7 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

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

7 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Medically reviewed in August 2021

Updated on December 1, 2020

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 and easily 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 symptoms described here to have a form of depression or to benefit from seeking help. 

The two major signs of depression are a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness, plus a loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed. If you or someone you know feels this way for longer than two weeks—along with some or all of the following symptoms—reach out to your healthcare provider or a counselor. A licensed mental health professional can provide resources and support. Talking about your experience is an essential part of depression treatment. 

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 under age 30.  

But depression can affect your sleep cycle in several 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 the underlying biological processes that help you sleep, called your circadian rhythms.  

That’s only one reason why you shouldn’t downplay poor sleep. Getting inadequate rest can also expose you to safety hazards like distracted driving and raise your risk of other conditions like 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 recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night. Tell your healthcare professional if this hasn’t been happening for you. They may suggest lifestyle changes, update your medication regimen or connect you with a sleep specialist. 

Feeling exhausted all the time 
Depression can drain your energy as well as 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. It could be a side effect of your antidepressant, indicating that your healthcare provider may need to modify your prescription. 

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 signs can be similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s therefore important for older adults who are being tested for dementia to be screened for depression 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 and less every day for about a month might mean your brain’s pleasure response isn’t working properly. 

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 
Does your mind ruminate, or run through the same negative self-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 thoughts and feelings.

Persistent thoughts about death, self-injury or suicide 
If you experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide, don’t wait to tell someone. Contact your counselor right away or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or TTY 1-800-799-4889. 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 they are actively planning suicide: 

  • Stay with them or keep them on the phone 
  • Use another line to call 911 
  • And/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

If you have depression, seeking treatment can seem overwhelming. But don’t ignore your symptoms. There are options—including antidepressants, talk therapy, lifestyle changes and more—that can help you feel like yourself again.

Article sources open article sources

Smit AC, Snippe E, Wichers M. "Increasing Restlessness Signals Impending Increase in Depressive Symptoms More than 2 Months before It Happens in Individual Patients." Psychother Psychosom. 2019;88(4):249-251.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "How Much Sleep Do I Need?" Published March 2, 2017.
Riemann D, Krone LB, Wulff K, Nissen C. "Sleep, insomnia, and depression." Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020;45(1):74-89.
Park S-C, Kim J-M, Jun T-Y, et al. "Prevalence and clinical correlates of insomnia in depressive disorders: the CRESCEND study." Psychiatry Investig. 2013;10(4):373-381.
Nutt D, Wilson S, Paterson L. "Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression." Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2008;10(3):329-336.
Cooper JA, Arulpragasam AR, Treadway MT. "Anhedonia in depression: biological mechanisms and computational models." Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2018;22:128-135.
Sinha P, Shetty DJ, Bairy LK, Andrade C. "Antidepressant-related jitteriness syndrome in anxiety and depressive disorders: Incidence and risk factors." Asian J Psychiatr. 2017;29:148-153.

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