What does depression feel like?

Suppose we start from the standpoint and agree, every one of us is unique and complex. Depression can then have many different symptoms that can affect each person to differing degrees of severity. Signs and indicators can persist and be present for weeks, months, or sometimes linger around for years, even decades.


The word depression is banded around daily in the media and online. But what many fail to capture is the truly terrifying and insurmountable human struggle for a person experiencing depression to just open their eyes each morning. This is why coming to see a professional practitioner is of paramount importance.

Maybe on a good day, escaping the constraints of said prison inside their head is light relief. A feeling also that maybe, that's as good as it is going to get for them.

Nor should we ever forget that depression, for some, can be life-threatening in the case of suicide attempts. Some may end up seeing no future whatsoever and thus, that person's journey into depression carries on going unheard even after their departure.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2021, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales, equivalent to a rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

Depression in remission can make a person feel like the fog has lifted. That thin yet fragile veil of their own ‘normality’ that was pre-depression is once again upon them and they feel alive again.

Some individuals may never seek help for their depression from a professional. The fear of shame or stigma of visiting their GP practice or going to therapy to talk about mental health struggles can be a major barrier.

Feelings of shame in taking medication for depression and a belief that they need to hide it from work colleagues, friends, and sometimes even their family for fear of judgment 'pill shaming' can hinder a person greatly.

"Stigma has been associated with delays in seeking treatment."

- Read more about shame anxiety, stigma and clinical encounters

Common symptoms of depression

My clinical experience of working with depression is that symptoms differ for each person who comes to the therapy room. There are, however, many commonalities that they do share.

For example, symptoms can manifest and present as low mood, extreme feelings of sadness, a complete emptiness of emotional connection inside, and having little regard or interest in others let alone yourself.

Low motivation and low mood of not being able to start things, let alone finish things can impact an individual’s daily life. Just thinking about starting stuff, can indeed feel like a chore. 

Living a daily existence, frozen in the fear of doing absolutely nothing, using avoidance as a 'go-to' coping mechanism for everything. Which, in turn, can cause anxiety and feel like Groundhog Day for those experiencing depression.

A common coping mechanism you might have deployed and previously mentioned could be avoidance. You may call on it at times of emotional distress to minimise, deny, or avoid emotionally charged disturbances but it can impact and even cause a more pronounced anxiety in individuals.

Maybe it is something you find yourself doing automatically without conscious thought. However, recently you feel it has been wearing you down and you need to get a grip on it as your anxiety and stress levels are through the roof!

A person can experience a profound loss of interest in their own life, accomplishments, family, and work. Perhaps, feeling like you are on the verge of crying at the smallest of things, can feel very frightening indeed. 

Noticing an extreme reaction to constructive feedback that you have never experienced before, could throw you into a vortex of negative emotions that are at the core of who you see yourself as. A distorted version of you has been developing maybe since childhood and your default setting has become, devaluing your self-worth to tap into self-sabotaging mode at electric speed.

Exhausted and like a song on repeat, you hear the lyrics for the umpteenth time from others around you, “You are far too sensitive”. “No, I am not" you want to scream!

But you barely have the strength to sit there and take it, let alone engage with said individual. Are you noticing low self-esteem, low confidence, little self-worth, and a constant feeling of not being good enough?

Perhaps an overwhelming feeling of guilt, failure, hopelessness, and worthlessness consumes one's daily thoughts. In bed at night, maybe you cannot sleep because of those intrusive thoughts pounding away like mortars in the far distance when they hit their targets.

"Links between sleep and depression are strong."

- Read more about sleep disorders and symptoms of depression

You may also be experiencing flickers of suicidal ideation thoughts. You cannot see a future ahead of you, let alone have any glimmer of hope that good times and memories are indeed to come.

Thoughts of shame, guilt, judging your every action harshly, and wanting to isolate, away from others because you do not feel worthy of being around another person. Does this sound familiar? Ultimately, fear of being alone with yourself even cohabiting in your headspace, such is the harsh criticism and feeling of self-loathing at your inner core.

Physical symptoms often seen in depression can be insomnia and not being able to switch off from overthinking or sleeping too much, which can compound depression. You could be experiencing persistent aches and pains you cannot explain and maybe finding yourself, concentrating on feeling each pain in your body every waking moment of the day, which consumes your daily thoughts.

Maybe you are experiencing life in slow motion like you are watching a tv show not living it! Lacking the energy to do daily chores, cooking, having little interest in sex, overeating or undereating, dressing, or even taking basic care of your appearance, can indeed feel like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro several times a day!

Hormonal changes of being premenopausal or going through menopause can cause many symptoms including depression and anxiety. "Women appear to be particularly vulnerable to depression during the perimenopause years and in the years immediately after menopause." 

Thus, it is always best practice to see your GP to rule out other underlining health conditions and if medication might be needed. Counsellors and psychotherapists do not diagnose individuals, nor do we administer prescriptions for drugs. We do, however, treat the symptoms of undiagnosed and diagnosed common mental health problems (CMHPs) with talk therapy to get to the underlining root causes that are bringing you to therapy.

Counselling can be in addition to taking psychopharmacology medication for depression or can be a stand-alone talking therapeutic intervention.

When working with clients, I draw on my integrative professional training, by tailoring a bespoke individual plan specifically for individuals. 

Working with them, to devise a holistic body and mind, individual not generic plan for the week and months ahead. This may include clients journalling and compiling emotion diaries, etc. 

Affirmations and reframing when working with low motivation, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and ultimately, low self-worth is of great importance and may be incorporated into sessions also. 

The relationship alliance is an instrumental tool in treating clients, as is building a strong rapport with clients, so individuals can explore their vulnerabilities in a safe confidential space.

Coping tools can be used by the client, to elevate symptoms, giving clients a better quality of daily life. This however does not happen overnight but with regular therapy, one would hope to see a significant improvement in those coming to weekly therapy.

Talking therapies have been shown to work in the short and long term but assessment is key. Clients having a tailored specific therapeutic intervention, geared towards their symptoms and needs, is of paramount importance. Not all therapies or therapists are one size fits all, so do shop around when looking for a practitioner for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE15 & SE16
Written by Elle Heasman, Integrative Psychotherapist & Trauma-Informed Counsellor.
London SE15 & SE16

I work with adult clients and couples at London Counselling Hub which is a Private Practice near Borough tube station in SE1.

I have also worked for a number of years with a specialist agency OneinFour, in long-term therapy with adult survivours of childhood sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, violence, torture, kidnapping.....

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