How to Tell if It’s Depression (and What to Do Next)

We all go through challenges and experiences that can leave us feeling sad, discouraged, or unmotivated. But there’s a difference between these temporary low moods and a more serious condition called depression.

This blog will help you understand the signs and symptoms of depression and what to do if you think you might be experiencing it.

What is Depression?

Depression is a real medical illness that affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. It can cause feelings of sadness or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can also lead to physical problems and can make it difficult to function at work and at home.

Here’s a key point to remember: Depression is not something you can just “snap out of.” It’s not a sign of weakness or a personal failing.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Many people with depression experience a combination of emotional, physical, and behavioral changes. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

Emotional Symptoms:

Feeling Sad or Empty Most of the Day, Nearly Every Day:

This sadness is often described as a deep ache or hollowness that lingers even when there’s no apparent reason to feel down. It’s different from the occasional sadness that comes and goes with life events. People with depression might describe feeling like they’re going through the motions or that their emotions are numbed.

Irritability, Anger, or Frustration, Even Over Small Matters:

Depression doesn’t always present as sadness. Some people experience increased irritability, anger, or frustration, even over seemingly trivial things. This can strain relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

Example: Imagine Michael, a usually patient person, snapping at his spouse over burnt toast. This might be a sign of underlying depression rather than just annoyance over breakfast.

Loss of Interest or Pleasure in Activities You Once Enjoyed:

The things that used to bring you joy, like hobbies, sports, or spending time with loved ones, suddenly feel uninteresting or overwhelming. This can be a significant indicator of depression, as it suggests a withdrawal from activities that used to be a source of happiness.

Example: Sarah, who used to be an avid reader, finds herself struggling to focus on a single page of a book. Even her favorite genres no longer hold her attention.

Feelings of Worthlessness, or Guilt:

People with depression often experience a harsh inner critic. They might feel like they’re failures, burdens to others, or that they don’t deserve good things. This relentless negativity can be incredibly damaging to self-esteem.

Example: David, a talented artist, constantly criticizes his work, believing it’s not good enough. He feels like a fraud despite positive feedback from others.

Difficulty Making Decisions, Concentrating, or Remembering Things:

Depression can cause what’s often called “brain fog.” This makes it difficult to focus, concentrate, or make even simple decisions. People with depression might forget appointments, lose track of time, or struggle to follow conversations.

Example: During a work meeting, Jessica finds her mind wandering. She has trouble remembering instructions and feels overwhelmed by the tasks assigned to her.

Restlessness or Feeling Slowed Down:

Depression can manifest physically as well as emotionally. Some people experience constant agitation and restlessness, while others feel sluggish and slowed down. This can make it difficult to complete daily tasks or even get out of bed.

Example: John constantly feels on edge, pacing around the house even when he’s tired. In contrast, Mary struggles to get anything done because she feels drained of energy.

Thoughts of Death or Suicide (If you are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help immediately. Call a helpline or emergency services):

One of the most serious symptoms of depression is suicidal thoughts or ideation. If you or someone you know is experiencing these thoughts, please don’t hesitate to seek help. There are resources available, and you don’t have to go through this alone.

Physical Symptoms:

Changes in Appetite or Weight (either weight loss or gain):

Depression can significantly impact your eating habits. Some people lose their appetite and experience unintended weight loss. This might be due to a lack of interest in food or the feeling that eating is pointless. Conversely, others might seek comfort food and experience weight gain.

Example: Due to depression, Olivia loses her taste for her favorite foods and skips meals altogether. This leads to unintentional weight loss.

Trouble Sleeping or Sleeping Too Much:

Sleep disturbances are a hallmark symptom of depression. Some people experience insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or waking up frequently during the night. Others might sleep excessively, feeling tired even after sleeping for long periods.

Example: David struggles to fall asleep at night, his mind racing with worries. He wakes up feeling unrested, even after sleeping for 10 hours.

Loss of Energy or Increased Fatigue:

Depression can drain your physical energy reserves. Even simple tasks can feel exhausting, and you might feel constantly fatigued, regardless of how much sleep you get. This lack of energy can significantly impact your daily life.

