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7 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Here are seven depression red flags you might not know about.

a middle aged woman looks pensively out the window

Medically reviewed in September 2022

Updated on September 15, 2022

Depression is more than an emotional slump. It lasts longer, can be more severe, and affects your ability to complete everyday tasks. Despite this, symptoms of depression are often brushed off because they can be vague or mistaken for other conditions.

Depression can also look and feel different from person to person. In fact, you don’t need to experience all of the classic symptoms to have a form of depression or to benefit from therapy.

The two major signs of depression are a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness, plus a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities. But there are some other key signs of depression that you shouldn’t simply write off as a part of life and try to push through.

Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much
You might associate depression with wanting to stay in bed all day—and that is the case for many people. Hypersomnia, or sleeping too much, is especially common in women and young adults, affecting about 40 percent of those with depression younger than 30 years old. 

But depression can affect your sleep cycle in other ways. Most people with depression develop insomnia, or the inability to fall or stay asleep. And sleeplessness doesn’t just arise from having a lot on your mind. Depression may alter your body clock, the underlying biological processes that help you sleep.

There are several reasons why you shouldn’t downplay poor sleep. Getting inadequate rest can also expose you to safety hazards like distracted driving. Poor sleep can also increase your risk for other conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Chronic sleep problems also increase your odds of relapsing after starting depression treatment. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night. Tell your healthcare provider (HCP) if this hasn’t been happening for you. Certain lifestyle changes, an update to an existing medication regimen, or working with a sleep specialist may be recommended.

Feeling exhausted all the time
Depression can drain your energy as it can your emotions, making it difficult to complete important tasks. Exhaustion can result from poor sleep and may contribute to sleeping too much.

Feeling drained can also keep you from being emotionally present—or physically showing up—for the personal and professional milestones that matter. This, in turn, can fuel feelings of worthlessness and worsen your depression overall.

Acting restless or jittery
Yes, depression can make you feel slow and listless. But some people may become restless or irritable instead.

You might find yourself pacing, wringing your hands, or feeling unable to sit still. While restlessness is fairly common with depression, it’s especially important to take this symptom seriously. In some cases, antidepressants can trigger this symptom, which suggests that your prescription may need to be modified.

Having a hard time focusing
When you are depressed, it’s common to experience brain fog or to find yourself easily distracted. This lack of focus can interfere with your ability to finish tasks and meet deadlines.

Older adults don’t always feel sadness as their main symptom of depression. They may have difficulty concentrating instead. These symptoms can be similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important for older adults who are being tested for dementia to be screened for depression as well to ensure a correct diagnosis.

Losing or gaining weight
Losing interest in the activities that once brought you joy is a hallmark symptom of depression—and that can include a loss of interest in food. Your appetite can change for many reasons but eating less every day for about a month might mean your brain’s pleasure response isn’t working properly.

On the flip side, eating increasingly large amounts of food every day is another red flag for depression. You may crave indulgent comfort foods, which can lead to a vicious cycle of poor body image, low self-esteem, and binge eating to self-soothe.

Feeling guilty, inadequate, or like a failure
Do you ruminate, running through the same negative thoughts over and over? Do you carry around feelings of guilt or worthlessness, even about minor, everyday interactions? You’re not alone. Many people with depression report these troubling thought patterns.

Considering self-harm or suicide
If you experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide, don’t wait to tell someone. Contact a counselor right away or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat to 988. A licensed mental health professional will listen and guide you in taking steps to stay safe. Ask a friend or a family member to stay with you until you get the help you need.

Likewise, if someone you know is contemplating suicide, don’t stay quiet because you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s okay to ask them in a calm, non-judgmental way, "Do you ever feel so bad that you think about suicide?" This won’t put the idea in their head but it can prompt them to seek help.

If you learn someone is actively planning suicide, stay with them or keep them on the phone and meanwhile use another line to call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Recognize when it’s time to seek help
If you or someone you know is experience all or a combination of these warning signs of depression more than two weeks, reach out to an HCP or a counselor. A professional can provide resources and support. Talk therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments are often highly effective treatment options for depression.

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