If you are concerned you might be depressed, or if you have a history of depression, it’s essential you know the symptoms of depression. Knowing the symptoms of depression can help you recognize when you’re experiencing a depressive episode and that you need to pursue counseling for depression. The sooner you recognize the symptoms of depression, the quicker you can act to counter them to decrease the severity and duration of your depressive episode.
In my practice, one of my goals for clients struggling with depression is for them to know the symptoms of depression. However, even after several bouts of depression, I frequently find they can’t identify the symptoms of depression. That’s why I’ve compiled this list for reference. It’s also important for family members to recognize the symptoms of depression because they might detect a depressive episode sooner than the person experiencing it. Family members can help people start to take action such as pursuing counseling to end the episode.
One of the challenges of being depressed is that it inhibits self-awareness. We don’t fully realize what is happening, and usually don’t link all of the symptoms to a depressive episode. A goal in depression treatment is to increase the baseline level of mindfulness a person has about their thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors. Awareness, knowing the symptoms of depression, and making changes are the best way to beat depression, especially if it’s recurrent.
How Depression is Diagnosed
In mental health diagnosis, we use a list of criteria to determine if someone has what is called a mental health disorder, in this case, Major Depressive Disorder. The symptoms of depression are included in an official reference book called DSM-5, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If you meet the criteria, you are diagnosed with the disorder.
One thing to always consider is whether a depressive episode might actually be bipolar depression. This is a very critical distinction as it has huge implications for treatment, particularly medications! Learn more here.
The official DSM-5 symptoms of depression require that someone has been struggling with five or more of the following symptoms most of the day, nearly every dat, that symptoms have been present for a two-week period or longer, and that they cause a person to have some change in their functioning. For example, they are struggling socially, academically, or a work because they are depressed. At least one of the symptoms must be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.
Here Are the Official Symptoms of Depression:
- Depressed mood, feelings of sadness or hopelessness most of the day, nearly every day. (Yes, I know it’s odd that one of the symptoms of depression is feeling depressed!)
- Decreased interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities. This usually includes things that were once interesting or pleasurable. Nothing sounds fun, which leads to not wanting to do anything.
- Significant weight loss or gain or increase or decrease in appetite. This can’t be due to intentional dieting. Most people do not recognize this as a symptom of depression. It points to the very physical nature of the illness. The very first client I worked with who had depression came to counseling because she had no appetite, though she hadn’t noticed any other symptoms of depression.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) every day. For hypersomnia, I generally regard this as being 10 hours or more of sleep. Hypersomnia is more common in bipolar depression, so if you’re sleeping too much, it’s important you get evaluated for bipolar disorder.
- Moving physically slower than normal or moving with agitation. Agitation means appearing restless, needing to move constantly, tapping a foot nervously, being twitchy, etc. Moving slowly includes walking, expressive gestures, getting up from sitting, etc. This has to be significant enough that it’s observable by other people. This is frequently the first sign of depression I notice when clients first walk into my office.
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day. Everything feels difficult to do. People feel like going back to bed or laying on the couch and feel exhausted after just one simple task like doing the dishes.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt. People began having self-hatred, blaming themselves for the state of their lives, and feeling that they are inherently broken or flawed. It’s a distorted sense of self; they feel guilty for things that aren’t actually significant or feel bad if even one small detail of something they do goes wrong.
- Difficulty concentrating. Usually the dark thoughts in the mind are so consuming they drown out everything that is happening in the present moment. Sometimes, it’s an ADHD-like inability to direct attention; Not being able to stay on task without being distracted, being pulled to irrelevant things going on around you, etc. Other times it’s just a sluggish feeling in the mind, where focusing on anything feels impossible.
- Thoughts of death or dying, even feeling suicidal. The thoughts might be verbal along the lines of “People would be better off without me; I’m such a burden”, or “I wish I could just die”. Other people might experience images of death or suicide, such as slashing their wrists or driving their car off the road. This would obviously include making plans for suicide or a suicide attempt. Sometimes there are worry thoughts related to a loved one dying. Just because someone is having these thoughts doesn’t mean they’re going to act on them, however, they are a sign that depression is getting serious and really needs to be treated.
Now that your knowledgeable about the symptoms of depression, you’ll be able to recognize them sooner in yourself or a loved one and pursue steps to prevent a depressive episode from getting worse!