Common symptoms of depression: What to know
Depression is a medical condition that affects more than 300 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). People sometimes call it clinical depression or major depressive disorder.
In this article, learn about the common symptoms of depression, as well as the treatment options and when to seek help.
13 symptoms of depression
There are several different types of depression, and the symptoms vary among individuals.
While anyone can experience some of these symptoms from time to time, a doctor will only diagnose depression when a certain cluster of symptoms appear, and they persist for 2 weeks or longer.
1. Feeling sad or empty
Mood changes are one of the most common symptoms of depression. A person who has depression may feel sad or down for long periods.
They may also say that they feel "empty" or unable to feel joy or happiness. Some people may describe this sadness as despair.
2. Feeling hopeless or helpless
Depression can make people feel hopeless, as though there is no foreseeable end to how they are feeling.
A person may also feel helpless. They may say or think that no one can help them get better and that they will always feel depressed.
3. Feeling worthless
A person who has depression may feel that they are worthless or have no meaning in their life.
They may believe that they are a burden to others or that the world or their family is better off without them.
4. Feeling excessively guilty
Guilt is a normal reaction after a person says or does something that they regret, but people with depression may have ongoing feelings of guilt that are inappropriate or disproportionate to their situation.
They may focus a lot of energy on this guilt and feel bad about themselves and things that they have said or done — even events that have long since passed.
5. No interest or pleasure in activities
Some people with depression lose interest in things that they used to enjoy, such as sports, going out with friends, music, or sexual activity. They may turn down offers or opportunities to do activities or be with others.
6. Anger and irritability
A person with depression may seem to be angry with others. They may become easily annoyed and irritated.
The National Institutes of Mental Health state that men are more likely than women to experience irritability and anger as symptoms of depression. However, these symptoms may also occur in women and children.
Irritability also has links with other symptoms of depression. For example, if a person is not sleeping well and feels tired, they may be more prone to irritability.
7. Feeling tired and a loss of energy
Some people with depression may find it difficult to get up in the morning because they feel exhausted and run down.
They may feel too fatigued to do everyday tasks, such as going to work or cooking meals. They may spend a lot of time at home resting or sleeping.
The fatigue of depression can make a person feel as though they are always tired, despite getting enough sleep at night. However, others with depression do experience poor sleep.
8. Insomnia or lack of sleep
Sometimes, a person with depression may be unable to sleep well, potentially having trouble either falling or staying asleep. They may stay up very late at night or wake up very early in the morning.
9. Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
A person with depression may experience mood changes.
Depression can interfere with a person's cognitive abilities. They may have trouble focusing or concentrating on personal or professional matters. They may also struggle to make decisions, including small, everyday choices.
People with depression may also find that they cannot remember things as well as they did previously. They may forget appointments or commitments and might not recall things that they said or did recently.
10. Lack of appetite
People with depression may lose their desire and appetite for food, which can cause weight loss. They may have little interest in eating and go for long periods without food.
11. Overeating and weight gain
Some people may eat more when they are depressed. Food can become a comfort mechanism for negative feelings or a way to deal with boredom or being alone.
Depression can make it difficult for people to feel motivated to get outside or exercise. Combined with an increase in food intake, this can lead to weight gain.
12. Aches, pains, and physical symptoms
A person with depression may experience persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment.
- digestive disorders
- unexplained aches and pains
13. Thoughts of death or suicide
A person with depression may think more about death and dying. They may also think about suicide and how they could end their life. These thoughts are called suicide ideation.
Sometimes, a person may tell others about these thoughts. If someone is talking about death or suicide, this may be their way of asking for help, and it is vital to seek assistance.
In severe cases of depression, a person may hurt themselves, or self-harm.
Depression is a common but serious condition that can be life threatening. Not every person who thinks about suicide will attempt it. However, if someone mentions suicide, either contact a doctor or help them seek urgent medical care.
- If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or the local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
Having one of these symptoms does not mean that a person has depression. For instance, other health issues and some medications can cause weight gain or insomnia.
However, people who have one or more of these symptoms and are concerned about depression should still speak to a doctor.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a person who has depression will have several of the above symptoms for longer than 2 weeks.
There is no single test that can diagnose depression. Usually, a medical professional will evaluate a person's symptoms, family history, and medical history to make a diagnosis. They may also use specialized questionnaires and screening tools.
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Many people with depression use therapy, medication, or both to control symptoms. It is important to go to scheduled appointments and take medications as the doctor prescribes them.
Some people with depression find that the following measures can help them manage their symptoms:
- exercising, which can be as effective as medication in some cases
- spending time with supportive friends or loved ones
- abstaining from alcohol and illicit drugs
- trying stress management techniques, such as yoga or journaling
- avoiding taking herbs or supplements without talking with a doctor, as some may interfere with antidepressants
- breaking significant tasks down into smaller ones and only doing those that are a priority
If a friend or loved one is showing symptoms of depression, a person can help by:
- asking them to see their doctor or another healthcare professional and helping them make the appointment if they would find that useful
- offering support, understanding, and validation
- continuing to invite them to events and outings
- reducing stressors at home or work
- helping them eat well and spending time with them outdoors
When to see a doctor
Anyone with symptoms of depression should talk to their doctor about treatment options.
If a person suspects that they may have depression, they should speak to a doctor or other healthcare professional. Early treatment can ease symptoms and prevent them from getting worse.
Resources are also available to help people find medical care for mental illness. These include:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
People can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-8255. Alternatively, there is an online chat feature at suicidepreventionlifeline.org for those who feel more comfortable communicating online or do not have access to a phone.
Depression is a treatable mental health condition that can cause a range of symptoms.
Anyone who is concerned that they or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression should speak to a doctor. Proper care for depression can significantly improve quality of life and even save lives.