Understanding Depressive Symptoms




Most people feel sad, irritable, or unmotivated at times; it's part of being human.  Those of us who experience depression often find that just doing routine, daily activities is a monumental chore. Because it's hard to understand what is happening or why, we might isolate ourselves, causing our relationships to suffer. We might get trapped in negative thinking, unable to interrupt the cycle of rumination. 

Depression is a mental health disorder that can have different symptoms, depending on the person. For many of us, depression or depressive disorder changes how we function day-to-day at work or in our social lives. Depressive episodes typically last more than two weeks with five or more symptoms (see below) including sad mood or lost pleasure in doing activities. 

We often choose to keep the symptoms and feelings to ourselves - thinking we can handle it -  versus sharing with friends, family, supervisors or medical professionals who might be able to help us.


Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
  • Changes in movement (less activity or agitation)
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Suicidal thoughts



Many things can cause depression such as any kind of trauma, a change in life circumstances such as divorce, birth of a child, a move or sudden loss or death of a loved one. Genetics and brain structure can contribute to depression as can other medical conditions such as thyroid disorders or even food allergies. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse can contribute to depression. Sometimes we reach for distractions like alcohol, drugs, shopping, social media or even food or sugar to numb our pain and sadness. Unfortunately, these usually provide only temporary relief before depression worsens. The reason we become depressed is different for each individual, and so is the treatment. The important thing is to stay hopeful and tenacious in getting help.

You can do this. And, remember, you are not alone. There are over 350 million people worldwide who suffer from depression. The good news is that many of us can find the help we need to reduce or even eliminate our symptoms.  Let’s get to it…



Depression is most commonly treated with medication, talk therapy or a combination of the two. But today, there are countless options to help you - including alternative approaches. We recommend that you use a paper or electronic journal & starting today, create your own custom Personal Healing Plan (PHP). To begin, we recommend you start with the following 4 steps:

STEP 1:  TAKE THE 2-Minute Mind Check 

If you’ve already taken the 2-Minute Mind Check, you now know where you stand on the depression scale. This information is the first empowering step you need towards creating a Personal Healing Plan. If you haven’t yet taken the survey, please do so now so you can get an objective measurement of where you are today. Write down your survey results in  your PHP. Click here to take the survey.



 Larry Godwin, a guest blogger with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has seen depression from the inside. His 15-step Depression Survival Guide list is rooted in his personal trials and errors.

Every person is different and therefore not all of these suggestions will work for you, just as they haven’t all worked for me. My hope is that through this list you can gain insight into at least one strategy that helps assuage your depression.

Review Larry’s guide for insights and ideas. Write down the ideas that appeal to you most in your Personal Healing Plan.



It’s critically important to have support around you while you’re healing from depression - even if you think you can do it on your own. Trust us. You need support. Right away, we recommend that you secure an appointment with your primary care physician to confidentially share your symptoms and to start to build your PHP team. Heads up, your primary care physician may want to put you on an antidepressant medication. Consider the pros and cons of this, and discuss it with him/her before you say yes to any medication. This is an important decision. Remember, you don’t have to say yes to medication right away. You can continue to gather your resources, build your team and then decide if medication is right for you later.

We also recommend you add at least one close friend, and if applicable, a family member to your PHP team to support you with day to day activities. Tell your friend/family members that you’d like them to help you stay accountable to doing simple things that will help relieve your symptoms such as walking a few times a week, or getting out to enjoy a movie or music - even when you don’t feel like it.



Depressive disorders can be treated by a wide range of mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses. A therapist can be a crucial member of your PHP team.

There are several ways you can find a therapist who’s aligned for you:

  • Ask your primary care physician for a recommendation

  • Look at your company’s mental health or behavioral health benefits to see if therapy is covered by your insurance. If so, search in the online insurance directory, or call your insurance company to receive a list of qualified therapists in your area.

  • Search for a therapist using the Psychology Today website here. The benefit of this site is that you can search by area, specialty, and by which therapists take your insurance. Be sure to call or email the therapist to verify insurance coverage and to schedule an interview with him/her prior to committing to a session. Here is a list of questions you might ask your therapist:

    • Do you accept my insurance? If not, what payment options do you have?

    • What training and/or credentials do you have?

    • What experience do you have in treating anxiety, depression, or other related disorders?

    • How will you help me overcome my problem?



We know from experience that it’s incredibly challenging to know what to do first to get help when you’re feeling depressed.  Read these stories from John and Sue that may resonate with how you’re feeling.


Support line in sf bay

San Francisco Mental Health Peer-Run Warm Line -
1-855-845-7415 -- 7am-11pm (7 Days a Week)

Emotional support and information about mental health resources. The Peer-Run Warm Line, a non-emergency resource for anyone seeking support, serves our community 7 days-a-week. The Warm Line provides assistance via phone and web chat to people who need to reach out when having a hard time.  Get emotional support and information about mental health resources. 

Chat option available. Visit www.mentalhealthsf.org

San Francisco County Mental Health Access

Tel: 415-255-3737 / toll free: 1-888-246-3333

Access line for those eligible for county services, those with Medi-Cal or with no insurance.

The Mental Health Association of San Francisco also offers house and customized trainings, technical assistance, and consulting services for restoring wellness in the workplace. Learn more.


There are a variety of online discussion groups focused on depression. ADAA offers anonymous online peer to peer anxiety and depression support groups both in English and Spanish. We have also provided links to groups on Facebook and Reddit.

ADAA English support group - https://healthunlocked.com/anxiety-depression-support/about

ADAA Spanish support group - https://healthunlocked.com/ansiedad-depresion-apoyo

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/DepressedFeelings/

Reddit - https://www.reddit.com/r/depression/


For Immediate Relief from Depression, Anxiety and Stress

Depression rarely travels alone. Sometimes it’s accompanied by high levels of stress and anxiety. This trifecta can be super overwhelming and often immobilizing. If you just need a quick fix in this moment & don’t have time to read more, check out this quick guide for reducing anxiety and stress by our friends at the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) Tips to reduce stress Hint: you might add some of these ideas to your Personal Healing Plan.


Guided exercises:

Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Behavioral Activation

You may have heard that mindfulness practices help reduce the symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety. Research shows that just two weeks of regular practice can positively change the brain and contribute to your health and well-being. 

Scientific evidence also supports the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Behavioral Activation in improving mood, stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

We’ve compiled a few free resources that you might find helpful.


Music therapy has demonstrated efficacy as a treatment for depression and anxiety. Free music for relaxation that is available on streaming apps like Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, and others can be very beneficial in supporting you on your healing journey. Your mind can relax with calming and motivational music for meditation, work and evening. We’ve assembled 3 Spotify playlists for you. Follow and enjoy Meditation Mix, Work Mix, and Night Mix featuring many California and San Francisco Bay as well as global artists.

Listen quietly in the background when you need to calm down or whenever you want to enjoy the feeling of the music.

MEDITATION MIX - Music that feels organic, optimistic, and created to support meditation, mindfulness and healing practices.

WORK MIX - Flowing music composed with heartfelt, soulful, and uplifting feelings that is ideal for listening at work or home.

NIGHT MIX - Music that creates a relaxing mood that is ideal for listening, or playing in the background while reflecting on the day, reading a book, finishing up work or homework, and clearing the mind for sleep. 






Mobile apps for depression, stress and anxiety can help improve your mood by encouraging you to participate in positive and pleasant activities. Using apps regularly may help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by providing daily tools - short cognitive behavior therapy exercises like recording thoughts and setting small daily goals like giving someone a compliment. Visit our exercises page for a selection of free, mobile apps.