Hannah is the Lead Writer for SADA and a passionate advocate for those living with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Through research, storytelling and understanding, she hopes to expand the awareness and knowledge of SAD, and provide support to those in need.

Symptoms of Depression

Recognising the signs of depression, such as SAD symptoms, can save a life – it may be someone else’s, or it could be your own. Symptoms vary widely, and while some people try to mask their inner pain by always wearing a happy outward mask while they are around others, others recede into a cocoon of solitude. The experience of depression, varies from one person to another, but all signs must always be taken seriously.

An overview of the most common symptoms of depresison can be found below. We will expand upon these individually later in the article.

  1. Loss of interest in everyday activities
  2. No interest in doing things that you used to enjoy
  3. Feelings of hopelessness
  4. Changes in sleep patterns
  5. Marked loss or gain in weight
  6. Feeling of guilt 
  7. Angry outbursts and irritability
  8. Loss of energy
  9. Concentration problems
  10. Trouble remembering things
  11. Reckless behaviour or extreme risk-taking
  12. Unexplained physical complaints
  13. Suicidal thoughts or attempts

In the same way that you wouldn’t ignore a physical illness, exercising self-care and knowing the difference between occasional normal feelings of sadness and a depressive condition means that you can seek treatment faster. Depression is often swept under the carpet and ignored when in reality, it can be debilitating. By being aware of symptoms and addressing them as they arise.

Common Symptoms of Depression

Compounding the issue of recognising depression is that signs symptoms often vary greatly from one person to another. Feelings of being overwhelmed or living under the cloud can seriously disrupt life and affect one’s quality of life.

If you think you might have depression, understand that seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it is an incredible feat of strength.  Taking charge by recognising your own value while you are at your lowest can be an act of self-care and a testimony to others who may also have the condition. Statistics show that depression is a common condition experienced by people from all walks of life and can occur at any age. 

The number of people who experience symptoms of depression who are never treated is, of course, far higher than can be reflected by statistics. Depression has long been misunderstood, and if it is left untreated, it can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life. 

Diagnosing depression takes a combination of these signs and the duration into account. Feeling down or sad can be a normal part of life or can occur due to a specific event, but when the feeling doesn’t go away, it may be time to seek help.

Let’s go through a checklist of some of the main symptoms of depression.

Loss Of Interest In Everyday Activities

Every day, we need to do things, whether taking out the trash or brushing our hair. You may find that you don’t care anymore about basic daily activities. Everything just seems repetitive and tiring, and you’ve developed a bleak ‘who cares’ attitude.

No Interest In Doing Things That You Used To Enjoy

Everyone has things that they love doing. Whether it’s having a long hot bath, gardening, chatting to friends, hobbies, we all have little pleasures that we look forward to. Depression often robs us of our ability to enjoy daily activities. Everything feels dull, and you are no longer interested.

Feelings Of Hopelessness

Not only hopeless but also helpless. Depression can feel like a black hole, and you can’t see a way out. There does not seem to be any hope for the future, and you can’t imagine that things will get better.

Changes In Sleep Patterns

You might find that you are sleeping a lot less, or a lot more than you used to. Some people report waking up early with their minds full of worrying thoughts, and others report sleeping a lot more than usual.

Marked Loss Or Gain In Weight

Fluctuations in weight can either be up or down. You may find yourself eating a lot more or a lot less than you usually would. Weight gain can also be associated with a decrease in physical activity. 

Feelings Of Guilt

Feelings of guilt are common in depression. You might experience feelings of guilt about being so bleak and bringing everyone else down or start hating yourself because you feel like you are not good enough. Depression is a very lonely space, and feelings of guilt aggravate the sense of despair. 

Angry Outbursts And Irritability

Things just seem to irritate you more. The feeling of anger and volatility constantly rises inside you, and sometimes you just can’t hold it in anymore. Even about small matters, your tolerance is short, and you might make uncharacteristic sarcastic comments or have frequent angry outbursts.

Loss Of Energy

You feel physically drained. Even regular daily activities like making coffee or driving suddenly seem exhausting. Your body may seem heavy, and you might have started moving and walking more slowly.

