Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/13/2021
Depression is a common mental illness that can vary hugely in severity, from mild and transient to severe and overwhelming.
Crippling depression is an informal term that’s used to refer to severe depression — and it’s a type of depression that can affect just about every aspect of your life.
If you have crippling depression, you may find basic tasks such as maintaining a job, socializing with others and everyday essentials difficult and both physically and mentally taxing.
Yet just like other forms of depression, crippling depression is almost always treatable with the right combination of therapy, medication and self care.
Read on to learn more about crippling depression, including specific symptoms you may experience if you have it, and the different factors that may cause crippling depression to develop.
Below you’ll also find ways to treat crippling depression and make real progress towards a full, lasting recovery.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders that affects adults. In fact, according to data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017.
That’s 7.1 percent of the entire American adult population, or approximately one out of every 14 adults in the United States.
Of adults affected by major depressive episodes, approximately 64 percent experienced “severe impairment.”
It’s important to note that the term “crippling depression” largely isn’t used in medical literature. In fact, many people find the term “crippling” to be out-of-date, hurtful and offensive, particularly when it’s used in an insulting way.
Yet although it’s not an official clinical term, the expression “crippling depression” is sometimes used to refer to major depressive disorder (MDD) that’s so severe and overwhelming that it inhibits a person’s ability to do basic tasks, such as working, socializing or maintaining a normal life.
For a person with severe depression, simple things such as waking up at a normal time, eating and bathing can become difficult.
Because it’s so severe, depression that’s referred to as “crippling” can have a major impact on a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
Severe depression can cause a variety of symptoms, from changes in a person’s feelings and moods to physical and cognitive symptoms that affect a person’s ability to think and function on a daily basis.
In order to be diagnosed with depression, you’ll normally need to have persistent symptoms that have occurred on a daily or near-daily basis for at least two weeks.
Common signs and symptoms that you may experience if you have depression include:
A persistent sad, anxious or depressed mood. You may experience severe feelings of sadness and anxiety, including in situations that would normally cause you to have a neutral or optimistic mood. Crippling anxiety may have some different symptoms, which you can read about in our blog.
Irritability, restlessness and frustration. You may become irritated or frustrated about life more easily than normal. Small things that otherwise wouldn’t affect you may begin to have a noticeable effect on your mood and outlook.
Hopelessness and pessimism. You may feel like certain things are hopeless and can’t be fixed or improved, even if this isn’t the case.
Loss of interest in and pleasure from hobbies. Hobbies and other activities that used to make you feel happy, excited and fulfilled may no longer be interesting or pleasurable for you.
Difficulty sleeping, staying asleep or waking up. You may experience insomnia that prevents you from falling asleep or causes you to wake up during the night. When you’re asleep, you may find it difficult to wake up at a normal time.
Difficulty concentrating or remembering information. You may find it harder to focus on specific tasks or remember information. This may affect your education and/or career performance.
Inability to make decisions. Making decisions, even when small, may feel much more challenging and even impossible. This may stop you from taking action in certain parts of your life.
Fatigue and a “slowing down” of your thoughts and movements. You may start to feel tired and physically exhausted. In some cases, you may start to move, talk and think at a slower pace than usual.
Changes in appetite and body composition. You may feel less or more hungry than usual, resulting in changes to your diet and eating habits. This may cause you to gain or lose weight.
Headaches, pains, cramps and digestive issues. You may start to experience aches and pains, without any obvious cause. Some people with depression also have digestive issues and other physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment.
Many of these symptoms are common for most forms of depression, including major depressive disorder (MDD).
With crippling depression, as mentioned above, your symptoms may be so severe that they have a significant impact on your ability to function and maintain your normal life.
When depression is very severe, you may start to develop thoughts of death or suicide. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, or have concerns about a friend or family member, it’s important to seek help immediately.
You can access immediate help by reaching out to a trusted friend or family member, contacting your mental health provider or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
A variety of different factors can cause or contribute to major depression, including your genes, physical health, certain types of medication and environmental factors.
Common risk factors for depression include:
A family history of major depression or other mental health issues
Physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes
Past trauma, abuse and/or neglect during childhood or adolescence
Chronic stress due to work, education, financial issues or a negative relationship
Sudden life changes, such as the end of a major relationship or the loss of a loved one
This guide to the causes of depression discusses these risk factors and the effects that they can have on your mental health and depression risk in more detail.
Depression is treatable, even when it feels severe and overwhelming. By identifying the signs of severe depression and seeking professional help, you can gain control over your symptoms and overcome depression for good.
The most effective treatments for clinical depression are medications called antidepressants and psychotherapy, or talk therapy.
Before you can treat depression, it’s important to talk to a mental health provider and receive an accurate diagnosis.
You can do this by contacting a licensed provider in your area, or using an online psychiatric evaluation service.
