Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/7/2022
It’s normal to feel sad, anxious or unhappy from time to time. However, when these feelings last for several weeks and start to affect your quality of life, they may be a sign that you have clinical depression.
Clinical depression is a common mental illness that affects tens of millions of adults in the United States every year.
In fact, statistics show that during the year prior to 2019, approximately six percent of all US men had one or more depressive episodes.
Like other forms of mental illness, clinical depression affects people in a range of ways. However, there are several common symptoms of clinical depression that can serve as early warning signs that you or someone else may be affected.
Below, we’ve explained what clinical depression is and listed these signs. We’ve also explained what you can do if you feel depressed, from reaching out to friends and family to scheduling an appointment with a mental health provider.
Clinical depression is a term that’s used to refer to major depressive disorder (MDD). MDD is a mood disorder that can affect the way you think, feel and behave.
It often involves sad, negative and hopeless thoughts, as well as other psychological and physical symptoms.
Major depressive disorder can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Some people may be more at risk of developing clinical depression than others.
You may have a higher risk of developing clinical depression if you:
Experience a sudden, negative change in your life
Have a physical illness, such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease
Use certain types of medication, including medication to treat the above illnesses
Have parents or siblings who’ve been affected by clinical depression
Have a personal history of clinical depression
Because clinical depression is a serious mental illness, it’s important to pay attention to your feelings, thoughts and behavior and seek help if you feel concerned about yourself or another person.
Major depressive disorder is the most common form of clinical depression. However, there are several other forms of depressive illness, including:
Seasonal affective disorder
Bipolar clinical depression
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
Psychotic clinical depression
Postpartum clinical depression
Our guide to the types of clinical depression goes into more detail about how these forms of depressive illness can develop, their symptoms and more.
Although many people think of clinical depression as simply feeling down, clinical depression can cause a diverse range of psychological and physical symptoms.
Everyone is different, and the symptoms of clinical depression can vary significantly from one person to another.
Some people may have several severe clinical depression symptoms that affect their mind and body, while other people may only have mild symptoms that affect their feelings and thoughts.
To diagnose clinical depression, mental health experts look for several persistent symptoms that occur alongside a low, sad or negative mood.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most common signs of clinical depression, as well as how each symptom might affect you.
One of the most common symptoms of clinical depression is a sad, anxious or empty-feeling mood that lingers throughout the day, even in situations that normally wouldn't cause you to feel depressed or unhappy. Note that there is a difference between sadness and depression.
If you have clinical depression, you might feel anxious and devoid of any positive feelings, even when there’s no clear or logical reason for you to feel this way. These feelings may be persistent and difficult to get rid of.
If you have clinical depression, you may feel like your situation in life is hopeless and that there is little or nothing that you can do to improve it.
Pessimistic, hopeless feelings are a common symptom of clinical depression. You might take a negative approach to assessing problems in your life, or assume that certain problems can’t be solved.
For some people, clinical depression can cause irritability. You might notice that you become annoyed or upset more easily than normal, or that small issues you otherwise wouldn’t worry about affect your mood in a noticeable way.
Irritability is a common sign of clinical depression in children and adolescents. It also occurs in bipolar disorder — a mental disorder related to clinical depression that can cause rapid changes in mood from manic (energized and irritable) to depressed (sad, indifferent and pessimistic).
As well as contributing to mental irritability, clinical depression may cause you to feel physically stimulated and restless.
If you’re depressed, you may find that you fidget and have difficulty sitting still, even in settings that wouldn’t normally cause you to feel physically active.
A common sign of clinical depression is anhedonia — a reduced level of interest in the hobbies or other activities you used to enjoy.
If you’re depressed, you may start to notice that the activities you usually use to improve your mood don’t feel pleasurable anymore.
Your level of interest in these activities may decrease, causing you to spend less time on them.
People with clinical depression sometimes describe themselves as experiencing “brain fog,” a lack of mental clarity or sharpness.
If you’re depressed, you may notice that you find it difficult to focus on certain tasks, especially those that require concentration.
You may forget certain pieces of information, such as names, numbers, facts or dates, more easily than normal.
These issues might affect your performance at work, or, if you’re studying, your results in tests and graded assignments.
In addition to affecting your ability to concentrate and remember information, clinical depression can also affect your ability to make decisions.
When you’re depressed, you may find it harder to choose between different options. You may feel indecisive and unable to properly compare different options.
When you do make a decision about something, it might not be the best choice for your interests.
Because of the pessimistic thinking that can occur when you’re depressed, you might feel more likely to be disappointed by the outcomes of your decisions — something that may further affect your decision-making abilities.
This reduced ability to make decisions can affect your career, education, relationships with other people and other aspects of your life.
If you have clinical depression, you might feel as if you’re guilty, or as if certain issues are your fault.
These feelings can affect your self-esteem and cause you to feel worthless, helpless or ashamed about certain aspects of your life.
clinical depression can affect your sexual health and function in several ways, including by reducing your level of interest in sexual activity.
