What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
Major depression is a serious mental health condition that can have serious consequences if not addressed and treated. Clinical depression goes beyond just being sad; it is a persistent feeling that is often accompanied by other signs that many people don’t realize are associated with depression. It is important to understand the many symptoms of depression and how they can vary by gender and age.
The Signs of Depression
Major depressive disorder is a diagnosable condition. If you notice these signs of depression in yourself, it is important to seek the guidance of a medical professional to make a diagnosis, to refer you to the right expert, and to start you on a treatment plan.
- A feeling of sadness, anxiety, emptiness or the blues that persists
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- A loss of interest in usual activities
- Fatigue and low energy
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Memory problems
- Irritability and anger
- Suicidal thoughts
The Unexpected Symptoms of Depression
Depression can also cause physical symptoms that many people fail to associate with the condition. Be aware of your physical health because you may have physical symptoms that can’t be explained and that coincide with the other signs of depression:
- Gastrointestinal issues, like upset stomach
- Pain, including headaches, neck pain or back pain
- Changes in diet and weight, either eating more and gaining weight or eating less and losing weight
- Changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping more or being unable to sleep well
Depression in Women
Not everyone will experience all the signs of depression, and there are some significant differences by gender. Women are more likely to gain weight when depressed, for instance. They are more likely than men to feed their negative emotions, resulting in unplanned weight gain. This in turn can worsen feelings of depression. Women are also more likely to sleep more and experience more intense feelings of guilt.
Women are two times as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. One reason for this may be the hormonal changes that women experience in different stages of their lives. Hormonal shifts that accompany puberty, pregnancy and menopause may put women at greater risk for experiencing major depressive disorder.
It’s not just hormones that put women at risk for experiencing depression. Teenagers are impacted by puberty and issues of sexuality, pressure at school and among peers, and conflicts with parents. Women going through pregnancy face major life changes that can be joyful, but also very stressful, and women going through menopause may experience depression worsened by feelings about aging.
Throughout their lives, women are subject to social stresses that most men are not, and this can have a big impact on depression. Women are more likely to face the pressure to work and care for family, to have been abused, and to suffer with unequal status and power at home or in the community. Women are also at risk for experiencing anxiety, eating disorders, or substance abuse at the same time as depression.
Signs of Depression in Men
Although women are more likely to have clinical depression, men are not immune. Their symptoms can differ significantly, and are not always obviously caused by depression. Men experiencing depression are more likely than women to feel irritable, fatigued and angry. They are more likely to lash out and be aggressive, to lose interest in work and other activities, and to engage in reckless behaviors like drinking excessively or using drugs.
Men are more likely to hide feelings of depression, which can make diagnosis more difficult. They tend to describe feelings of anger and irritability, as well as physical signs, than to admit to feeling sad, ashamed or guilty. Men are also more likely than women to commit suicide. They often also experience erectile dysfunction during depression, but also as a side effect of medication, which can worsen depression.
Symptoms of Depression in Teens
Teens also experience depression in a unique way. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between signs of depression and typical teen angst. Depression symptoms are more severe and persistent and in teens are more likely to take the form of agitation, anger and irritability than sadness. They are also more likely to have physical symptoms of depression, like pain and stomach upset.
Teens may be less able to recognize signs of depression in themselves and often need adults to notice and offer support. This is why it is so important for parents and other adults to be aware of the signs of depression in teens and to reach out.
Depression in Older Adults
Older adults experience depression too, although signs of it may be mistaken for dementia or overlooked altogether. These adults are more likely to complain of physical symptoms than emotional symptoms. They more often report fatigue, pain and problems with memory. Another sign of depression in older people is neglect of personal care. This means neglecting hygiene or not taking medications.
As with teens, older adults may not recognize or admit to feelings of depression and need caregivers or children to reach out and offer help. They are vulnerable to depression in unique ways when compared to younger people: older adults are more likely to be socially isolated, they may struggle with the loss of a spouse, or they may feel less useful without a job to do or other commitments. Some medications can trigger depression as a side effect.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression is important for everyone. Many people struggle with episodes of clinical depression, from young women to older men and everyone in between. If you understand the signs, you can be aware of when depression has become a problem for you or someone you care about, and that means you can ask for help.