Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world, but it is also often poorly understood. While very treatable, identifying depressive symptoms isn’t always easy, and it can be difficult to gain access to the type of care and medication needed to affect long-term change in depressive thinking.
Learning more about depression and learning to recognize it in others and you can be a powerful first leap towards making a significant difference against the impact of depression on our lives.
In this article, we’re exploring one of the most common questions we hear – what are the signs and symptoms of depression?
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
Being depressed is not quite the same thing as being unhappy. While most people understand this, it’s still difficult for many to recognize the difference. Depression is characterized by consistent and recurring negative thinking.
Someone who is depressed will feel trapped in a vortex of their own thoughts, cyclically feeding into a pessimistic outlook and negative interpretation of life around them. They tend to fixate on the bad, overlook the good, and have a much harder time feeling joy or happiness.
A depressed person can still laugh at a joke or smile from time to time. But that doesn’t mean their general mood has shifted towards happiness, or even true neutral.
The characteristics of depression and other mood disorders are varied, but what unites them is a persistent dark mood, accompanied by intrusive (i.e., unwanted) negative thinking.
So, what are the signs and symptoms of depression?
Hopelessness and Intrusive Guilt
Loss of hope is an important marker for depression. When a person stops looking forward to things, expects the worst, and constantly counters with a negative, it’s not just because they’re being more pessimistic than usual, but it may be because their overall outlook is being molded by recurring and persistent unwanted negative thoughts. It’s difficult to look on the bright side when you’re being bombarded by nothing but bad outcomes in your head.
Hopelessness can identify itself through little comments and observations, such as constantly assuming the worst, having little to no expectations for anyone, and not looking forward to the future.
Guilt is another related sign, especially when it is constantly misattributed to oneself. People with depression will apologize and feel guilty for their thoughts and actions and take the blame for completely uncontrollable and irrelevant events.
They may blame themselves for bringing the mood down, being obnoxious, or making mistakes. This guilt becomes a cyclical feeling, feeding negative preconceived notions and fueling more feelings of guilt and self-loathing. It’s a dangerous and self-perpetuating cycle of thought and behavior.
Fatigue and Pain
Depression can have physical symptoms, which are often overlooked. Not only can depression exacerbate existing pain, but it can uncover pain you might not have felt previously, or create new somatic pain symptoms with no explainable physical cause.
The link between depression and pain is strongly established in scientific literature, to the point where antidepressants can play a serious role in chronic pain management.
But even without a chronic pain condition, physical fatigue and unwanted, random aches are frequent and disrupting symptoms of many depressive disorders, impacting teens through their sleep and recovery, cognition and focus, and athletic performance. If your teen is experiencing multiple and random somatic pains, they may be a part of their depression.
However, all pain should be properly identified by a medical professional before drawing any conclusions. Pain caused or exacerbated by depression can still mask a physical cause, so a thorough diagnosis is important.
Considerable Sleep Problems
Sleep issues – both oversleeping and insomnia – are also common hallmarks of teen depression. Intrusive and unwanted thoughts can lead to significant sleep disturbances, while getting up can be difficult with the way depression kills motivational drive, to the point that even a morning shower or a change of clothes can feel like an insurmountable obstacle at times.
Between lack of motivation, significant sleep disturbances, poor quality of sleep, and somatic pain, depressive disorders can massively decrease a teen’s physical quality of life, as well as their mental health.
Anhedonia is the absence of pleasure or joy, which is best explained as a loss of interest in old hobbies, as well as a lack of joy in response to things that used to make a person happy.
Depression doesn’t just put you in a bad mood – it makes it much harder for you to be cheered up, let alone carry that cheer for a significant time.
Changes in Appetite
In addition to sleep issues and pain, depression also has an impact on appetite and nutrition. It’s hard to plan meals and eat right while depressed, which is why depression often correlates with poor diet and malnutrition.
Both significant weight loss and fast weight gain are also associated with depression, as some patients respond through stress eating and an increased appetite, while others lose all interest in food when their stress spikes and their mood drops.
Malnutrition-related symptoms are thus also common in cases of teen depression, including anemia, hair loss, lack of menstruation, and the development of eating disorders.
One of the most severe signs and symptoms of depression is repeated suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation involves thinking of and voicing one’s thoughts on suicide.
A person with suicidal thoughts may openly discuss their thoughts and worries, or they might mask them through dark comedy and self-deprecating jokes. Suicidal ideation can also be completely hidden, leading to teens attempting suicide without prior signs that they were thinking about it.
Suicidal ideation should be a red flag, even when perceived as a joke, and especially in addition to other symptoms of depression.
Recognizing depression in yourself or a loved one can be difficult. Sometimes, we want to convince ourselves that we’re just having a rough patch, or that our feelings are just a reflection of the circumstances we’re facing.
And while that may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s important to address the signs of depression whenever they occur. Depression can be debilitating, interfering with daily life through irregular sleep patterns, unexplained pain, low energy, and loss of focus.
If you or someone you know is feeling persistently blue and is struggling to function on a day-to-day basis, it may be time to consider professional help. A preliminary appointment with a psychiatrist can help you identify the problem and tackle it head-on.