Mental Illness Awareness Week: What Does Depression Feel Like?

It's Mental Illness Awareness Week, Sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness

Since 1990, the first week of October has been recognized as National Mental Illness Awareness Week by the U.S. Congress. Under the leadership of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental health advocates across the country are joining together this week to sponsor numerous awareness-raising activities based on the theme of “Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives.”

Here at PatientsLikeMe, we have thousands of patients sharing their experiences with more than a dozen mental health conditions, including 7,699 patients who report major depressive disorder and 1,638 patients who report postpartum depression. What do they have to say? Below is a “word cloud” of some of the most commonly used phrases on our mental health forum. The most popular single word, by the way, is “meds.”

What Does Depression Feel Like? A Word Cloud of Some of the Most Commonly Used Phrases in Our Mental Health Forum

This graphic (which you can click to enlarge) gives you a feel of the many emotions, concerns and thoughts that surround the topic of mental health.  But the best way to increase awareness and knowledge, we believe, is to learn from real patients.  According to NAMI, one in four adults experiences a mental health problem in any given year, while one in 17 lives with a serious, chronic mental illness.

To help show what it’s like to live with depression, we thought we’d share some of our members’ candid answers to the question, “What does your depression feel like?”

  • “My last depressive state felt like I was in a well with no way to get out.  I would be near the top, but oops….down I go.  I truly felt that I would not be able to pull myself out of this one.   I felt hopeless, worthless and so damn stupid, because I could not be like other people, or should say what I think are normal people.”
  • “It feels like living in a glass box.  You can see the rest of the world going about life, laughing, bustling about, doing things, but they can’t see you or hear you, or touch you, or notice you at all, and you cannot remember how to do the things that they are doing, like laughing, and just being ordinary and satisfied with it.  You are totally alone although surrounded by people.”
  • “It feels like walking in a dimly lit hallway (or totally black, depending on the severity) with no exit in sight and no one else around.  You keep walking hoping to come to the end, trying to feel along the walls for some sort of door that will take you out of this tunnel, but to no success.  At the beginning you feel like there has to be an end or a door of some sort – something to get you out, but as you keep walking, your hopes damper by each step.  You try yelling for help, but no one hears you.”
  • “Depression is very much like feeling as if I have no arms nor legs and (what’s left of) my body is upright in the middle of a road on a cold, dark, foggy morning.  I can’t run.  I can’t walk or crawl.  In fact, I have no options.   I have no memory of how I came to be there.  I know I’m going to die, I don’t know when or exactly how.  There’s nobody around who sees me or understands my situation. If somebody gets close by and I scream, they’ll run away in fear.  My family has no idea where I am and I’m alone… except for the headlights down the road.”


Can you relate to any of these descriptions?  If you’ve battled depression, we encourage you to join our growing mental health community and connect with patients just like you.  Also, stay tuned for another blog later this week about the types of data being shared by our mental health members.

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7 thoughts on “Mental Illness Awareness Week: What Does Depression Feel Like?”

  1. I wasn’t aware that it was Mental Illness Awareness Week. I haven’t suffered from depression or another mental illness myself, but I have a couple of friends that have dealt with it for years. I also read Andrea King’s book “Patient Stories,” which is a compilation of stories of people with terminal and mental illnesses ( It’s very inspiring and eye-opening, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a loved one suffering from depression.
    Thank you for the information and the anecdotes, and I’ll be sure to pass this article on!

  2. It is good that you give the patient an opportunity to talk about their problem.

    What I don’t see is how they are handling the problem. Most are given a prescription for a psychotropic drug.

    I’d like to see on your blog alternative treatments. It’s not made known that depression can be caused by a physical problem and/or that depression can be handled with good nutrition and or vitamins. Not harmful medications.

  3. Thanks, Jill! On the ‘treatments’ tab you can see all of the patient-reported treatments by category, including complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). There are also many patients talking about non-Rx treatments in the forum, I invite you to join the conversation.

    Thanks for passing along your feedback, we’ll certainly keep CAM in mind for future blog posts.

  4. Pingback: Why I Started Running | Loving to Run Through Every Footfall

  5. ePyWbR I was suggested this website by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty. You are amazing! Thanks!

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