Crippling Depression: Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & Ways To Deal 2022

Jennifer Olejarz

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

crippling depression

By age 40, about 50%[1] of the population already had, or will have, a mental illness. It’s now globally recognized that depression and mental illnesses are increasing at staggering rates. However, understanding the severity of how intensely this impacts everyone on this planet is vital to ending the stigma and raising the amount and availability of support to help end suffering. 

Depression is not just persistent sadness or stress that you can learn to live with. It can take over your life and make you incapable of functioning daily, as is the case with crippling depression. This is a form of intense and severe depression with debilitating symptoms lasting for weeks or more, rendering you unable to cope. Seeking professional help is the first and very necessary step toward healing. 

What Is Crippling Depression?

When symptoms of depression become so severe that daily tasks become unimaginable, people often use a crippling depression definition. It’s not a formal term, but it vividly puts an image in the mind of someone struggling with an intense form of depression. 

Debilitating depression is another popular way to refer to this type of crippling depression meaning. It describes someone whose ability to function is severely restricted. Overall, it’s a clinical depression that should not be neglected and requires professional treatment. Those struggling with crippling depression would likely be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder (MDD[2]). 

If you or someone you know is showing signs of depression, encourage professional medical advice with a doctor’s appointment and counseling. For anyone nervous or unwilling to try therapy, using online counseling sources might be the easiest way to begin treating depression. 

Waiting for things to get better rather than immediately seeking help is extremely dangerous and puts people at high risk of suicide[3] (find the suicide hotline here[4]). 

Crippling Depression Symptoms

While symptoms vary from person to person, the DSM-5[5] (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has a specific list of nine items to diagnose major depression.

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in most activities
  • Fatigue, low energy, decreased efficiency, tired
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling extreme worthlessness and unnecessary guilt
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain (more than 5% in a month)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Continued state of restlessness and anxiety (psychomotor agitation)
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts

If you’re experiencing five or more of these symptoms every day for at least two weeks, with a depressed mood or loss of interest as one of the main symptoms, you likely fall under a diagnosis of clinical depression. 

Any thoughts of suicide can be talked about right away by calling 988 (in the U.S.), The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline[4]. They have free 24/7 support for anyone in distress. 

Causes Of Debilitating Depression

Debilitating depression can be triggered by a traumatic life event or even a lengthy amount of chronic stress. Overall, there are many factors that, when combined, increase a person’s risk of developing depression. These include

Traumatic Events

Like depression, trauma also comes in all shapes and sizes. What is considered traumatic to one person might not be for another. No matter what the experience was, if there was an emotional reaction, such as intense fear, anger, depression, or guilt, you may have experienced trauma. Some examples are:

  • Death or loss of a loved one
  • Separation/divorce
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Job/financial loss
  • Serious accidents, injury
  • Natural disasters, war, and terrorism

Chronic Stress

Persistent stress adds up and easily overwhelms the nervous system. Even stressors we perceive as small or normal parts of our day take their toll. These include: 

  • Financial stress, poverty
  • Long-lasting work difficulties, little work-life balance
  • Unsuitable living conditions (emotionally or physically problematic)
  • Overstimulation (city lights, pollution, noise, too much screen time, etc.)
  • Caring for an ailing family member
  • Loss of something or someone valuable to us

Intrapersonal Conflict

As children, we learn how to process our emotions by watching and reacting to the world around us. Unfortunately, many of us were raised by emotionally unavailable and immature parents. 

Parents don’t always have the emotional capacity or awareness to validate, accept, understand, or hold a safe space for their children’s emotional expression[6], as they, too, had an emotionally unavailable upbringing. Unresolved trauma is often repeated and unknowingly passed down through the generations, called generational trauma[7].

This leaves children entering adulthood with underdeveloped emotional awareness and expression skills, such as

  • Resistance to emotional states
  • Inability to express emotions
  • Temper tantrums or bottling up emotions
  • Intense guilt or shame
  • High levels of self-criticism

This often leads to anxiety, eating disorders, depression, or other mood disorders and requires intervention from a licensed mental health professional or engagement in family therapy from a young age.