If you’re affected by clinical depression, you may feel less interested in having sex. clinical depression is also linked to several sexual performance issues, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and anorgasmia, or difficulty reaching orgasm.
Some medications used to treat clinical depression, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can also affect your sex drive and sexual function.
Sometimes, clinical depression can cause something called psychomotor retardation — a type of slowing down of your speech patterns and movement.
If you’re depressed, you may notice that you talk at a slower pace than usual, or that you move your limbs at a reduced speed.
Psychomotor retardation can also affect your face, causing slow eye movements and facial expressions.
Other aspects of your speech and movement, such as your gaze, pause times, speech volume and even the tone of your voice, may also change when you’re depressed.
Clinical depression can cause insomnia, meaning you may find it harder to fall asleep at a normal time or stay asleep throughout the night.
Difficulty sleeping is one of the most common signs of clinical depression. In fact, around 75 percent of people with clinical depression experience insomnia symptoms, such as difficulty getting to sleep or frequently waking up during the night.
These symptoms may have an impact on your daytime energy, physical wellbeing and general quality of life.
While clinical depression usually causes insomnia, some people experience the opposite problem — an increase in sleepiness referred to as hypersomnia.
Hypersomnia is a form of excessive sleeping. If you develop this symptom, you may feel overly tired and in need of sleep during the daytime. You might also feel as if you need to sleep for an excessive amount of time during the night.
Some medications used to treat clinical depression, such as certain antidepressants, may contribute to these symptoms.
Although most of the symptoms of clinical depression are psychological, many people with clinical depression also develop physical symptoms.
If you have clinical depression, you may experience aches, pains, cramps, headaches and other physical sensations without a clear, obvious cause.
In some cases, clinical depression can cause joint pain that may be persistent and severe.
Sometimes, clinical depression can affect your digestive system and cause issues such as diarrhea, constipation and gastrointestinal pain.
Like other physical symptoms of clinical depression, these may develop suddenly without an obvious cause and fail to respond to treatment. clinical depression may also worsen existing digestive health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Clinical depression can affect your appetite and cause you to eat more or less food than you normally would.
This change in appetite and eating habits can affect your body weight and cause weight loss or weight gain.
These changes may be caused by increased or reduced activation of certain parts of your brain, including the reward pathway and parts of the brain responsible for managing your physiological state.
It’s normal to feel depressed every now and then. However, if you’ve experienced several of the symptoms above on a daily or near-daily basis for two weeks or longer, you may be affected by major clinical depression.
Depressive symptoms can worsen over time, meaning it’s important to seek help when you feel depressed.
You can seek help by reaching out to your partner, a close friend or a family member and asking them to help you find a mental health professional.
You can also ask your primary care provider for a referral, or contact a mental health provider in your city or region.
Alternatively, you can connect directly with a licensed psychiatry provider from your home using our online psychiatry service.
Clinical depression is treatable. Your mental health provider may recommend using medication to control your symptoms, taking part in online counseling, making changes to your lifestyle and habits or a combination of different forms of treatment.
Clinical depression is often treated with antidepressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These medications work by increasing the levels of certain natural chemicals in your brain and body, including those responsible for regulating your moods.
Antidepressants are effective, but it can take several weeks for them to start working. You may need to try several medications before finding one that works well for you.
Our full list of antidepressants goes into more detail about the medications that are available to treat clinical depression.
Clinical depression often improves with psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Your mental health provider may use forms of talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression or interpersonal therapy to help you improve the way you deal with certain feelings and thoughts.
Our guide to therapy for clinical depression goes into more detail about how talk therapy works, as well as the different forms of therapy that are used to treat clinical depression.
Although habits alone won’t necessarily get rid of clinical depression, certain habits and lifestyle changes may make your clinical depression symptoms less severe.
These include exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, spending time with friends and family, setting realistic goals for your recovery and paying attention to your major accomplishments and personal progress as you work on overcoming clinical depression.
Our guide to self-help strategies for clinical depression shares proven habits and lifestyle changes that you can use to improve your clinical depression recovery.
Most of the time, clinical depression can be treated with antidepressants, therapy and changes to your habits and lifestyle.
However, for some people, traditional clinical depression treatments aren’t always fully effective. If your clinical depression doesn’t improve with the treatments above, your healthcare provider may suggest a form of treatment called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
This type of treatment is used for severe clinical depression, such as treatment-resistant clinical depression. It may require multiple treatment sessions over the course of two to four weeks, either on its own or in combination with other forms of treatment.
Clinical depression can have a severe impact on your life and affect everything from your moods and feelings to your career, relationships and physical health.
If you’ve noticed any of the signs of clinical depression listed above, it’s important to seek help. You can do this by talking to your primary care provider, contacting a mental health provider in your area, or online using our mental health services.
With time, it’s very possible to overcome even the most severe clinical depression symptoms and enjoy a satisfying, fulfilling life.
Interested in learning more about overcoming clinical depression? Our guide to clinical depression treatments shares how you can successfully deal with clinical depression symptoms, while our free mental health resources provide techniques for coping with clinical depression, anxiety and other common issues.