Understanding Depression Symptoms

Understanding Depression Symptoms

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

C.S. Lewis

It’s one of the most common things that brings people to therapy.

It can change with the seasons.

It’s often misunderstood, and has serious consequences.

Depression is complex. And yet we’re learning more about it everyday.

It’s best diagnosed by a professional who can compile a comprehensive picture of the timing and intensity of depression symptoms you’re experiencing.

But what are those symptoms, exactly?

Today we’re taking a closer look at the wide range of depression symptoms you (or someone you care about) may be experiencing:

1. Persistent sad or “empty” mood

Sad hurts, but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different. 

J.K. Rowling

Though the differences between sadness and depression are well-documented, sadness, of all the depression symptoms, tends to capture most people’s idea of what depression looks like. And while it’s true that feeling sad is something many folks with depression experience, others notice more of a flat or empty feeling. Almost like the absence of feeling.

2. Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.

Depression is the inability to construct a future.

Rollo May

While most depression symptoms characterize a person’s experience in the present, this symptom corresponds to beliefs about the future. It’s not uncommon, for example, for someone with depression to have difficulty believing they’ll ever feel like themselves again.

3. Irritability or anxiety.

…irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough.

Kay Redfield Johnson

Contrary to the idea that all depression symptoms leave a person feeling hollow and stagnant, the irritability and agitation some experience can create the sense that they’s crawling out of their skin, that they can’t sit still. This can be especially challenging for loved ones, who may feel alarmed by this anxiety and uncertain how to help.

4. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

Perhaps it’s past mistakes you can’t seem to let go of. Or the belief that, deep down, you’re unworthy or unlovable. Or maybe it’s a sense that you’re lost, with no real hope of ever being found (or finding yourself). For many people, depression can dampen their perceptions of the past, present, and future.

5. Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you typically enjoy

Whether it’s your work, your sex life, or that weird hobby you love no matter how hard your friends tease you… losing interest in the activities that normally bring you joy can feel surreal. (NOTE: What those activities are doesn’t matter so much as how greatly you usually enjoy them.)

6. Decreased energy or fatigue

From waking up to showering to returning texts and phone calls… in the context of depression, anything can start to feel like a chore. Often, we don’t even realize this until things in our lives start to slip: Your hair hasn’t been washed in awhile, you’ve missed another deadline, your friends are asking why you haven’t texted back. For this reason, it’s not unusual for the people around us to notice these changes before we do.

7. Changes to our pace of speech and/or movement

One person may find that she’s moving or talking more slowly than usual. Another may be so restless that he’s hard to keep up with. Depression can interfere with our usual rhythms in just about every way.

8. Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

It might be the realization you’ve been staring at the computer screen without really understanding what you’re reading. Or struggling to make even the most basic choice in the course of your day. (NOTE: Of the depression symptoms, this is likely to be missed in older adult populations, where memory changes are often assumed to be just a normal part of aging. If you’re concerned by what you’re noticing, speak up. Regardless of age.)

9. Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep.

Ned Vizzini

Is bedtime a struggle to quiet your mind? Do you spend the night tossing and turning? Cringe when the alarm goes off and hit “snooze” too many times, too often? Sleep issues have become somewhat accepted in our culture as an inevitable byproduct of a busy life. But, notable sleep changes can signal something much more serious than an overcrowded schedule. When in doubt, consult a professional.

10. Appetite and/or weight changes

Like sleep, changes to your hunger level and weight are readily explained away by any number of other factors. Don’t ignore your intuition if something feels “off” to you.

11. Thoughts of death or suicide

Though passive thoughts of death or suicide are more common than many people think, like the other depression symptoms, this is worth taking seriously.

12. Physical pain and/or self-medication

That is all I want in life: For this pain to feel purposeful.

Elizabeth Wurtzel

If you’re noticing aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear cause and/or that don’t ease with treatment, depression may be to blame. And if you’re finding yourself drinking, smoking, or using any type of activity or substance more to distract or numb than for enjoyment, this could signal a need for support, too.

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Sadness vs. Depression: What’s the Difference?
Seasonal Depression Treatment
Suicide Prevention: 3 Practical Steps We All Can (and Should) Take


Think you may be experiencing one or more depression symptoms? Ready to talk with a professional?