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What are the symptoms of depression?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

The symptoms of depression can vary widely, and every case is different. Commonalities are sadness, feelings of worthlessness, the inability to focus, frustration, the loss of appetite, sex drive or interest in activities that used to give you joy. Depression may lead to thoughts of suicide. You may move slowly or cry for no apparent reason. You may start to feel guilty all the time or believe that you've done something unforgiveable. Far less common is psychotic depression which is characterized by delusions and hallucinations, such as seeing deceased family members or other images of death.

The emotional stress of depression can cause heart disease and lead to drug and alcohol abuse with its associated negative physical impacts. Insomnia caused by depression can make you feel weak and devoid of energy.

Depression is marked by profound sadness and a lack of interest in life. It's not just a blue mood. If you have major depression, you'll have a persistent low mood that interferes with your ability to function. It may cause physical and emotional symptoms, and can last for weeks, months or years.

To be diagnosed as major depression, symptoms must last at least two weeks, says Rob Doyle, MD, clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and staff member at Massachusetts General Hospital. You may feel hopeless, be unable to sleep or eat or have thoughts of self-harm.

If you suspect that your teen or child has depression, you should call your doctor right away. Statistics for depression range from 5% to 20% of American teenagers.

Depression may be experienced very differently from person to person. The symptoms need to be severe enough to interfere with daily living and/or work activities to be considered an indicator of major depression. Four or more of the nine symptoms below, lasting for two weeks or more, require professional help.

  • Noticeable change in sleep pattern
  • Noticeable change in appetite
  • Decreased ability to experience pleasure, e.g., loss of interest and pleasure in things formerly enjoyed
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, emptiness, helplessness
  • Inappropriate guilt and self blame
  • Problems with thinking, concentration and attention
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Overwhelming sadness and grief
  • Physical symptoms, fatigue, loss of libido

People also report the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Decreased ability to make decisions
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Despondency
  • Lack of motivation
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Preoccupation with negative thoughts
  • Self-blame
  • Unreliability
  • Excessive drinking
  • Mixed up thoughts
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irrational fears and phobias

Researchers say these five signs could mean your unhappiness is lasting a while:

  • Watching more than 20 hours of television weekly: One 2008 study found that happy people watch about 30 percent less TV each week than unhappy people because their leisure time is filled with other activities.
  • Troubled relationships: Unhappy people might not attempt to make new friends or resolve issues with current ones.
  • Uncontrollable stress: Feeling unable to alleviate stress can increase despondency.
  • Seeking pleasure through new things: Because humans adapt to their circumstances, unhappy people often search for bigger and better goods to boost their moods.
  • Poor sleep: Although worry might keep you awake, not getting quality sleep also adds to stress. Researchers say that sleep-deprived people are more sensitive to the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.

The symptoms of depression include trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping or staying awake, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, persistent negative thoughts, excessive alcohol use, drug use, loss of appetite, increased food consumption, irritability, low energy levels, aggression, reckless behavior and thoughts of suicide.

This answer provided for NATA by the Southern Connecticut State University Athletic Training Education Program.

When sadness and empty feelings continue for two weeks or more, you may be depressed. Depression is a type of misery that doesn't love company. It also doesn't love sleeping well, or enjoying activities, or eating healthfully, or making hopeful plans.

For many women, depression is an all-too-familiar visitor. Women are twice as likely as men to have depressive episodes.

If you have been feeling really sad, blue or down in the dumps, check for these symptoms of depression:

  • Loss of pleasure: You no longer take interest in doing things you used to enjoy.
  • Change in sleep patterns: You have trouble falling asleep, you wake often during the night or you want to sleep more than usual, including during the day.
  • Early to rise: You wake up earlier than usual and cannot to get back to sleep.
  • Change in appetite: You eat more or less than you used to, resulting in a quick weight gain or weight loss.
  • Trouble concentrating: You can't watch a TV program or read an article because other thoughts or feelings get in the way.
  • Loss of energy: You feel tired all the time.
  • Nervousness: You always feel so anxious you can't sit still.
  • Guilt: You feel you "never do anything right" and worry that you are a burden to others.
  • Morning sadness: You feel worse in the morning than you do the rest of the day.
  • Suicidal thoughts: You feel you want to die or are thinking about ways to hurt yourself.

If you have three or more of these symptoms, or if you have just one or two but have been feeling bad for two weeks or more, it's time to get help.

Continue Learning about Depression Symptoms

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What Are Antidepressants, and How Do They Work?
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How Does Exercise Help Treat or Manage Depression?
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.