As part of the evaluation process, your healthcare provider may ask you certain questions about your symptoms.
You might be asked to complete a depression test, during which you’ll answer a series of questions about your symptoms or common depressive experiences.
It’s important to provide complete and accurate information so that your healthcare provider can prescribe an appropriate treatment.
One of the most common treatment options for depression is medication. Severe depression is often treated using antidepressants, which are medications that improve your mood and relieve the symptoms of depression.
Antidepressants work by increasing levels of chemicals in your body called neurotransmitters.
Common types of antidepressants used in the treatment of depression include:
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Antidepressants are usually effective, but they require time to work. You may need to take your medication for several weeks before you notice any changes.
Many people find that their sleep habits, focus and appetite improve before other symptoms.
Many antidepressants can cause side effects. Make sure to let your healthcare provider know if you experience any severe or persistent side effects after starting treatment.
This full list of antidepressants explains how these medications work and shares common drugs that you may be prescribed if you’ve been diagnosed with major depression.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one of the most common forms of treatment for depression. In therapy, you’ll work directly with a mental health professional to change your habits, thinking and behavior to reduce the severity of your depression symptoms.
Several forms of therapy are commonly used to treat depression, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), problem-solving therapy and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
Your mental health provider may prescribe antidepressants or other medication for you to use at the same time as you take part in psychotherapy.
This guide to therapy for depression explains the different therapeutic approaches used to treat depression in more detail. It’s also easy to find online individual counseling and anonymous support groups you can join from your own home.
If you have severe depression that doesn’t improve with antidepressants or psychotherapy, your healthcare provider may suggest electroconvulsive therapy.
This type of therapy involves activating or inhibiting certain parts of your brain with electricity.
It often provides relief from severe depression symptoms when other forms of therapy have failed, but it isn’t suitable for everyone.
In addition to electroconvulsive therapy, several other forms of brain stimulation therapy may be used to treat severe depression, including the following:
Magnetic seizure therapy (MST)
Deep brain stimulation (DBS)
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)
Some of these stimulation therapies are still experimental, but may be used to treat particularly severe or persistent forms of depression and other mental disorders.
When depression is severe or crippling, making changes to your habits and lifestyle is unlikely to completely resolve your symptoms.
However, simple self-care habits and lifestyle changes can have a big impact when they’re used in combination with medication and/or psychotherapy.
Try the following techniques to reduce the severity of your depression symptoms and make progress toward recovery:
Spend time with friends and family. It’s important not to isolate yourself from others if you’re feeling depressed.Spending time with others can lift your mood and help you progress toward recovery. Try to spend time with your friends and family members. If you need to talk to someone about your symptoms, try confiding in a trusted friend or family member.
Focus on small, gradual improvements. It’s very possible to recover from depression, but the process doesn’t happen overnight. It may take several months for you to notice a large improvement in your moods, thought patterns and life outlook. While recovering from depression, try to focus on making consistent progress, even if it’s a slow process. Over time, small daily and weekly improvements can add up and have a significant impact on your thoughts, feelings and quality of life.
Exercise regularly and eat healthy. Exercise helps stimulate the release of neurotrophic factors — which are proteins that can improve nerve cell connections and relieve some of the symptoms of depression.Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week such as walking or biking around your neighborhood, along with two muscle-strengthening workouts, like lifting weights, performing bodyweight exercises or yoga.
Try to sleep and wake on a regular schedule. Taking control over your sleep habits is an important part of getting back into regular life. Stick to a specific bedtime and set an alarm for the morning, then try your hardest to maintain your routine.This list of science-based ways to fall asleep faster may be helpful if you find it difficult to stick to a regular bedtime.
Avoid drinking alcohol or using drugs. Research suggests that alcohol use disorders and depression are closely linked.Try to avoid consuming alcohol or using illicit drugs while you’re recovering from depression.
Try not to make major life decisions while you’re recovering. It’s best not to make major decisions — such as changes to your career, education or relationships — while you’re recovering from depression.Instead, try to keep your life focused on recovery. Remember that you can always make these decisions in the future, once your depression is in the rearview mirror.
This list of 11 ways to help depression details easy, science-based habits and lifestyle changes you can use to make progress and speed up your recovery.
When depression is severe, it can feel crippling. Things that otherwise wouldn’t trouble you can become overwhelming, and coping with the demands of everyday life can seem impossible.
However, even the most severe forms of depression can be treated with the right approach. By seeking help from your family and friends and working alongside a licensed mental health provider, you can overcome severe depression and enjoy a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.
If you’re concerned that you may have depression, you can talk directly to a licensed mental health provider using this online psychiatry service.
If appropriate, you’ll receive a personalized treatment plan that includes medication and private, ongoing follow-up care.
You can also learn more about successfully coping with depression, anxiety and other common mental health issues with the help of these free online mental health resources.