Feeling down from time to time is a normal part of life, but when emotions such as hopelessness and despair take hold and just won’t go away, you may have depression. More than just sadness in response to life’s struggles and setbacks, depression changes how you think, feel, and function in daily activities. It can interfere with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy life. Just trying to get through the day can be overwhelming.
Being unhappy isn’t the same as being depressed. Depression is a term often used loosely to describe how we feel after a bad week at work or when we’re going through a breakup. But major depressive disorder — a type of depression — is much more complicated. There are specific symptoms that determine whether it’s depression or the sadness we all sometimes experience in life.
Read through these signs to see if it’s time for you to see a mental health professional.
The second core symptom of major depressive disorder is a decreased interest or pleasure in things that you once enjoyed. Depression can take the pleasure or enjoyment out of the things you love. A loss of interest or withdrawal from activities that you once looked forward to — sports, hobbies, or going out with friends — is yet another telltale sign of major depression.
Some people turn to hobbies they enjoy when they feel blue, but those with major depression tend to avoid them. If you or someone you know usually loves to garden but can’t muster the energy to go outside, let alone work in the yard, that can be a red flag.
Part of the reason you might stop doing things you enjoy is because you feel very tired. Depression often comes with a lack of energy and an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. This loss of energy, which can equate to feeling tired most if not all of the time, can interfere with your ability to function normally.
Some research suggests that over 90% of people with depression experience fatigue. Although everyone feels tired from time to time, people who have severe or persistent tiredness — especially if it accompanies other symptoms — may have hidden depression.
Sleep disturbance is present in as many as 90% of people with depression. It can take the form of either difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping excessively (hypersomnia). With insomnia, people may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Sleep issues can be both a cause of depression and a symptom of depression. Thus, improving your ability to sleep is important for making you feel better now and reducing your likelihood of a future depression relapse.
People with depression may display a trait called “depressive realism,” which means that they may be “more accurate” in their view of events and the control they have over those events than people without depression.
People with depression may also be more pessimistic. Studies suggest that those with major depressive disorder often have a more negative view of the future. Being more realistic or pessimistic than others may be one sign of depression, especially if the person has other possible symptoms of depression.
While depression hasn’t been shown to cause anxiety, the two conditions often occur together. Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- nervousness, restlessness, or feeling tense
- feelings of danger, panic, or dread
- rapid heart rate
- rapid breathing
- increased or heavy sweating
- trembling or muscle twitching
- trouble focusing or thinking clearly about anything other than the thing you’re worried about
Changes in Appetite
Weight and appetite can fluctuate for people with depression. This experience may be different for each person. Some people will have an increased appetite and gain weight, while others won’t be hungry and will lose weight.
Feelings of sadness or worthlessness can also lead to overeating. In these instances, food is typically being used as a coping mechanism. However, the opposite – wherein a depressed person may stop eating because he or she is no longer concerned with physical well-being – is also true.
Inability to Concentrate
When a person trails off during conversations or loses their train of thought, it can indicate issues with memory and concentration, which is a common symptom of depression. These difficulties with concentration and focus can worsen the social impact of depression by making work life and personal relationships more challenging.
People with depression may recognize this in themselves, or others around them may notice that they’re struggling to think clearly. They may notice that they’re having trouble processing thoughts quickly and attribute their symptoms to cognitive decline.
In many people, depression can manifest with irritability, impatience, or anxiety and worry. Instead of appearing sad, some people with hidden depression may display irritability and overt or suppressed anger.
One minute it’s an outburst of anger. The next you’re crying uncontrollably. Nothing outside of you prompted the change, but your emotions are up and down at a moment’s notice. Depression can cause mood swings.