Concentration Problems 

Depression can change your ability to concentrate for prolonged periods. You might find that you can no longer read books or study effectively because you have difficulty focusing. Instead of watching a movie with your family in the evenings, you find yourself becoming restless, shuffling around, and thinking of other things.

Difficulty Remembering Things

Occasionally forgetting small things is normal, but if you find yourself routinely forgetting important things, it might be a cause for concern. You may notice that you are frequently reminded that someone gave you some information, but you have no memory of it. 

Reckless Behaviour Or Extreme Risk Taking

Depression manifests in different ways. You might find that you start doing reckless things in an attempt to heighten your senses. Behaviours might include things like heavy alcohol consumption, irresponsible sexual activity, or gambling more than you can afford. Extreme escapist risk-taking can include life-threatening acts like playing Russian roulette or running red lights. 

Unexplained Physical Complaints

Depression can take its toll physically as well as mentally. You might have started developing all sorts of aches and pains or frequently have headaches or other physical ailments. 

Suicidal Thoughts Or Attempts

If you experience any fantasy thoughts about death or have started thinking or saying things like ‘everyone will be a lot better off without me,’ you need to seek help immediately. If anyone around you speaks about ‘ending it’ or anything similar, it must always be taken seriously and acted upon with urgency. 

Call your healthcare professional or get advice from the National Suicide Helpline (UK), which is available at all times on 0800 689 5652.

Depression Symptoms In Different Groups

Although many symptoms of depression are common, some tend to spike more during specific life phases. Men and women may also often exhibit slightly different outward signs of depression. 

Depression is a complex disorder and usually presents with multiple symptoms. However, it is often not recognised when it is overshadowed by one or two predominant signs. For example, a man who frequently loses his temper may just be regarded as hot-tempered, or an older adult who stops taking meticulous care of their appearance might be written off as just getting old.

Let’s look at the signs commonly present among people in the following groups. 

  • Teenagers
  • Men
  • Women
  • Postpartum depression
  • Elderly

Depression In Teenagers

Being a teenager is always confusing. Besides the usual stresses of life, hormonal changes are also at work. Although a lot of teenage behavior can be challenging, if a teen routinely exhibits any of the following signs, it may be the result of depression:

  • Frequent non-visible physical pains like headaches, stomach aches, etc
  • Apathy – an ‘I don’t care about anything’ or ‘Nothing matters anyway’ attitude.
  • Irritability, anger, and agitation 
  • Excessive sleeping

Depression In Men

Men who have depression are often more difficult to treat simply because they are more likely to mask the signs and symptoms. They are also less inclined to seek help.  Untreated depression in men is reflected vividly in the much higher number of suicides per annum compared to women. 

Signs to look out for can include:

  • Loss of interest in work or hobbies
  • Reckless behavior
  • Rages and aggression
  • Substance abuse (This can often be alcohol)
  • Complaining of fatigue
  • Sleep changes

While symptoms of depression must always be taken seriously in all demographics, men, in particular, need to be encouraged and provided with support so they can get the help they need without fear of shame or weakness.

Depression In Women

In general, women tend to become more inwardly focused than men when affected by depression. They begin to experience feelings of worthlessness or self-blame, which are reflected by symptoms such as:

  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Extreme fatigue
  • A higher percentage of women compared to other groups is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months

Women are often overlooked when diagnosing depression because symptoms can be mistaken for hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause. While hormones do impact depression, it is important to treat the underlying cause of the condition rather than simply ascribing all symptoms to hormones.

Postpartum Depression

Holding a precious new baby for the first time is supposed to be one of the happiest experiences of a mother’s life. Unfortunately, postpartum depression is extremely common and often goes unchecked because everyone is focusing on the excitement and joy of the event. 

A period of post-birth ‘blues’ is common as new mothers experience many new emotions. This can often be characterised by tearfulness, irritability, or experiencing mood swings. However, frequently this usually brief period of adjustment can lead to long-term depression, which can disrupt the person’s ability to cope with life.  

Major symptoms of postpartum depression are:

  • Excessive crying and depressed mood
  • Mood swings
  • Problems bonding with the child
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

There is a comprehensive list of specific symptoms associated with postpartum depression provided by Mayo Clinic. The onset of symptoms might not coincide exactly with the baby’s birth and can occur up to a year after the birth. 

