How to Know If You Have Depression

Have you been feeling sadder than normal recently? Here we explore the warning signs and everything else you need to know if you have depression.

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It’s normal to feel down every so often. However, if these negative emotions linger on for weeks or months, you may be struggling with depression.

Depression is more than just a prolonged feeling of sadness – it’s a condition that makes you think, feel, and behave differently through daily activities. The difficulty with depression is it can greatly interfere with important aspects of your life, from work to school to relationships. ¹

Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at depression and the symptoms it brings. We hope by the end, you figure out how to know if you have depression. If you’re still struggling with answers, we invite you to ask further questions in the comments.

Common Symptoms of Depression

One of the first warning signs for depression are its symptoms. The difficulty here is not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms. Not to mention, some of depression’s symptoms will overlap with other illnesses.

With that said, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional to understand whether or not you’re struggling with depression or another mental health condition.

These are the most common symptoms for depression:

  • Appetite or Weight Changes – If you notice a significant gain or loss in weight, you should consult a doctor. This tends to be more than 5% of body weight within a single month.
  • Difficulty Concentrating – Be cautious if you have trouble focusing, remembering things, or making important decisions.
  • Feeling Helpless and Hopeless – Do you find yourself thinking that nothing will get better and there’s no way to improve the circumstances you find yourself in?
  • Irritability or Anger – If you find that your tolerance is lower than normal and you become more easily agitated, restless, or even violent, you may be struggling with depression.
  • Loss of Energy – People with depression often notice that they begin to feel more fatigued, physically drained, and overall sluggish. If you feel exhausted even from participating in small tasks, it’s possible you have depression. ²
  • Loss of Interest in Activities – Be wary if you find that you are no longer in activities you once found interest in. These may include hobbies, pastimes, social or sexual activities. Anything that once brought pleasure into your life.
  • Physical Pain – Many of those who struggle with depression notice an increase in headaches, back pain, muscle aches, and stomach pain. ³
  • Risky Behavior – When you no longer care about your well-being, you tend to participate in riskier behaviors. This may include abuse of drugs and alcohol, gambling, reckless driving, dangerous sports, or promiscuous sex. ⁴
  • Self-loathing – Do you feel worthless or guilty? Do you criticize yourself more harshly for normal errors? If so, it may be because you struggle with depression.
  • Sleep Changes – People with depression will either experience insomnia or oversleeping. ⁵

Usually, people with depression will have at least two of the above symptoms persist for at least two weeks. Of course, everyone’s case is different. For that reason, it’s extremely beneficial to get a professional’s perspective on your situation.

Differences in Depression Symptoms Among Age and Gender

It’s worth noting that depression symptoms tends to vary depending on a person’s age and gender. These differences include:

  • Depression in Women – Women seem to face symptoms of guilt, oversleeping, and weight gain. Women may be more at risk of depression than men due to a number of hormonal factors, including pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. Not to mention, nearly 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression after childbirth. ⁶
  • Depression in Men – While men with depression will experience self-loathing and hopelessness, it’s unlikely they’ll discuss these symptoms. Rather, they’ll mention how they’ve felt more fatigued, irritable, or have experienced a loss of interest in specific activities. Men are also likely to experience anger, aggression, reckless behavior, and drug abuse. ⁷
  • Depression in Teens – Teens who face depression tend to not show feelings of sadness. Rather, they show symptoms of anger, agitation, and irritability. Sometimes, they may express headaches, stomachaches, and other physical pains. ⁸
  • Depression in Older Adults – Similarly to teenagers, older adults don’t usually discuss the emotional signs and symptoms associated with depression. Rather, they’ll discuss physical changes, such as fatigue, pains and aches, and memory difficulties. One noticeable sign among older adults with depression is their lack of care for personal hygiene or to take necessary medications. ⁹

If you are concerned about a loved one who may struggle with depression, it can be helpful to research how their gender and age group is effected by depression.

Depression and Other Mental Health Conditions

When it comes to diagnosing someone with depression, mental health professionals face one difficulty – depression symptoms tend to overlap with symptoms of other mental health conditions.

A prime example of this is bipolar disorder, sometimes referred to as manic depression. The condition involves extreme shifts in mood, energy, behavior, and thought processing. These shifts can go from highly-energetic manic episodes to very low-feeling depressive episodes. ¹⁰

If you’ve ever experienced moments of euphoria, high-energy, and impulsive conduct, you may be struggling with bipolar disorder. And your symptoms of depression are simply a bipolar depressive episode.

It’s also worth mentioning that other mental health conditions can develop into depression and vice versa. For example, some people with depression may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol and, in turn, develop a substance abuse disorder.

Depression’s Risk of Suicide

One of the biggest risk factors with depression is suicidal ideation. Symptoms such as hopelessness and helplessness can make an individual feel as though there’s no other way out of their struggle. ¹¹

For this reason, it’s vital you keep an eye out for the following suicidal warning signs:

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Acting anxious, agitated, and/or reckless
  • Displaying rage or talking about revenge
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Showing extreme mood swings
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Withdrawing from social interaction, isolating oneself

If you or a loved one is considering suicide, it’s important to seek help immediately. In cases of emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. In other cases, you can reach out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

What Are the Types of Depression?

While many consider depression to be a single mental health condition, it actually comes in a few different types. If you already know you have depression, it may be difficult to figure out the type of depression you struggle with. However, it’s important to do so as it will help in figuring out what treatment path is best for you.

