Our Best Tips To Help Curb Depressive Irritability

Depression can cause a lot of things — although it's often associated with hopelessness, the feeling of complete emptiness, and even physical pain, it doesn't stop there. The impact that mental illness has on us, no matter which one we struggle with, can be debilitating. Even those who are medicated and in therapy to manage their depression aren't free from the hopelessness that can creep up, even whey they least expect it. And sometimes, that depression can come out in the form of irritability or even anger. Although not a medical term, agitated depression is a real thing (via Medical News Today).


When you're emotionally against the wall and feel like there's no escaping the madness that comes with depression, it's hard not to be angry and agitated. It's hard to understand why you've been cursed with this pain. You can look to the greats who have contributed to art and literature, many of whom suffered immensely from the curse of depression, but that can only provide comfort for so long — and it's never long enough.

"We see in our clinics patients who are labeled as having other diagnoses because people think, 'Well, you shouldn't be so angry if you are depressed," psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School Dr. Maurizio Fava tells NPR. "I would say 1 in 3 patients would report to me that they would lose their temper, they would get angry, they would throw things or yell and scream or slam the door."


Because depression can manifest in different ways, it's important to understand how to manage the variety of symptoms that can arise.

1. Understand depressive irritability

Because it's not an official medical term, and medical and psychological experts are still trying to make sense of the "why" of depressive irritability, what limited research that has been done has linked this agitation and the outbursts that sometimes follow to panic attacks (via National Library of Medicine). But while the majority of panic attacks — which are often a component of depression — are usually steeped in fear and anxiety, in these particular instances, they're steeped in anger. As a result, the patient feels trapped inside their depression, unable to escape their emotions, and ultimately acting out via excessively explosive outbursts. Something Dr. Maurizio Fava calls anger attacks (via NPR).


So, while the medical community is still trying to unwrap this response to depression, as well as why some might be more prone to it than others, at least understanding that, should you feel this way and act on it, it's not uncommon; you're definitely not alone.

2. Recognize it in yourself

The last thing anyone wants to do is admit they have a problem, whether that problem is addiction-based, personality-based, or an offshoot of a mental illness they're already trying to manage. But because agitated depression does have its own set of symptoms, knowing what they are and taking a hard look at yourself in an attempt to see if you have any of them is the first in curbing this illness.


While, yes, some of the symptoms of depressive irritability look like textbook depression symptoms, others do not. For starters, there's the extreme agitation that can cause you to fly off the handle at close friends and family and be angered by things that wouldn't normally affect other people. Other symptoms to look out for are restlessness, pacing, and fidgeting, as well as hand-wringing and nail-biting (via Healthline). You basically feel, in addition to your depression, like you're constantly on edge. It's also important to realize that your outbursts are uncharacteristic of who you are and the person your loved ones know (via Psychology Today).

3. Talk to a therapist

Even if you find yourself identifying with any of these symptoms, don't self-diagnosis. Mental illness is far more complicated than reading a list of symptoms and saying, "That's so me." In fact, as much as it may look like you and what you're experiencing, self-diagnosing can be really dangerous. Your depressive irritability can be coming from someplace else, someplace physical that can be indicative of an ailment that may not even be linked to depression at all (via Highland Springs Specialty Clinic).


Sitting down with a therapist who can accurately diagnose you can help you navigate both understanding why you're behaving this way and how you can manage it. Depression is ultimately a mood disorder in how it impacts the brain. Because of this, a therapist can give you ways to be proactive in how you respond when you feel the irritability bubbling up, and, should you not be able to stop the bubbling, they can offer techniques to at least try to control the outburst before you hurt yourself or others (via Healthline).

4. Consider medication

Although we live in a culture where there's a pill for everything, not everyone wants to take medication for mental illnesses. The reason for this is that, while antidepressants are not addictive in the way drugs and alcohol might be, they can still create a dependency — something that has been proven when people experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to get off the medication (via Addiction Center). In addition, it can be scary knowing that your depression, your behavior, your thoughts, and your reactions to the actions of others are a result of a pill you take every day, especially because some people need to take medication for the rest of their life just so they can function in this world.


But the reality is that medication does work. So asking your therapist for a referral for a psychiatrist they trust is a good idea. "Seeking psychiatric, in addition to psychological, support can be really helpful," licensed psychologist and associate professor of the counseling psychology program at Lehigh University College of Education Nicole Johnson, Ph.D. tells Self. Just keep in mind antidepressants are meant to regulate, not perform miracles. There's also the chance that you may have to try a few different medications before you find the right one for your body chemistry.

5. Make sure you have a support network

Any type of mental illness can cause people to feel alone. If you don't have any friends or family who suffer from depression or any other type of mental issues, trying to explain how you feel and why you feel the way you do can really be isolating, as if you're sitting on an island of your own. People who have never experienced mental illness can only assume what it must be like. They can read all the literature in the world on the topic, but they still will never really know. But despite this, you still need a support network to whom you know you can turn.


"A really important step in that process of getting out of that is breaking the isolation and actually forming connections with others," clinical psychologist Danielle Roeske, Psy.D. tells PsychCentral. As of 2019, 970 million people worldwide suffered from some form of mental illness. That's almost a billion people. At the top of that list, depression was the most common in the world (via World Health Organization). 

Depression sucks — all forms of it. But you're not alone, there are resources out there to get you on track, and as long as you're honest with yourself and your loved ones about how you're willing to take the steps to work on it, then that's the most important tip of all. Of course, it doesn't mean you'll never have any mental setbacks. But it does mean you're likely to have fewer of them, and that's a start.