, personality traits, or external circumstances. This can lead them to seek out medical attention for physical ailments rather than mental illness.
  • They’re worried about stigma: Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stigma associated with mental illness and getting help, which can lead individuals struggling with conditions like depression to deny or minimize their symptoms. These individuals may fear judgment or believe that seeking help for depression is a sign of weakness.
  • They use poor coping skills to deal with their symptoms: Some individuals with depression use coping skills like substance abuse or overeating to mask or numb their depressive feelings. While these behaviors may provide temporary relief, they can prevent them from recognizing and addressing the underlying depression.
  • They have chronic low mood: In cases of persistent depressive disorder (or dysthymia), individuals may experience chronically low mood for years, which they may not recognize as a symptom of depression because it’s been a part of their life for so long.

Learning what depression feels like and familiarizing yourself with its symptoms is the first step toward helping yourself or a loved one. If you or someone you care about is exhibiting possible signs of depression, consult a healthcare or mental health provider immediately for a comprehensive assessment.

If you’re searching for depression treatment, our Northeast addictions treatment center can help. In addition to various substance abuse programs, our facility also offers residential mental health care for disorders like depression, anxiety, and more. This means that patients may reside at our center for the duration of their treatment to ensure they receive 24-hour care and support as they recover.

For more information about our addiction or mental health services in Massachusetts, call Clearbrook Treatment Centers today at 570-536-9621 or contact us online and schedule a one-on-one consultation.


  1. National Library of Medicine – Predictors of First Lifetime Onset of Major Depressive Disorder in Young Adulthood

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