Sadness, lethargy, hopelessness: these are all common signs of depression. But are they the only ones? No! Typical depictions of depression include well-known symptoms, like losing interest in activities you once enjoyed or difficulty sleeping, but there are other signs of depression that are less well-known, and this lack of awareness can delay people who are experiencing depression the diagnosis and treatment they need.
Knowing and recognizing the less-common symptoms of depression may help you or someone you care about seek treatment if needed. In this post, we break down the common and less common symptoms of depression and how to get the care you deserve if the lesser-known signs and symptoms seem familiar to you.
Depression is a mood disorder that typically causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to or be linked to various other physical and emotional struggles. People with depression might have trouble completing typical day-to-day activities and sometimes feel like it's not worth it to go on.
Depression is not just feeling down or temporarily sad. It's also not a sign of weakness and not something that someone can just "snap out" of.
Depression is complex and can look different for different people. Healthcare providers might categorize depression based on its signs, symptoms, and potential causes, although sometimes depression has no clear cause.
Again, depression looks different for different people and there are a wide range of symptoms, especially for specific types of depression such as bipolar depression are postpartum depression.
Not everyone who is experiencing depression will also experience every symptom; some people only experience a few while others experience almost all of them. Regardless of whether or not you're experiencing symptoms on this list, if you feel like you are depressed, it's best to talk to a mental health care provider to determine if treatment would work for you.
While we typically think of sadness, decreased energy, and hopelessness as signs of depression, there are other symptoms that might be more surprising.
If you're experiencing aches or pains such as cramps, headaches, digestive problems, or more that don't have a clear physical cause, there could be an underlying mental health struggle.
Chemicals in your brain such as serotonin and norepinephrine don't just affect your mood, they also impact how you experience physical pain, so it makes sense that the chemicals linked to depression may also impact how you feel in your body.
Some people experiencing depression find that they have difficulty concentrating on tasks, remembering things, or making decisions. Studies have shown that depression can indeed reduce cognitive function such as memory and your ability to focus.
This is also known as brain fog, and can impact your day-to-day life greatly. Forgetfulness, slow reaction times, loss of memory, and a general feeling of not being able to think properly can be frustrating and, of course, saddening and can have a big impact on our personal and professional lives.
While sadness is a well-known symptom of depression, anger is a related but lesser-known symptom. People who experience anger as a symptom of depression might feel like their irritability or impatience come out of nowhere and appear out of character or like an overreaction to whatever is occurring. The social faux pas can in turn cause people who are experiencing depression and the related anger outbursts to feel guilt and confusion.
What's more, the symptoms of depression and its effects on the individual can vary depending on a person's age. Young children might be anxious, clingy, cranky, or act out in certain ways, such as refusing to go to school, or pretending to be sick in order to avoid activities.
Teenagers might sulk or have low self-esteem or get in trouble in school. They're more likely to experience excessive sleepiness or have changes to their eating habits such as increased appetite or eating disorders. Early adults might negatively view the future or struggle was sleep or weight. They can also struggle with substance abuse disorders or other mental health conditions such as anxiety or social phobia.
As people move into older adulthood, those who struggle with depression might have decreased libido, struggle with insomnia, or have higher frequency of depressive episodes. They might also struggle with more gastrointestinal symptoms and other physical ailments.
Older adults and the elderly might experience sadness, grief, or a lack of emotions completely. Cognitive functioning may be reduced and they might also experience more physical pain. The existence of other conditions that are common in aging populations combined with the stigma of seeking or accepting mental health care mean that depression, while often more prevalent in older populations, is under-diagnosed and under-treated.
In general, roughly one in six adults will have depression at some time in their life. Depression affects about 16 million American adults every year. Anyone can get depressed, and depression can happen at any age and in any type of person.
In order to be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. But as discussed, because symptoms vary so widely from person to person and population to population, the most important way to tell if you have depression is to speak to a healthcare provider, which you should do if you suspect you're experiencing depression at all.
While depression is very common, the good news is that treatments are available. Treatments for depression can help reduce or shorten the duration of symptoms and typically consist of therapy, medication, or both.
Many people benefit from therapy or counseling to treat depression. Your therapist will explore your symptoms, your experiences, and any possible causes or contributing factors to your depression. You will work with your therapist to learn coping skills and change behaviors that might contribute to depressive feelings and even find solutions to potential problems that are contributing to your depression when possible.
Some people with depression find that taking medications called antidepressants can help improve their mood and ability to cope. Your doctor will be able to describe the different types of medication, their side effects, and figure out which one might be right for you. Sometimes it takes several tries to find the best medication and the correct dose for each person. It can also take some time for antidepressants to begin working, so it's very important to follow your prescription exactly and discuss any issues with your doctor or therapist.
Depression is a complex mental health condition that affects different people in different ways. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and get the care and support that you need.
Even if you don't feel like it, doing things that you used to enjoy or that fill your cup such as physical activity, good sleep hygiene, healthy meals, and connecting with friends or family can support our mental health while we work with a therapist.
Of course anger, pain, and brain fog can exist without depression, but if you feel at all like you are experiencing depression, the first best step is to speak to a healthcare provider who will be able to connect you with the services and support that you need to get the mental health care that you deserve.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.