While everyone feels sad from time to time, major depression is very different. Major depressive disorder or clinical depression causes you to experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, or a loss of interest in things you once enjoyed. When these feelings occur for more than two weeks, doctors may diagnose this as major depressive disorder. These symptoms are a sign that you need to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms that may indicate depression.
Symptoms of depression can vary. They may manifest themselves differently from person to person. However, for most people, depression symptoms affect their ability to perform daily activities, interact with others, or go to work or go to school. If you suffer from depression you may often experience several of the following:
The most common symptom of depression is a feeling of sadness or emptiness that lasts for more than two weeks. A person may describe this symptom as a feeling of “hopelessness.” They may feel as if life will not get better and that this intense level of sadness will last forever. If this feeling lasts longer than two years it’s known as dysthymia. This is a type of chronic depression in which a person’s moods are consistently low.
Continual feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or helplessness often accompany the condition. People tend to focus on personal shortcomings or past failures. They often blame themselves when their life isn’t going the way they would like. Teenagers who experience depression commonly report feelings of worthlessness. They may report feeling misunderstood and start to avoid interactions with others.
Depression may cause people to get easily frustrated or angered, even over small or insignificant matters. This often relates back to a person experiencing levels of tension and fatigue that makes it difficult to get through the day. Men and women may display irritability symptoms differently from each other. Women often report feeling angry at one moment, and then tearful at the next. Men may appear volatile or aggressive due to their depression. Traditional male roles in society may also mean that a man displays irritability for not being able to “get it together” and overcome depressive symptoms.
People with depression often experience lack of energy or feel tired all the time. Small tasks, like showering or getting out of bed, may seem to require more effort than one can muster. Fatigue can play a role in other symptoms associated with depression, such as withdrawal and apathy. You may feel overwhelmed at the mere thought of exertion or going outdoors.
Depression is often the result of imbalanced chemicals in the brain. However, people experiencing depression may blame themselves for their symptoms instead. Statements such as “I can’t do anything right” or “everything is my fault,” become the norm for you.
People who have depression may find themselves crying frequently for no apparent reason. Crying spells can be a symptom of post-partum depression, which can occur in a woman after she’s given birth.
People with depression commonly lose interest or stop finding pleasure in activities that they once enjoyed, including sex.
Anxiety is a feeling of impending doom or danger, even when there isn’t a justifiable reason. Depression can cause a person to feel anxious all the time. A person may say they are constantly tense, but there’s no direct threat or identifiable source for this tension.
Agitation and restlessness, including pacing, an inability to sit still, or hand wringing, may occur with depression.
Lack of concentration
People with depression may have a difficult time remembering, maintaining focus, or making decisions. Fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, or feeling “numb” can turn decision-making into a talk that is difficult to accomplish. Friends or family members may discuss specific dates or events, but you may not remember just moments later due to concentrating lack of concentration. This inability to concentrate can lead to withdrawal in a depressed person.
Many people with depression shut themselves off from the world. They may isolate themselves, not answer the phone, or refuse to go out with friends. You feel as if you’re “numb,” and that nothing will bring you joy.
People’s sleep habits are likely to change as a result of depression. They may not be able to fall asleep or stay asleep. They may wake up in the middle of the night and not go back to sleep at all. You may sleep for long periods and find that you don’t want to get out of bed. These symptoms lead to fatigue that can exacerbate additional symptoms of depression, such as a lack of concentration.
Overeating or loss of appetite
Depression can often cause a lack of interest in food and weight loss. In other people, depression leads to overeating and weight gain. This is because a person may feel so frustrated or miserable that they turn to food as a means to escape their problems. However, overeating can lead to weight gain and cause you to exhibit low levels of energy. Not enough food can also cause you to also have low energy levels and feel weak.
Thoughts of suicide
Thinking or fantasizing about death is a serious sign that needs to be addressed right away. According to the Mayo Clinic, thoughts of suicide are symptoms common in older men. Loved ones may not initially notice this thinking and pass a person’s depression symptoms off as age-related mental health changes. However, depression and especially suicidal thoughts are never normal emotions.
If you or a loved one is thinking of hurting themselves, seek immediate medical attention. At the emergency room, a doctor can help you get mental health care until these feelings subside.
Physical symptoms, such as body pain, headaches, cramps, and digestive problems also can occur. Younger children with depression commonly report physical pain symptoms. They may refuse to go to school or behave particularly clingy due to the worry about their aches and pains.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Sources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
When you have depression, treating your symptoms isn’t something you can easily overcome. You simply can’t will it away and “decide” to feel better one day. Instead, treating depression can require participating in psychotherapy or taking medications. These treatments (or a combination of these treatments) can help you feel better. If you experience depression symptoms, talk to your primary care doctor or mental health professional.