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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
It’s normal for anyone’s mood to fluctuate throughout their life, with both happier days and days where they got up on the wrong side of the bed. But sometimes, a low mood or loss of interest in daily activities can persist when it may be depression causing those feelings.
Depression is a major mental health condition that affects mood. The most common type of depression is major depressive disorder, also known as major depression or clinical depression.
Even though depression is widespread, many people experiencing depression don’t get treatment (Chand, 2020). That’s why it’s so important to understand the signs and symptoms, so you and your loved ones can get the help you need. The following list of common signs of depression can help you figure out if it might be time to talk with a mental health professional for support.
8 common signs of depression
Depression is a complex condition, and there are actually multiple types of depression. Let’s look at the eight signs you need to be most concerned about with major depressive disorder, the most common form of depression.
1. Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
Clinical depression often causes people to feel worthless and have a negative outlook on their life. People with depression may also feel hopeless and low self-esteem.
Having a hopeless outlook and thinking things will never go the way you want them to is one of the most common symptoms of depression.
2. Weight and appetite changes
Major depression affects people’s appetites differently. Some people experience a loss of appetite or lose the energy to eat and end up losing weight. In contrast, other people have an increased appetite and gain weight. People may also eat more food when depressed because dopamine, a hormone that produces a feeling of pleasure, is released in response to eating (Volkow, 2010).
3. Feelings of sadness
Depressed mood or feeling sad is another one of the more common symptoms of depression. Feeling down or sad frequently, even during happy or positive events, is a common sign of depression.
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4. Increased fatigue and changes in sleep
People often feel tired and worn down with depression. The lack of energy and a constant feeling of fatigue can lead to spending less time with others and poorer performance at work. It may lead to excessive sleeping and missing important events.
Some people may experience the opposite: trouble falling or staying asleep may be a sign of depression. Sleep disturbances are common, and sleep deprivation can increase depression symptoms (Murphy, 2014).
5. Irritability and mood changes
Changes in mood and reacting differently to events could be a sign of depression. Both reacting more or less to positive and negative events is common. Sometimes, changes in mood or uncontrollable emotions happen without an event to cause the change.
You may also notice changes in how you interact with people. You may feel like you are more likely to snap, get angry, or have limited patience when talking with others.
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6. Increased anxiety or guilt
Anxiety is a separate mood disorder from depression, but it’s common for people to experience them together. In fact, around 85% of people with depression have anxiety (Tiller, 2013).
Anxiety causes symptoms such as (Strohle, 2018):
- Excessive worry
- Increased heart rate or breathing
- Increased fear
Many people with depression also feel guilty or that something was all their fault. They experience added worry, guilt, and shame over things that have happened in their life or in the world, and may feel that they are letting other people down.
7. Loss of interest
Losing interest in social activities, work, school, hobbies, or anything else you normally enjoy doing is a sign of depression. People may stop doing things they love or even stop completing their responsibilities. Withdrawing from social situations, poor work performance, and trouble maintaining relationships can all be telltale signs of depression.
8. Thoughts of self-harm
Suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-harm are signs of more severe depression symptoms. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of or talking about self-harm or suicide, don’t hesitate to seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline available 24/7 to anyone in emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-8255 for support and to be connected to resources.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts or behaviors of suicide or self-harm, help is available for free. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor
Getting help for depression
Many people feel embarrassed when they face challenges with their mental health. About 60% of people with depression avoid medical help (Chand, 2020). But depression is a common health condition, and help from a mental health professional is an important step to getting better.
If you are experiencing the warning signs of depression, talking with someone can help you find out if it is a depressive episode and what an effective treatment option is for you.
Your healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and any medical conditions you may have to come to a diagnosis. Depression is diagnosed based on the criteria on the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Five of these symptoms need to be present for longer than two weeks for a diagnosis of depression (Chand, 2020):
- Sleep changes
- Loss of interest
- Thoughts of worthlessness
- Weight or appetite changes
- Suicidal thoughts
- Depressed mood
- Slowed or less purpose to movements
Your mental health professional may also consider if you are being affected by a specific type of depression. Here are some of the common types of depression (Chand, 2020):
- Major depressive disorder
- Postpartum depression
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
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Depression is a very treatable condition with the support of healthcare professionals and social support groups. Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two are the most common treatment options used (Chand, 2020).
There are multiple antidepressant medications available. Your healthcare team can help find the right types of medication to help you feel better with minimal side effects.
Psychotherapy helps you to better cope with the emotional and physical symptoms of depression. It teaches coping skills to manage stress and gives you someone to talk to about any problems you face.
For people with severe depression who aren’t responding to other treatment options, your healthcare provider may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is a treatment that induces a controlled seizure while you are under anesthesia (Salik, 2020). The goal is to stimulate the brain in a controlled way and correct imbalances in neurotransmitter function.
If you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms of depression, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Seeking professional help can get you started on the road to feeling better.
- Chand SP, Arif H. (2020). Depression. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430847/
- Murphy, M. J., & Peterson, M. J. (2015). Sleep disturbances in depression. Sleep medicine clinics, 10(1), 17–23. doi: 10.1016/j.jsmc.2014.11.009. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5678925/
- Salik I, Marwaha R. (2020). Electroconvulsive therapy. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538266/
- Ströhle, A., Gensichen, J., & Domschke, K. (2018). The diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 155(37), 611–620. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2018.0611. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6206399/
- Tiller J. W. (2013). Depression and anxiety. The Medical journal of Australia, 199(S6), S28–S31. doi: 10.5694/mja12.10628. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25370281/
- Volkow, N. D., Wang, G. J., & Baler, R. D. (2011). Reward, dopamine and the control of food intake: implications for obesity. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(1), 37–46. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.11.001. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3124340/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.