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Depression Symptoms: A Comprehensive Guide

Are you worried that you might be depressed? While it’s normal to feel unhappy from time to time, persistent, severe feelings of sadness, despair and a loss of interest in life can be a sign that you’re suffering from depression

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States, or slightly more than seven percent of the entire adult population, according to NSDUH statistics.

Like other mood disorders, depression can vary in severity. While some people experience a range of severe symptoms, others go through periods of mild depression.

If you think that you’re depressed, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms and reach out to a professional for help if you think you need it.

Below, we’ve listed the symptoms of depression, from the feelings you may experience to the changes that depression can cause to your day-to-day life. We’ve also talked about what you can do if you feel depressed and want to talk to someone about treatment options.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder. It’s one of the world’s most common mood disorders, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. 

If you suffer from depression, you may experience certain negative changes to your thoughts, feelings and the way you behave. Depression can also cause physical problems, ranging from changes to your body to difficulty maintaining healthy sleep habits.

There are numerous different forms of depression, including major depressive disorder (MDD, or clinical depression), persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), depressive psychosis and several others.

Some other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, can also cause certain symptoms that are similar to those of depression.

Depression can have a serious negative impact on your life, but it can be treated. The key to treating depression is identifying and acknowledging your symptoms, understanding that you can make progress and seeking out qualified, expert help. 

Symptoms of Depression

Depression can cause a large, diverse range of symptoms that change the way you think, feel and behave. 

It’s important to understand that depression can vary in severity, with no two cases exactly the same. While some people with depression may experience a wide range of severe, persistent symptoms, others may only experience a few symptoms that come and go over time.

Simply feeling sad or frustrated every now and then doesn’t necessarily mean that you suffer from depression. To be diagnosed with depression, you’ll typically need to experience one or several depression symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer. 

Below, we’ve listed the most common symptoms of depression, along with more information on how each symptom may affect your mood, behavior and daily life. 

Feelings of Sadness, Emptiness and/or Hopelessness

Persistent feelings of sadness, hopeless and a bleak, empty outlook on life are all symptoms of depression. If you’re depressed, you may feel that your life isn’t getting better and that you have little or no ability to improve your situation.

While these feelings can occur from time to time for everyone, they can often be persistent and severe in people who suffer from depression. 

Anxiety, Restlessness and Irritability

It’s common to feel anxious, irritated and easily agitated when you’re depressed. You may feel stressed and have a shorter “fuse” than normal, causing you to become irritated when a person does something you don’t like. 

In general, you may feel like you have a low tolerance for certain things. In some cases, people with depression may even feel severely agitated or physically violent.

Difficulty Falling Asleep and/or Staying Asleep

If you suffer from depression, you might find it hard to fall asleep in a normal amount of time and stay asleep for the entire night. You may wake up often in the night or early morning, or spend a long amount of time struggling to fall asleep after going to bed.

Research shows that approximately 75 percent of adults affected by depression also experience some symptoms of insomnia. Sleep issues related to depression can often have a bidirectional relationship, meaning they may also contribute to the development of depression.

Difficulty Waking Up at a Normal Time

In addition to making it difficult to fall asleep at nighttime, depression may cause you to struggle to wake up at a normal time in the morning and feel excessively sleeping during the daytime.

This is known as hypersomnia, or excessive time spent sleeping. Data indicates that around 15 percent of people with depression struggle with hypersomnia. Hypersomnia and insomnia may come and go during periods of depression, causing alternating sleep issues. 

Reduced Interest in Hobbies, Socializing and Other Activities

People with depression often feel less interested in the hobbies, activities and events that used to bring them pleasure. If you’re depressed, you may stop spending time on your hobbies and make less of an effort to take part in the activities you used to enjoy. 

Depression can also affect your level of interest in maintaining a social life. You might feel less motivated to talk with other people or attend social events. You may also withdraw from friends and family members.

Lack of Interest in Sex

In addition to affecting your level of interest in hobbies, socializing and maintaining relationships, depression can affect your sex drive and cause you to lose interest in having sex. 

Depression can lead to a change in the level of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. This may cause you to have a low or nonexistent level of interest in sexual activity. Sex may also feel less pleasurable than it normally does.

Difficulty Concentrating and/or Making Decisions

If you’re depressed, you may find it difficult to focus on certain tasks, whether work-related or in your personal life. You may struggle to concentrate and find that you can’t recall things as easily as you normally would.

Depression may also affect your ability to make decisions. You may feel indecisive and struggle to make clear choices, adapt your goals to changing situations and take the necessary steps to get certain things done.

Reduced Energy Levels or Fatigue

If you’re depressed, you may feel like you have less energy than normal. You may feel sluggish and less capable of doing physical tasks than you normal are, and even small levels of physical activity might make you feel fatigued and exhausted.

In general, your limbs and body might feel heavy, causing you to feel physically drained during the day.

Loss of Appetite and/or Weight Loss

Depression can affect your appetite, causing you to have a reduced level of interest in food and eat less than you normally would. You may notice that your weight is lower than normal, even if you haven’t been exercising or following a low-calorie diet. 

Increased Appetite and/or Weight Gain

Depression may also increase your appetite, causing you to experience cravings for food and eat more than you normally would. You may notice that you gain weight, even if you haven’t been intentionally eating more than normal. 

Unexplained Physical Pains, Cramps and Digestive Issues

People with depression often experience physical pain, headaches and cramps without a clear, obvious cause. These symptoms range in severity and may not improve, even with a specific form of treatment.

Depression can also cause digestive issues — for example, research has found that between 50 percent and 90 percent of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) suffer from either depression or an anxiety disorder.

