10 Signals That Your Loved One May Be Severely Depressed
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Recognizing when a loved one is depressed can be very tricky. What’s severe to one person will look different to another — for instance, someone with major depressive disorder (MDD) and ADHD could have trouble concentrating or remembering things on a daily basis. To someone else, issues with concentration or memory might be an important warning sign to look out for. 


There isn’t a single definition of “severe depression” that you can find in a diagnostic resource like the DSM-5. To make that call, there needs to be a close familiarity with what’s considered normal or baseline for that person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.


If your loved one is severely depressed, chances are you’ve already noticed some new symptoms or increases in the intensity of their depression. Keep reading for more insights on how to tell if your depression has become more severe and what to do if this is the case.


What makes depression severe?


Your loved one may be severely depressed if their symptoms suddenly become more intense and change their behavior for at least two weeks. Often, people who are severely depressed have symptoms that are so intense that they can no longer manage them. Their symptoms may also become overtly problematic or completely disrupt their day-to-day life. 


To understand severe depression, it makes sense to establish what you would consider mild and moderate depression in your loved one. What’s life like for them on a day when they’re not depressed? What have their depressive episodes looked like in the past? By asking these questions and reflecting on your loved one’s depression, you’re more likely to notice if it becomes more intense. 


10 signs that your loved one’s depression symptoms have become more severe


Here are some common signals that your loved one’s depression has become more severe and it’s time to ask for help:

  • They’re not showering — Activities of daily living are harder when your loved one is depressed. If they’re severely depressed they may be unwilling or unable to do common daily activities at all, including showering.  

  • They have significant appetite or weight loss (or gain) — Your loved one may not feel like eating when they’re severely depressed. Or they may consume more food than they typically do. You may also notice that they appear to gain or lose a significant amount of weight when they’re severely depressed.

  • They have difficulty concentrating, making decisions and remembering things — You might notice that they get lost in their own thoughts for long periods of time.

  • They have lost interest in activities they have always been passionate about — A severely depressed person may lose all interest in passions like watching sports. You may notice that your loved one used to watch every game their favorite team played, but now they have no desire to watch their team at all. 

  • They have insomnia or are oversleeping — Changes in sleep patterns are a sign of severe depression. These changes can range from insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) to sleeping far more than usual. 

  • They’re experiencing unexplained physical problems — Depression can lead to unexplained aches, pains, IBS-like symptoms and more.

  • They’re using negative coping behaviors — Not every behavior that people use to cope with mental health challenges is positive. Your loved one may be severely depressed if they’re “coping” with their depression by performing negative behaviors. Such behaviors may include abusing alcohol or bingeing and purging.

  • They’re self-harming — Self-harming means that your loved one is hurting themselves on purpose. They may be doing so if they’re:


  • Cutting or scratching themself
  • Burning or branding themself
  • Hitting walls or other objects
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as driving recklessly

  • They’re talking about death or dying — If your loved one is talking about death or dying regularly, they may be experiencing thoughts of suicide. You should encourage them to call 988 or go with them to the nearest emergency room if this sign appears and is accompanied by other signs from this list.

  • Psychosis — You may notice that your loved one is having trouble telling the difference between what’s real and what’s not. The symptoms associated with this are collectively known as psychosis. Some psychosis symptoms you may notice in a severely depressed loved one include: 


  • Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting things that aren’t really there (hallucinations)
  • Having strongly-held false beliefs when there’s evidence their belief isn’t true (delusions)


Levels of mental health care that can help your severely depressed loved one


If the severity of your loved one’s depression symptoms has increased, causing significant distress and disruption to their daily life, you’re not alone.


It’s not uncommon for people who care for those struggling with severe depression to feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to help. It’s important to know that with the help they can receive in several levels of mental health care and your ongoing support, recovery is possible.


Some levels of care that may benefit your loved one include: 

  • Individual outpatient therapy — This level of care involves regularly seeing a therapist in an outpatient setting. Regularly may mean once a day, once a week or once a month. In between sessions, people carry on with their lives as they normally would. Having an outpatient therapist is important for maintaining mental health, but when depression reaches a severe level, they may need a higher level of care.

  • Structured outpatient programs — These programs are higher levels of mental health care that don’t involve staying in a hospital overnight. Two common types of structured outpatient programs are Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs). In an IOP, you might spend up to six hours a day going to therapy and group sessions a few days a week. A PHP is similar, but with five full days of treatment per week. 


How Lightfully helps people with severe depression


Our licensed clinicians use a unique process-based therapy (PBT) treatment model that puts the person first, before the diagnosis. PBT is about working on core processes that are natural parts of a healthy lifestyle: thoughts, emotions, behaviors and relationships. 


Instead of trying to “cure” your depression or eliminate symptoms, our clinicians will help you learn and practice strategies and techniques that can help you better manage your symptoms.


Programs vary from one clinic to another, so it’s important to find a treatment center that matches your values. Here’s a quick look at ours:


  • Sparkle — To reflect light and perform brilliantly
  • Wabi Sabi — To appreciate beauty and accept imperfection
  • Compassion — To approach with empathy and kindness
  • Clear Is Kind — To communicate directly in the spirit of growth
  • Be Brave — To choose courage over comfort
  • Wholehearted — To be authentic and committed
  • Grit — To show up and do hard things


We offer both types of structured outpatient programs mentioned above along with a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) and Residential Treatment (RTC). Each level of care we offer includes a personalized, holistic treatment plan created by our deeply compassionate experts. We only use modalities that are evidence based, clearly defined, data driven and whole-person centered.


You can recover from depression, and we can help you. When you’re ready to get supportive and compassionate depression treatment, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.


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