7 min read

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Caitlin Harper

Three Surprising Signs of Depression

Typical depictions of depression include sadness, lethargy, hopelessness, and more. But are they the only signs and symptoms of depression? No! In this post, we break down the less well-known symptoms of depression and how to get the care you deserve if the lesser-known signs and symptoms seem familiar to you.
Three Surprising Signs of Depression

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.

What is depression?

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.

Are there different types of depression?

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.

Some types of depression include:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD): Major or clinical depression has intense or overwhelming symptoms that last longer than two weeks and interfere with everyday life.
  • Bipolar depression: People with bipolar disorder have alternating periods of low mood and extremely high-energy or manic periods. In low periods, they may have depressive symptoms such as sadness, hopeless, or a lack of energy.
  • Perinatal and postpartum depression: “Perinatal” means around birth, and although many people refer to this type as postpartum depression, it can occur during pregnancy and up to one year after having a baby. Symptoms go beyond “the baby blues,” which cause minor sadness, worry, or stress and don't cross the line into depression.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PDD): Also known as dysthymia, PDD has symptoms that are less severe than major depression, but people experience PDD symptoms for two years or longer.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of premenstrual disorder (PMS) affecting menstruating people in the days or weeks leading up to their menstrual period.
  • Psychotic depression: Causes severe depressive symptoms and delusions, which are beliefs in things that are not based in reality, or hallucinations, which involve seeing, hearing, or feeling like you're being touched by things that aren’t actually there.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, usually starts in late fall and early winter and often goes away during the spring and summer, but can happen in the reverse as well.

What are the most common symptoms of depression?

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.

Here are some of the common signs of depression:

  • A persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling "slowed down"
  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts (if you or a loved one are struggling with suicide, call 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the United States)

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.

What are some lesser-known symptoms of depression?

While we typically think of sadness, decreased energy, and hopelessness as signs of depression, there are other symptoms that might be more surprising.

Physical pain can be a lesser-known sign of depression

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.

Brain fog or reduced cognitive function can be a surprising symptom of depression

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.

Anger is another lesser-known symptom of depression

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. 

Depression can also affect people differently depending on their age

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.

How can I tell if I have depression?

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.

How is depression treated?

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.

Therapy is one very effective way to treat depression

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 choose to take medication to treat depression as well

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 not always what it looks like in movies or on TV

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.

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About the author

Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.

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