Example: Sarah used to love hiking, but lately, she finds it difficult to climb a single flight of stairs without feeling winded. Even basic chores feel overwhelming due to her constant fatigue.

Restlessness or Feeling Slowed Down:

Similar to the emotional symptoms, depression can manifest as physical restlessness. You might feel jittery, fidgety, or unable to sit still. Conversely, some people experience a physical slowing down, with movements and speech becoming sluggish.

Example: During a lecture, Michael can’t stop tapping his foot and doodling in his notebook, unable to focus due to his physical restlessness. In contrast, Emily feels like she’s moving through mud, her speech slow and her movements labored.

Aches, Pains, Headaches, or Cramps that Don’t Go Away with Treatment:

Unexplained aches, pains, headaches, or cramps can be signs of depression. These pains often don’t respond well to traditional treatments like pain relievers and persist even after medical evaluation rules out other causes.

Example: John experiences constant backaches that don’t improve with medication or physical therapy. His doctor suspects these might be linked to his undiagnosed depression.

Loss of Interest in Sex:

Depression can significantly lower your libido and decrease your interest in sexual activity. This can be a source of distress for some people and can strain relationships.

Example: Despite being in a loving relationship, Mary finds herself withdrawing from intimacy due to a lack of sexual desire.


Behavioral Symptoms:

Depression can not only affect your mood and energy levels, but it can also significantly impact your behavior. Here’s a closer look at some common behavioral symptoms of depression and how they might manifest in your daily life:

Withdrawing from Social Activities:

People with depression often lose interest in spending time with others. Social activities that were once enjoyable can feel overwhelming or pointless. This withdrawal can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, worsening the symptoms of depression.

Example: Sarah used to be the life of the party, but lately, she has canceled plans and avoids social gatherings. She prefers staying home alone, even when she misses her friends.

Neglecting Responsibilities at Work, School, or Home:

The lack of motivation and energy that comes with depression can make it difficult to keep up with your usual responsibilities. You might fall behind on schoolwork, miss deadlines at work, or neglect chores around the house. This can lead to problems at school, work, and in your personal life.

Example: David, a usually reliable employee, starts missing deadlines and showing up late to work. He struggles to focus on his tasks and feels overwhelmed by his workload.

Increased Use of Alcohol or Drugs:

Some people with depression turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with difficult emotions or numb the pain. However, substance abuse can worsen depression symptoms in the long run and create additional problems.

Example: Mary starts drinking more than usual to try and forget about her worries. While alcohol might provide temporary relief, it ultimately disrupts her sleep and worsens her mood.

Reckless Behavior:

Depression can sometimes lead to impulsive or risky behaviors. This might include reckless driving, gambling, or engaging in dangerous activities. These behaviors are often a way of self-harming or escaping difficult emotions.

Example: John, who is usually cautious, starts taking unnecessary risks with his finances, making impulsive investments that could lead to financial trouble.

Difficulty Thinking Clearly, Concentrating, or Making Decisions:

As mentioned earlier, depression can cause “brain fog,” making it difficult to focus, concentrate, or think clearly. This can make it challenging to make decisions, even simple ones, and can significantly impact your work and daily life.

Example: During a meeting, Sarah struggles to follow the conversation and has difficulty remembering instructions. She feels overwhelmed by the need to make decisions and freezes up.

Here are some resources that can help you find a qualified mental health professional:

Don’t Wait to Get Help

If you’re concerned that you or someone you know might be depressed, don’t wait to seek help. Depression is a treatable condition, and with the right treatment, most people can feel better.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Talk to your doctor. They can screen you for depression and recommend treatment options.
  • Consider therapy. Talking to a therapist can help you understand your symptoms and develop coping mechanisms.
  • Join a support group. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be very helpful.
  • Take care of yourself. Eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can all improve your mood and overall well-being.

Additional Tips for Managing Depression

Here are some additional tips that can help you manage depression:

  • Set small, achievable goals for yourself. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
  • Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Reward yourself for your accomplishments.
  • Spend time with loved ones who support you.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. These substances

It’s important to note that not everyone experiences all of these symptoms, and the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. If you’re experiencing five or more of these symptoms for two weeks or more, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for an evaluation.

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