Depression: Signs and Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Doctors look for a number of symptoms, not just sadness or low mood, if they suspect someone might be suffering from a major depression. Here’s a short list of the symptoms they are likely to look for.

If you check off at least five of the items on the following list, and symptoms are present most days, all day, for at least two weeks, you should seek help:

  • Depressed mood (may include irritability in children and adolescents
  • Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities which used to give you pleasure
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia (usually early morning awakening rather than inability to fall asleep) or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of either apathy or agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt
  • No energy
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression go far beyond a depressed mood or an unshakable sadness. Some symptoms that point to depression may not be immediately apparent. Not all people with depression have the same symptoms.

These symptoms include irritability, intolerance, anger, or impatience. Conversely, a total lack of the ability to feel anything is just as common, a lack of caring or interest about people, things or activities that used to be enjoyable, whether it’s personal relationships, work, recreation, food or sex. This can extend to feeling so hopeless about the future that life itself may not feel worth living. You may want to isolate yourself from friends and coworkers, avoiding social situations. You may have difficulty concentrating, and can’t motivate yourself to do anything, whether it’s completing an assignment, paying bills, or shopping for groceries. There is frequently an overlap of anxiety and worry feelings associated with depression.

Understanding a Diagnosis of Depression

There are several different ways to treat depression including behavior therapy, drug therapy and more. The effectiveness of any treatment for depression will depend in large part on the cooperative efforts of both patient and physician. Physicians and clinical psychologists are able to provide a clinical diagnosis. Receiving diagnosis and what it means, including prognosis (what to expect), treatment options, how long treatment may be necessary, and potential side effects of treatment, should be part of the assessment process.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with depression, it is important to remember the following:

  • Depression is a medical illness, not a character defect or weakness or something that you have brought on yourself.
  • Depression is very treatable, and recovery is the rule not the exception.
  • The goal of treatment is to achieve relief from the symptoms of depression, and more importantly, not just getting better, but staying better.
  • There are many effective options for treatment, and an effective treatment can be found for nearly all patients even if the first ones tried are not successful.
  • The risk that depression will return is high: 50% after one depressive episode, 70% after two, and 90% after three episodes.
  • Both individuals and their families should be alert to early signs and symptoms of recurrence and seek treatment early if depression returns.