There are several different types of depressive disorders. For example, major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. When we use the term depression throughout this article, we will be talking about major depressive disorder. We will talk about what depression is, when to ask for help, as well as depression symptoms.
Major depressive disorder is a serious mood disorder that affects nearly 17.3 million American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Despite its prevalence, it can be difficult to know what signs and symptoms are depression symptoms versus simply being sad. Sadness is a normal human emotion that everyone will experience during their life. Usually, sadness is attached to a trigger such as a breakup, loss of a job, unhappiness in a job, or death of a loved one. Depression does not need a trigger. A person with depression can feel an all encompassing sense of hopelessness paired with serious disruptions in their everyday habits and behaviors. Here are a few specific depression symptoms to watch out for.
1. Changes in appetite
Significant increases or decreases in appetite nearly every single day along with unintentional weight loss or weight gain is a potential depression symptom. In regards to why depression causes changes in appetite, one study found that depression and appetite cues are activated in similar brain areas. Depending on which region is activated, individuals with depression are susceptible to eating more than usual or less than usual. People that experience an increased desire to eat often crave comfort foods that are high in sugar and provide that instant mood boost. This can lead to a crash later in the day, contributing to fatigue and a lack of energy to get it prepare nutritious meals. Thus, the cycle is perpetrated and these foods are craved even more.
2. Changes in sleeping
Increases or decreases in sleep are a symptom of depression. There may be trouble falling asleep, or sleeping in longer than usual. Insomnia, or difficulty falling and staying asleep, is estimated to be present in about 75 percent of adults diagnosed with depression. Lack of quality sleep can affect the body’s stress system, throw off the body’s natural circadian rhythm, and increase susceptibility for depression. These sleep problems often appear before a depressive episode and linger after the episode has ended. Improving sleep in individuals with depression through the use of therapy and medications has been shown to improve depression symptoms as well. Other tips for sleeping better include sticking to a consistent wake/sleep schedule, keeping naps to 10-20 minutes, avoiding alcohol, exercising regularly, and spending time outside.
3. Lower interest in activities and hobbies
Depression usually comes with a lack of pleasure in activities that used to provide joy. This can include anything from socializing with friends and family, eating, music, events, conversations, sports, and even sex. Problems with the brain’s production or response to dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical, may be at play in individuals with depression. This inability to find pleasure in life can lead to a serious decline in one’s quality of life. Feelings of sadness OR loss of interest or pleasure need to be present to meet crieteria for major depressive disorder.
4. Fatigue or loss of energy
Fatigue refers to feeling lethargic and having little energy for a prolonged period of time. It is not simply feeling sleepy or drowsy which can be fixed with a good night’s sleep. A 2018 study found that over 90 percent of people living with depression have symptoms of fatigue. One of the reasons for this link is that depression suppresses the neurotransmitters in our alertness and reward systems, causing a physiological decrease in energy levels. These low energy levels can be further reinforced by the other symptoms such as problems sleeping and staying inside and reducing pleasurable activities.
5. Diminished ability to think or concentrate
Cognitive dysfunction, or “brain fog,” is a common symptom of depression that impairs one’s ability to function in several ways. A 2015 study found that 85 to 94 percent of individuals diagnosed with depression had symptoms of cognitive dysfunction. Symptoms of cognitive dysfunction include an inability to pay attention, memory trouble, slowed reaction times, and difficulty with making decisions. These symptoms can permeate all aspects of one’s day-to-day life whether it be inattention at work, slower reaction times when driving, forgetting important dates, or ruminating over decisions. Due to cognitive dysfunction, many people with depression see a decline in their work or academic performance.
6. Suicidal thoughts
Suicidal thoughts are a sign of severe depression and must be addressed immediately. According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, warning signs include talking about wanting to die or killing yourself, looking for ways to kill yourself, talking about having no reason to live, talking about being a burden to others, increased substance use, engaging in reckless behaviors, withdrawing from others, showing rage, or displaying extreme mood swings. It is crucial that people experiencing suicidal thoughts are not in an environment with access to weapons, medications, or other mechanisms of harm. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, inform your primary care doctor, therapist, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273 – 8255. If you or someone you know has already taken steps to harm themselves and are in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately.
When to ask for help for depression
Now that you know several of the most common depression symptoms, the question becomes when is it time to ask for help? The best advice we can give is if your gut is telling you that something is wrong – trust it. You know yourself better than anyone, so if you suspect you may be having symptoms of depression, you probably are. You may think you can handle these symptoms on your own, but you don’t have to. Why drive a car alone in the dark when you can have someone in the passenger seat to help you navigate? Qualified professionals are here to listen, understand, and help you. Maybe you just need a few sessions or maybe the therapy relationship lasts longer. Even if you are just feeling sad, therapy can help. You do not need a professional diagnosis of depression to seek out mental health support. The bottom line – if something feels off, ask for help. If you would like professional help, look for a licensed therapist that has experience in working with clients with depression.
The Best Within You team has several licensed psychologists that specialize in treating depression and offer virtual appointments across the United States. The psychologists at Best Within You have worked with clients struggling with depression at hospitals, college counseling centers, and private practice. If you are wondering if you have symptoms of depression or wanting help for feelings of sadness or depression, you can schedule your free consultation today at https://bestwithinyou.com/.
Thank you to Rumi Petrova for this article.