Some people feel, “I’m depressed for no reason,” and this is a confusing situation to be in and also often baffles friends and family. However, clinical depression (major depressive disorder) does not require a reason in order to show up. Depression needs no invitation to come to the party of your life (and then proceed to be a wet blanket).
Misconceptions about depression
There are a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up. First of all, in other articles, I discussed the symptoms of depression and the fact that depression is not an emotion (it is a cluster of symptoms and not just a fleeting feeling). That is the biggest misconception — some people mistakenly believe that depression is merely sadness. Sometimes people who are depressed feel sad and sometimes they feel numb. Also, there are different levels of depression. People who are more mildly depressed might only feel bad part of the time or they might feel bad all the time, but not as bad as someone who is severely depressed.
Levels of Depression: Depression tests
There are many very simple tests you can take to check if you are depressed and how depressed you are. One that is frequently used by psychologists is called the Beck Depression Inventory II (because it is version II). It is usually abbreviated as the BDI II. There is a small fee to take the test with your counsellor or psychologist, which, depending on their office policy, may or may not be included with your visit.
Another popular option is the Burns Depression Checklist. There are two versions of it. The most recent version has 25 items. You can find the Burns Depression Checklist in many of David Burns’ books on depression and mental health. It is a quick and easy way to get an idea of how depressed you are in a measurable way. The benefit to this is that you can keep track of your progress as well as keeping track of what life events increase or decrease your depression level.
Burns Depression Checklist Scores
The Burns Depression Checklist sorts people by their score into the following categories:
- no depression
- normal but unhappy
- mild depression
- moderate depression
- severe depression
- extreme depression
So, if you feel, “I’m depressed for no reason,” a good starting point might be to take a depression test to find out how depressed you are and how much of a cause for concern it is. However, if it is concerning to you, it is a cause for concern, no matter what the level.
Shh… it’s a trade secret…
(I will tell you a secret (if you promise not to tell anyone). The Burns Depression Checklist can be found on-line because a few people have posted it. I don’t know how David Burns feels about this, so I won’t repost it. I still recommend buying at least one of his books because they are extremely good as I have mentioned in almost every depression post I have written. Since I usually talk about The Feeling Good Handbook‘s (affiliate link) awesomeness, here, I will mention that he wrote a workbook called “Ten Days to Self-Esteem”(affiliate link) and it is well worth it. It is a great workbook to work through alone or in a facilitated group or even a self-help group. By the way, if you look at the Amazon preview to Ten Days to Self-Esteem, you can find the Burns Depression Checklist there as well.)
But tell me WHY I’m depressed for no reason!
In the 1980’s, it was popular to talk about endogenous versus exogenous depressions. The idea was that an endogenous depression was a depression that was caused by internal factors (i.e. “no” reason) and an exogenous depression was triggered by something bad happening in your life. What researchers found was that this was not actually a useful way to look at things.
The reason was that, regardless of whether the depression was triggered externally or by some internal state that the person was not aware of, the brain chemistry was pretty similar and the treatment was actually pretty much the same either way!
So, my point (and I do have one) is that when you say, “I’m depressed for no reason,” what you really mean is that there is no EXTERNAL reason for you to feel depressed (that you are consciously aware of).
You are actually depressed for a reason!
However, even though you feel, “I’m depressed for no reason,” you actually are depressed for some reason. Our current way of looking at depression is biological, psychological, and social. In other words, it is multilayered. You may not have anything “bad” happening in your life, but you may be causing your depression on a psychological level without intending to. For example, what kind of messages do you send yourself about your own performance or behaviour?
Even positive life events can be stressful and cause depression.
Your situation may be depressing — like if you lost a job. Also, here’s an interesting fact: even “good” stress can cause an increase in depression. For example, if you get a promotion or move to a city that you like more or start a wonderful new relationship, if you are also prone to depression, unfortunately, these can be triggers.
It can be very frustrating to feel, “I’m depressed for no reason”. It can make you feel a bit like you are “going crazy” because you might not understand where your feelings are coming from. However, this is like quicksand — the more you struggle against feeling depressed “for no reason,” the more you will feel depressed.
What is the solution? The answer is to treat the depression. Depending on the level of depression and what kind of treatments you feel most comfortable with, you can find a way to get relief that makes sense to you and is in your budget.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular option for treating depression and I discuss CBT here. The nice thing about CBT is that there are worksheets available online (which I link to in the article) and there are also free online CBT programs such as the Australian Mood Gym program which I also link to in the article.
Other good treatments for depression (this is not all of them, but just some good ones):
- MBCT – Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy – This is my current favorite. However, it involves a fairly steep learning curve in terms of learning to be still, to meditate, to know your own mind. I think the results are worthwhile.
- Good nutrition. Research has shown this can have a profound effect on mood.
- Exercise. I read a paper a while ago that showed that ten weeks of regular exercise and good nutrition was AS effective as CBT in relieving depression. CBT is known to be very effective, so if you enjoy any form of exercise, get moving! (This is hard to do, I know, because when you feel depressed, often you don’t want to move.) Often, with depression, doing the opposite of what you feel like doing will make you feel better — for example, you might not feel like getting out of bed, but getting out of bed makes you feel better. You might not feel like seeing friends, but being social makes you feel better. And so on.
- Counselling (this can be any type of counselling).
- Medication. Medication can work miracles, but it doesn’t work for everyone. There are positives and negatives to taking meds. That will have to be another article, another day.
- Alternative therapies – This can include anything from acupuncture to yoga. Not all alternative therapies are effective. Buyer beware. Acupuncture and yoga have some evidence to suggest their effectiveness.
- Other therapies – There are many more options. Please keep trying. If one treatment does not work, try another. Try two at the same time. Try three. Try more. It is worth it to see those clouds parting and to help your depression lift.
So, if you’re feeling, “I’m depressed for no reason,” I hope you now realize that there is actually some underlying reason going on inside of you. This can be corrected and you can feel good again! My hope for you is that this happens very soon.