Health Conditions

Learning of a serious health condition or living with a chronic illness[8] can trigger depression in many people. This could range from physical disabilities to something millions of people live with daily, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain. Unfortunately, untreated chronic pain often leads to hopelessness, causing the pain cycle and depression to develop further and intensify. 

Other illnesses or hormonal changes are also risk factors for developing depression, such as after giving birth, menopause[9], or thyroid disorders[10]. Living with a mental health condition, such as anxiety, exacerbates symptoms of depression as well. 


Research shows[11] that a family history of depression makes someone more likely to develop a major depressive disorder. This also applies to other mood disorders, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. It may also be tied to brain chemistry[12] that alters the functioning of certain mood-affecting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. 


Since debilitating depression can feel overwhelming, causing an inability to carry on with regular activities, the treatment options needed may vary, depending on the moment’s intensity. Visiting medical professionals for a full check-up with blood work and scheduling an appointment with a therapist are some of the first steps toward receiving proper treatment. 


Talk therapy is an integral part of treatment for depression. Seeing a therapist regularly can help reduce symptoms and prevent intense major depressive episodes from reappearing regularly. A mental health professional works with you to help you discover your triggers and strengths and to develop the tools needed to manage life’s difficulties. 

With time, you’ll learn how to respond to events in a healthier way or even prevent certain avoidable stressors with a newfound sense of confidence. For example, avoiding toxic relationships, setting healthy boundaries, and working more efficiently towards your goals, such as applying for higher education or a better job to earn more money. 


A doctor may prescribe antidepressants[13] to treat severe depression. They work to increase certain neurotransmitters, such as mood-boosting serotonin and norepinephrine[14], while reducing associated symptoms. Antidepressants may also alter gene expression, cellular protein translation, and intracellular communication.

Since debilitating depression can overtake someone’s life, medication might offer a quicker response than other methods. Examples of antidepressant medications often used as a common treatment are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac. 

However, medication does not necessarily solve depression. They’re not always a long-term solution, and interpersonal therapy is needed to address the issue’s root. 

Inpatient Treatment

If someone is experiencing crippling depression, they may need full-time care. This is especially the case for anyone with suicidal thoughts or attempts at self-harm. When you’re unable to work or live normally, going to an inpatient care hospital can dramatically impact your chances for a speedy recovery as it offers 24/7 support to treat and overcome depression. 

They often combine one on one talk therapy with medication and group counseling. With full-time support, many people can reduce the severity of their symptoms and reach a healthier balance. Once they feel more stable, they’re given a long-term plan to continue their treatment outside the clinic, which often includes regular attendance at support meetings or ongoing one-on-one therapy with a mental health professional.

Dealing With Crippling Depression

Along with professional treatment, many different self-care activities have been shown to help reduce symptoms of major depression. Of course, it’s not always easy to begin any of these activities since energy levels are often debilitatingly low. That’s why reaching out for support is one of the most important factors in helping manage crippling depression and anxiety. 

Some self-care practices known to help include:

  • Attending support groups (especially important if you don’t have a strong social circle): You can find groups[15] near you and online
  • Adding nutrient-dense foods: Specifically, omega-3 rich fish (salmon, sardines), nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, fermented foods, and berries
  • Taking probiotics (some are specifically made for depression)
  • Reducing junk-food (known to harm gut bacteria and mood)
  • Journaling daily (emotionally release and expression)
  • Spending regular time in nature (lowers cortisol and depressive symptoms)
  • Daily movement (yoga, walks in parks, short at-home workouts, or dance videos to release tension)
  • Spending time with people who lift you up (socializing, smiling, laughing)
  • Volunteering (finding meaning, feeling part of a community) 

Final Thought

Crippling depression is a severe form of intense depression that should not be ignored. Those suffering are often unable to carry on with daily tasks and are at higher risk of suicide. Fortunately, about 70%[16] of people with depression can fully recover after getting professional treatment. 

