Major depressive disorder, also referred to as clinical depression, is one of the most prevalent mental health ailments in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (2020), around 21.0 million U.S. adults aged 18 or older had experienced at least one major depressive episode, representing 8.4% of the adult population in the country.1 Yet, depression cannot be diagnosed through physical examinations and is, instead, characterized by a group of symptoms. Identifying these symptoms is the initial step in obtaining assistance and treatment.
Continue reading for details on how to recognize depression symptoms in yourself or a loved one who may be struggling with this condition. By familiarizing yourself with the typical indicators of depression, you can determine your next course of action.
Here are 10 of the most prevalent symptoms (in no particular order):
1. Persistent low mood.
If you experience a low mood for at least two weeks, it may indicate depression. This means feeling sad, hopeless, or empty for weeks, months, or even longer. The low mood is not a reaction to a specific event or situation, and it may persist even when there is no apparent reason for it.
2. Loss of interest or pleasure in things you once enjoyed.
You might find yourself saying "What's the point?" or "Why bother?" for several weeks straight, and as a result, work, social activities, and even basic household chores may feel pointless. Even if you usually enjoy doing DIY projects or spending time at the local coffee shop with friends on the weekends, depression can cause you to lose interest in these activities suddenly. You may struggle to find the motivation to participate in them or just not have any desire to do so.
3. Loss of sex drive.
If you're experiencing depression, you may notice a decrease in your sex drive, causing you to question what happened to your desire for sexual intimacy. This can result in feelings of guilt, particularly if your partner is struggling to comprehend why you no longer desire sexual contact.
4. Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness.
It is common for individuals with depression to experience intense feelings of guilt concerning past actions or events, and may even feel guilty about their depression. As a result, you may also struggle with low self-esteem and self-loathing. Hopelessness can also take hold, causing you to feel like there is no way to alleviate your symptoms and improve your emotional state.
5. Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling slowed down.
Low energy and fatigue are common physical symptoms that people with depression may experience. Despite getting enough sleep, it can feel like a "bone tired" sensation that never goes away. Additionally, if you are depressed, you may feel as if everything is happening in slow motion, yet you are unable to keep up due to overwhelming mental and physical exhaustion. If you experience catatonia with depression, you may feel trapped or perpetually paused, which can be concerning to those around you.
6. Trouble sleeping.
Depression can significantly alter your sleeping patterns. You may develop insomnia, which can make it difficult to fall asleep as quickly as you used to or wake up much earlier than usual if you're typically a late sleeper. Alternatively, your sleep may be frequently disrupted, causing you to awaken several times throughout the night. Conversely, some individuals with depression may experience hypersomnia, commonly referred to as oversleeping.
Despite sleeping for extended periods, even up to 10 hours, you may still feel fatigued and unrefreshed. Any form of sleep disturbance can make it challenging to perform daily tasks.
7. Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
Depression can hinder your ability to focus, causing you to experience a persistent state of brain fog, and leaving you concerned about losing your mental clarity. You may also have difficulty remembering important appointments or work-related responsibilities, and find it challenging to make even simple decisions.
8. Restlessness or irritability.
Depression can be mentally and physically draining. It may cause you to develop a low threshold for other people's behaviors, resulting in irritability or a short temper. You may lash out at your loved ones without warning, only to feel remorseful afterward. Restlessness is another common symptom of depression, causing you to jump from one thought or activity to the next without noticing.
9. Changes to appetite or weight.
Depression can often lead to changes in your eating habits and weight. Some individuals may experience an increase in appetite, while others may lose their desire to eat altogether. You may also experience unintentional weight gain or weight loss.
10. Suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Individuals experiencing depression may develop thoughts about not wanting to continue living, which is a severe symptom that necessitates seeking help. Suicidal ideation is characterized by ruminating on the idea of ending one's life, which can manifest in various ways, such as creating drawings or writing about suicide, closing multiple social media accounts in a short amount of time, or giving away cherished photographs or emergency funds.
If you observe any indications of suicide risk, it is crucial to reach out to a hotline for assistance at any time of day or night:
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Getting More Help
Here are some helpful resources for learning more about depression and what to do about it:
National Institute of Mental Health.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
National Alliance on Mental Illness.
American Psychological Association.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Here are some helpful resources for getting help with suicide:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Crisis Text Line.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The Trevor Project.