Starting a new life abroad can evoke an array of intense emotions both positive and negative. Within a limited range of intensity and over a reasonable period of time these various reactions are a normal part of the adjustment process.
But does there come a point when the experience of troubling emotions can be said to have gone on too long, or has become too severe?
The answer is yes and no. On the no side, I mean that no matter how long you have lived in Sweden or what stage of adjustment you are in, life here may still throw you curve balls now and again. Emotional reactions that are extreme compared to how you normally cope are not pathological as long as they occur as a temporary shift against a backdrop of a “normal” you that is easy to define and describe.
On the other side of the coin, however, one can become stuck in negative emotional experiences such that those become the new backdrop against which glimpses of the old you are more the exception than the rule. Sometimes the shift into negativity occurs so gradually that we hardly notice that it’s happened. Do you or your loved ones wonder what happened to the old you? Are you having difficulty recognizing who you have become? If so, you may be depressed.
The words depression and depressed are somewhat overused to describe relatively minor states of disappointment and frustration. Phrases such as “I’m so depressed!” or “How depressing!” uttered in response to everyday inconveniences or frustrations have had the effect of watering down the clinical concept of depression.
Another barrier to understanding depression is the portrayal of depression in popular media. The stereotype of a person who experiences a traumatic event and then takes to his or her bed in tears represents only a fraction of true cases of depression in a clinical population.
I am often surprised in my clinical work when I listen to clients describe the symptoms of depression but then are shocked when I suggest they are depressed. Despite the fact that the word “depression” has become commonplace, there seems to be a lack of understanding of what depression looks like.
One common symptom related to depression that may not be intuitively associated is anger. Irritation, impatience, and verbal and physical outbursts can arise out of an underlying depression. If you find yourself lashing out at loved ones over trivial things, you may be under the influence of a depressive state.
Another important contributor to depression that is often seen as a completely separate type of problem is worry. Excessive worry that goes untreated over a long period of time is correlated with the eventual emergence of depressive symptoms.
Pessimism and negative expectations are common symptoms of depression. If you find yourself more critical and accusatory than usual, and likewise if you notice that you don’t expect that your actions will lead to positive outcomes, you may be suffering from depression. Similarly, the inability to derive pleasure or enjoyment from everyday activities, work or relationships can be a sign of depression.
There are some tell-tale signs of depression that should not be ignored. Withdrawal from others, excessive sadness, a change in eating and sleeping habits, self-destructive behavior and the most worrisome thoughts or plans to harm yourself. Keep in mind that one symptom does not a depression make. If you or someone you know has experienced a number of these symptoms over an extended period of time it may be time to seek professional help.