A combination of treatments, such as psychotherapy and medication, might be most helpful for those suffering from crippling depression. To help alleviate symptoms on your own, many self-care activities have been shown to help, such as regular time in nature and exercise. If you or anyone you know is suffering, reach out to mental health professionals to alleviate the pain and begin the path to recovery.

+ 16 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. CMHA National. (2021). Fast Facts about Mental Health and Mental Illness. [online] Available at:
  2. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2021). Depression. [online] Available at:
  3. McCarter, T. (2008). Depression overview. American health & drug benefits, [online] 1(3), pp.44–51. Available at:
  4. (2022). Home. [online] Available at:
  5. and, A. (2016). Table 9, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Major Depressive Episode/Disorder Comparison. [online] Available at:
  6. (2016). The Emotional Needs Scale. [online] Available at:
  7. Grand, S. and Salberg, J. (2020). Trans-Generational Transmission of Trauma. Social Trauma – An Interdisciplinary Textbook, [online] pp.209–215. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-47817-9_22.
  8. Rosenblat, J.D., Kurdyak, P., Cosci, F., Berk, M., Maes, M., Brunoni, A.R., Li, M., Rodin, G., McIntyre, R.S. and Carvalho, A.F. (2019). Depression in the medically ill. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, [online] 54(4), pp.346–366. doi:10.1177/0004867419888576.
  9. Vivian-Taylor, J. and Hickey, M. (2014). Menopause and depression: Is there a link? Maturitas, [online] 79(2), pp.142–146. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.05.014.
  10. Ittermann, T., Völzke, H., Baumeister, S.E., Appel, K. and Grabe, H.J. (2015). Diagnosed thyroid disorders are associated with depression and anxiety. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, [online] 50(9), pp.1417–1425. doi:10.1007/s00127-015-1043-0.
  11. Levinson, D.F. (2006). The Genetics of Depression: A Review. Biological Psychiatry, [online] 60(2), pp.84–92. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.08.024.
  12. Arango, V., Underwood, M.D. and Mann, J.John. (2002). Chapter 35 Serotonin brain circuits involved in major depression and suicide. Progress in Brain Research, [online] pp.443–453. doi:10.1016/s0079-6123(02)36037-0.
  13. NHS Choices (2022). Overview – Antidepressants. [online] Available at:
  14. Harmer, C.J., Duman, R.S. and Cowen, P.J. (2017). How do antidepressants work? New perspectives for refining future treatment approaches. The Lancet Psychiatry, [online] 4(5), pp.409–418. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(17)30015-9.
  15. Mental Health America. (2022). Find Support Groups. [online] Available at:
  16. Novick, D., Montgomery, W., Vorstenbosch, E., Moneta, M.V., Duenas, H. and Haro, J.M. (2017). Recovery in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD): results of a 6-month, multinational, observational study. Patient Preference and Adherence, [online] Volume 11, pp.1859–1868. doi:10.2147/ppa.s138750.
Jennifer Olejarz

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Jennifer Olejarz is a Certified Nutritionist and Health Counselor specializing in binge and emotional eating, stress management, and mental health. She has almost a decade's worth of experience in the health and wellness field writing health articles, guides, and books, along with creating health and nutrition courses. She works one-to-one with private clients to build healthier lifestyle habits and end the lifelong battle of food guilt and diet frustrations. She has degrees in both Psychology and Nutrition from Western University, Canada.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Harvard Health Publishing

Database from Health Information and Medical Information

Harvard Medical School
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Governmental Authority
Go to source


Database from World Health Organization

Go to source

Neurology Journals

American Academy of Neurology Journals

American Academy of Neurology
Go to source


United Nations Global Compact
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database from U.S. National Library of Medicine

U.S. Federal Government
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From Department of Health and Human Services

Governmental Authority
Go to source

PubMed Central

Database From National Institute Of Health

U.S National Library of Medicine
Go to source