Depression in Older Adults

Depression in older adults is frequently overlooked because they often present with physical ailments rather than reporting feelings of sadness or worthlessness. Treatments are then provided for the complaints, which are written off to the aging process, rather than investigating the possibility of depression being the underlying issue.

Some specific symptoms to look out for which can be indicators of depression among older adults:

  • Neglecting personal appearance
  • Not taking required medications
  • Increase in physical aches and pains
  • Fixation around death
  • Slowed movement or speech

Depression should never be regarded as a normal part of the aging process. It should be addressed and can respond well to treatments and interventions at any age. 

Symptoms Of Depression That Could Lead To Suicide

Not all suicides are caused by depression, but it is the leading cause of this tragic act. People with depression sometimes begin to view death as the only way to escape their inner pain. 

Unfortunately, in many cases, the signs leading to suicide are subtle, leaving family and friends bewildered and filled with guilt that they did not notice any changes of behavior that might have prevented it.  

If you know anyone who has depression and notice any of the following warning signs, take them seriously.

  • Talking about self-harm or suicide
  • Displaying an intense interest in the subject of death or dying
  • Getting affairs in order, for example, making long-term arrangements for a pet or giving away personal items
  • Changing from bleak to suddenly becoming peaceful and cheerful 
  • Visiting family or friends who they usually wouldn’t make an effort to see
  • Expressing feelings of being trapped and having no way out
  • Extremely reckless behavior that could have deadly consequences

If you see one of these red flags in someone’s behavior, the best thing to do is express care and concern and seek professional help immediately. 

How Can I Help Someone With Depression? – FAQs

Recognising the signs of depression can be a turning point in your own life or the life of someone else. Helping someone with depression, even when it is being treated, can be frustrating and may require patience. Keep in mind that the person you know is still in there, and with your love, support and friendship, they can recover.

There are five suggested ways that you can help someone with depression:

  • Always let them know that you are there for them. Interact with them and show an interest in their life.
  • Encourage them to continue therapy. If you are close, speak openly about their treatment, and if they feel like giving up, let them know that you support them on the journey to recovery.
  • Consider the use of a SAD alarm clock or SAD Light especially if the person is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. These clocks can help regulate sleep patterns and improve mood by simulating a natural sunrise, which can be particularly helpful during dark winter months.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. Living with someone who has depression is draining. Their energy levels can be very low, which sometimes saps you. Check your own levels periodically for signs of exhaustion or burnout. Set boundaries if you feel that you are becoming drained, and while it is important to be a supportive friend, you cannot take the place of their professional caregiver.
  • Offer to assist with practical everyday tasks, especially those where the other person can be included. For example, rather than simply taking on the job of doing their grocery shopping, offer to pick them up to go shopping together. Often routine tasks can seem overwhelming to someone with depression, so having company can help get the person back on track. 
  • Keep in contact. Even if you don’t see the person often, a regular text message or a short phone call to check-in will let them know that they are not forgotten, and you are interested in their lives. 

What Not To Do When Someone Has Depression

We all want to be kind and supportive when a friend has depression, and there are things that we can do to support the treatment process. However, several things should be avoided when interacting with someone with this condition. 

  • Never make light of their feelings. It can be very frustrating if a friend is feeling low for prolonged periods but minimizing their feelings by playing them down is not helpful.
  • Be a good listener, not a quick advisor. Keep in mind that depression is not the same as feeling a bit sad or blue. It is a serious medical condition that requires professional intervention. Encourage them positively, but avoid trying to fix them with advice.
  • Don’t take things personally, especially if the other person occasionally lashes out or appears irritable. Keep in mind that depression takes many forms, and it isn’t always just stereotypical crying and withdrawing. Your steady support through thick and thin may very well be what your friend needs. 

Wrapping Up

Depression can present in various ways, which makes it difficult to diagnose. It can be debilitating and affect every aspect of someone’s life. Fortunately, depression can be treated, and knowing what signs to look out for in yourself or someone you know can make the step to getting help a lot easier.