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

Updated on April 19, 2023.

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 dismissed or diminished because they can be vague or mistaken for those of other conditions.

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

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 other key signs of depression that you shouldn’t simply write off as part of daily life.

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. 

Depression can affect your sleep cycle in other ways, as well. 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 expose you to safety hazards like distracted driving. Poor sleep can also increase your risk for conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Chronic sleep problems also increase your chances of relapsing after starting treatment for depression. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Tell your healthcare provider (HCP) if this hasn’t been happening for you. They might recommend you make lifestyle changes, update your medication regimen, or work with a sleep specialist to get the rest you need.

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

Depression can make you feel slow and listless. But some people may become restless, agitated, or irritable instead.

You might find yourself pacing, wringing your hands, or unable to sit still. While restlessness is common with depression, it’s 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.

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 other hand, eating increasingly large amounts of food every day is another red flag for depression. You may crave 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 events or 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 mental health provider 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 loved one 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 mind—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 while you 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 experiencing any 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.

Article sources open article sources

Sleep Foundation. Mental Health and Sleep. Apr 15, 2022.
Fang H, Tu S, Sheng J, Shao A. Depression in sleep disturbance: A review on a bidirectional relationship, mechanisms and treatment. J Cell Mol Med. 2019 Apr;23(4):2324-2332.
Judd LL, Schettler PJ, Coryell W, Akiskal HS, Fiedorowicz JG. Overt Irritability/Anger in Unipolar Major Depressive Episodes: Past and Current Characteristics and Implications for Long-term Course. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(11):1171–1180.
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.

More On

Feeling stir-crazy this winter? What to know about cabin fever + SAD

video

Feeling stir-crazy this winter? What to know about cabin fever + SAD
Learn more about the effects of SAD and social isolation.
How to Stop a Panic Attack in 5 Simple Steps

article

How to Stop a Panic Attack in 5 Simple Steps
Discover proven strategies for halting attacks and regaining control.
9 Simple Strategies to Stop Worrying

slideshow

9 Simple Strategies to Stop Worrying
Anxious, stressed, overwhelmed? Check out these scientifically backed ways to boost mood and worry less.
What are common misconceptions about postpartum depression?

video

What are common misconceptions about postpartum depression?
Is postpartum depression inevitable if you're depression-prone in general? Nurse midwife Paula Greer, CNM, defines the difference between normal baby ...
How to cope with trauma and tragic events

video

How to cope with trauma and tragic events
In the digital age of ever-growing connectedness, it's easy to find ourselves wrapped up in the crises of the world.