Slowed Movements or Speech

Some people with depression begin to talk, walk and move slower than normal. You, or your friends, family or colleagues, may notice that your speech and actions are “slowed down” when you have depression. 

Difficulty Sitting Still and Feelings of Restlessness

Many people with depression feel restless and experience difficulty resting, relaxing and sitting still. You may notice that you move around and fidget, wring your hands, pace or make other purposeless movements throughout the day.

Self-Loathing and Harsh Self-Criticism

If you’re depressed, you may be overly harsh towards yourself and have a negative opinion of yourself as a person. You may criticize yourself harshly for what you perceive as weaknesses, faults, deficiencies or mistakes.

Reckless, Coping and/or Escapist Behavior

Some people with depression engage in risky, unhealthy coping behaviors, such as dangerous driving or sports. Escapist behavior, such as spending a lot of time at work or using alcohol or drugs, is also a common symptom of depression.

Thoughts of Death or Suicide

People with depression may think frequently about death and suicide. Some depressed people may attempt to commit suicide.

If you have suicidal thoughts, you should seek help immediately. If you’re located in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free, confidential support and assistance.

Risk Factors for Depression

Depression can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. However, certain factors may give you an increased risk of developing depression than other people. Risk factors for developing depression include:

  • A personal or family history of depression. You may have a higher risk of developing depression if others in your family have been depressed. For example, research shows that depression is common in identical twins.
  • Environmental and lifestyle factors. A violent, abusive or neglectful living environment may contribute to a higher risk of developing depression. Other factors, such as poverty, can also play a role in your risk of becoming depressed.

    Certain job and workplace factors may also contribute to depression. For example, study data suggests that working overlong long hours and working in a dangerous industry are associated with a higher risk of developing depression.
  • Injuries and/or illnesses. Experiencing a physical injury, dealing with unmanaged pain or developing a chronic illness — especially a severe illness — can negatively affect your mood and contribute to depression.
  • Use of certain medications. Certain medications, such as beta-blockers, anti-anxiety medications, corticosteroids, hormone-altering drugs, stimulants and medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease, may contribute to depression.
  • Drug or alcohol misuse. People with alcohol or substance use disorders have a higher risk of developing depression. Data from 2018 shows that 21 percent of American adults with a substance use disorder experienced a major depressive episode.
  • Major, sudden or traumatic life changes or events. Sudden negative changes in your life, such as the loss of a loved one, changes in a relationship or a personal setback, are often linked to the development of depression.

Types of Depression

Although many people use the term depression to refer to any long-lasting symptoms that have a negative effect on mood, there are numerous different forms of depression, each with distinct symptoms. 

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder (MDD, or major depression) is a severe form of depression that can cause persistent symptoms. People with major depressive disorder may have a persistent low mood and lack of interest in activities that are normally pleasurable.

When it’s left untreated, the symptoms of major depressive disorder can last for six months or longer. Major depressive disorder is generally treated using psychotherapy, antidepressants, lifestyle changes and other forms of therapy.

Mild to Moderate Depression

Not all people with depression experience severe symptoms.

Recurrent mild, or “low-grade,” depression is often referred to as dysthymia. People affected by dysthymia may experience depression symptoms most of the time, but occasionally go through periods in which they feel normal.

Atypical Depression

A subtype of major depressive disorder, people with atypical depression have a specific pattern of symptoms that may differ from the typical depression case. 

It’s common to experience ups and downs with this form of depression, including improvements in mood during pleasurable activities.

Depressive Psychosis

Depressive psychosis, or psychotic depression, is a type of severe depression that involves a form of psychosis. People with depressive psychosis may have delusions, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms, often with a depression-related theme.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that can develop during the winter in areas that receive reduced daylight. It affects one to two percent of people and can cause a significant change in mood and personality during fall and winter.

Bipolar Disorder

Although bipolar disorder isn’t a form of depression, it can cause extremely low moods (typically referred to as depressive episodes) that are similar to the symptoms experienced by people with major depressive disorder.

Treating Depression

Depression is a serious disorder that can have a lasting, significant negative impact on your life if it isn’t treated. 

Luckily, depression is treatable. Today, a wide range of treatments are available for depression, from different forms of psychotherapy to medication. You may also be able to improve some of your depression symptoms by making changes to your habits and lifestyle. 

If you’ve noticed one or several of the symptoms above and feel concerned that you might be depressed, it’s important to reach out for help from a trusted friend, family member or mental health professional. 

Most forms of depression are treated using medications called antidepressants. These work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in your brain, referred to as neurotransmitters, that help to manage the way you think, feel and function.

You can learn more about how modern antidepressants work in our guide to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

In addition to medication, your healthcare provider may recommend undergoing therapy if you feel depressed. Depending on the form of depression you have and your symptoms, you may respond to treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. 

Finally, your healthcare provider may recommend making certain changes to your lifestyle and habits. These may include setting goals for the near future, staying active, spending time with friends and family and avoiding social isolation.

In Conclusion

When depression is severe, it can be a debilitating disorder that affects almost every aspect of your life, from your general mood and outlook to your ability to maintain relationships with your friends and loved ones. 

If you’ve noticed one or several of the symptoms listed above and feel worried that you may be depressed, reach out for help. 

If you have a trusted friend or family member that you can talk to, consider getting in touch with them for support and assistance. If your depression symptoms are severe or you’re unsure who to talk to, contact a mental health professional for personalized advice and treatment. 

Most importantly, don’t wait. By identifying your symptoms and seeking help, you’ll put yourself in the strongest position to treat your depression and real progress towards recovery. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.