It’s common to feel sad or blue from time to time; that’s a normal reaction to the ups and downs of life. But when you’re experiencing an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair that doesn’t seem to lift, you may be dealing with depression.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness and you can’t just “snap out of it.” As the nonprofit HelpGuide notes, depression changes how you think, feel, and function on a daily basis. It negatively impacts your ability to work, sleep, and enjoy life.
But what exactly are depression symptoms? What signs should you watch out for? In this guide, we walk through the depression symptoms to check for.
Most Common Depression Symptoms
You may have noticed some shifts in your mood and behaviors, and are wondering: do I have depression?
“Common expressions of depression include: loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, irritability, decreased or increased appetite, either sleeping too much or difficulty sleeping at all, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, and an overall feeling of being sad more often than not,” summarizes Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW BCD.
According to HelpGuide and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the most common depression symptoms include:
- Persistent sadness or empty mood
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; the sense that things won’t get better
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities or hobbies you normally like
- Changes in your appetite; or significant weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in your sleeping patterns: either oversleeping or insomnia
- A lack of energy; feeling slow and sluggish (even simple tasks can seem exhausting)
- Feelings of anger, restlessness, frustration, or irritability
- Self-loathing, feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
- Difficulty focusing or making decisions
- Unexplained aches and pains, including headaches or digestive disorders
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Depression Can Affect Us Differently Depending On Age And Gender
According to a BCBS Health of America initiative report published in 2018, major depression affects more than nine million people in the US. The report states that women are two times as likely to be diagnosed than men.
Ertel believes that this may be because “women are more willing to discuss their mood with a health professional than men due to social norms around masculinity.” She adds also that “some women and trans people may also experience Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Postpartum Depression (PPD) associated with hormonal imbalances that their male counterparts would not experience.”
And what about age? Are depression symptoms different for children or teens? “In children and adolescents, depression is very often expressed as temper tantrums and anger,” says Ertel. “Especially for younger or developmentally delayed children, depression can be very confusing. Anger can be a much easier emotion to access than sadness that you don’t quite understand.” It’s important to be aware of the starkly different ways that depression symptoms can manifest for young people and to get them help when you notice these symptoms.
“Similarly to adults, though, children and teens with depression can still feel sadness, hopelessness, become withdrawn, have difficulties concentrating on tasks / schoolwork, crying spells, etc.” If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed mental health professional.
Don’t Confuse Depression Symptoms For Other Conditions
It is sometimes possible to mistake depression for other issues, no matter the person’s age. “Depression can often look like “laziness” or “anger problems” to others who do not understand clinical depression,” Ertel cautions. “People may judge harshly a loved one who is depressed that has stopped taking care of their basic needs (i.e., showering or eating regularly) because they are unaware of what is happening inside of their loved one’s mind.” It’s important to approach a loved one who is exhibiting depression symptoms with understanding and without judgment — the goal is to get them help, not to “snap them out of it.”
“This [judgment] is often particularly hurtful to those struggling with depression, because, even though they may be more withdrawn, they often still desire connection with those they love (even if they don’t know how to go about getting it).” It can often feel like those with depression are pushing you away. Remember that this is simply the manifestation of the condition, rather than their desire for distance.
Overlap of Depression Symptoms and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are “believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand,” according to HelpGuide.
Depression symptoms and those of anxiety can overlap. “Some criteria that are common in both depression and anxiety include restlessness, irritability, fatigue, and sleep disturbances,” Ertel explains.
“One of the hallmark signs of anxiety, though, is worry and an overall sense of dread that something bad is going to happen. It is entirely possible for a person to have both anxiety and depression. The silver lining is that many treatments (traditional therapy and pharmacologic) are very similar for both depression and anxiety.” It’s also important to remember that one condition can lead to the other. Dealing with overwhelming anxiety can make a person depressed, while depression — and the ensuing difficulties at work or in relationships — can make a person anxious.
How To Seek Help For Your Depression
As HelpGuide observes, there are small actions you can take to begin to lift your mood. These include gentle exercise; cutting out caffeine and alcohol; spending time volunteering or engaging in a hobby; and reaching out to loved ones. “The simple act of talking to someone face-to-face about how you feel can be an enormous help.”
There are also many effective treatments for depression. The main courses of treatment, however, are therapy and medication.
“There is never a wrong time to see a therapist,” advises Ertel. “Honestly, going sooner rather than later is always preferable! Just as a dentist would prefer their patients have regular teeth cleanings or wellness visits to prevent cavities, so too does a therapist prefer their clients engage in early help-seeking behaviors to prevent crisis. If the depression has progressed, it is absolutely necessary to seek help if you are feeling suicidal or having thoughts of self-harming behaviors.” If you or anyone you know are in a crisis or may be in danger, please use these resources to get immediate help.
Recognizing Depression Symptoms Is The First Step to Recovery
We’ve seen that depression has several common symptoms you should watch out for, whether in yourself or in a loved one. The condition affects people differently depending on their age and gender — and there can often be an overlap with anxiety symptoms.Because of the very nature of depression symptoms, it can feel like there’s no way out. But it’s important to remember that feeling hopeless is exactly that — a symptom, rather than the reality of your situation. Recognizing depression symptoms is the very first step to getting better — and remember that there are a variety of effective treatments to support you. If you’re looking for help with your depression symptoms, connecting with a licensed online therapist is a great place to start.