The types of depression include:

Mild and Moderate Depression

As the most common form of depression, mild and moderate is feeling a lighter version of the above-mentioned symptoms. Most notably, people with mild or moderate depression will notice a decline in joy, motivation, confidence, and self-esteem.

Some people with mild depression may be struggling with dysthymia (also known as persistent depressive disorder). This is when you fluctuate between periods of mild depression to a normal mood. Some important things to consider with dysthymia include: ¹²

  • Many with dysthymia consider their depression apart of their mood – as though it has always been with them and is simply a personality trait.
  • Symptoms aren’t as severe as other forms of depression, but will last a long time (at least two years).
  • You may experience major depressive episodes alongside dysthymia. This condition is known as “double depression” and the rates of either depression vary from person to person.

While these conditions aren’t as life-changing as major depression, it’s still beneficial to seek treatment.

Major Depression

While less common than mild or moderate depression, major depression is much more severe and relentless. Most people with the condition will feel an overwhelmed by the above-mentioned symptoms. ¹³

Major depression typically lasts for about six months and many of those who struggle with it usually only experience it once within their life time. However, major depression can recur and, for that reason, it’s important to find treatment.

Atypical Depression

People who struggle with atypical depression are likely to have similar symptoms to those struggling with major depression. However, a key difference is certain moments can subdue symptoms and cause mood lifts. For example, good news or being around people you love may make you feel better for a brief period of time. ¹⁴

Atypical depression also has a selection of symptoms that may not be as common with other depressive disorders. These include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Heavy feeling in arms and legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Sensitive to rejection
  • Weight gain

If you’ve felt any of these symptoms along with those mentioned above, you may struggle with atypical depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Another common form of depression is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – sometimes referred to as seasonal depression.

About 1% to 2% of the population is affected by this condition – most notably, young people and women. Most people experience SAD in the wintertime. Though it is possible to experience it in the summer.

Typically, those with SAD are most affected by the lack of sunlight, shorter days, and inability to participate in activities they enjoy. SAD usually only lasts through the fall and winter months and lifts once spring and summer come around. ¹⁵

If seasonal change doesn’t affect your depression symptoms, it’s likely you don’t struggle with SAD.

Risk Factors for Depression

While single causes can cause depression, it’s much more likely the condition is rooted in a number of different causes. Whether it’s going through a divorce or losing your job, life’s stressful situations can weigh down on us and lead us towards destructive habits, such as drinking excessively and withdrawing from social interaction. In turn, these habits can produce depression.

The following are the most common risk factors for depression. If you’ve been experiencing more than one of these, we definitely suggest seeking advice from a mental health professional.

Social Isolation and Loneliness

If you’re already experiencing depression, chances are you’ve been withdrawing from social situations. However, you may find that lacking a strong support system is one of the underlying causes of your depression. ¹⁶

Experiences with isolation are difficult as they don’t allow us to properly express ourselves. Without this expression, it can be difficult for our brains and bodies to readjust to their normal self.

For anyone currently battling depression, developing a strong support group is key to overcoming symptoms. If you’re having difficulty finding a support group, there are a number of online resources available to help.

Stressful Life Experience

If you’ve recently went through a major life change, it’s natural to develop some traits of depression. These events usually bring a great deal of stress on individuals to the point where they’re overwhelmed with emotion.

Whether it’s a divorce, losing your job, financial difficulties, legal problems, or losing a loved one, these circumstances bring a lot of stress onto individuals. Many find difficulty handling them and, through this, start to develop symptoms of depression. ¹⁷

When it comes to stressful life experiences, it’s beneficial to identify them with your mental health professional. By attacking the root cause of your depression, you have a better chance at overcoming it.

Relationship Difficulties

Having strong relationships within your life is one of the keys to happiness. Whether it’s family members, friends, or a significant other – each of these people plays a role in defining who we are.

When a relationship with someone is unhealthy – troubled, unhappy, or abusive – we may find that it becomes more difficult in defining who we are. For the people around us aren’t a definition of ourselves. ¹⁸

Not to mention, the consistent stress such relationships put on us is only fuel for the fire and increases the risk of depression.

Chronic Illness

Certain health conditions have been linked to the development of depression, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Beyond the initial stress a chronic illness can leave someone feeling, these conditions sometimes also come with financial and social difficulties.

Not to mention, there may be certain individuals who don’t know if their case will get better. For example, someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer may not know whether or not they’re going to make it. Such a predicament can leave someone feeling hopeless and helpless. ¹⁹

Family Genetics and Depression

Recent studies have found that some individuals are genetically susceptible to depression. While there is no “depression gene,” the risk of depression remains if another family member has experienced the mental health condition. This is especially true in immediate family circumstances – for example, if a mother has depression, her children are at a much greater risk of getting it themselves. ²⁰

Still, genetics isn’t a confirmation that you will experience depression. Some studies suggest that lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping mechanisms are just as big of influences on your mental health than genetics. ²¹

Childhood Trauma and Abuse

If you experienced stress in your childhood, you could spend much of your adolescents and adult life trying to cope with that stress. It’s been found that children who experience trauma and abuse are at a higher risk of developing depression. ²²

Early childhood stress can come in a number of different ways – from bullying to abuse (i.e. physical, emotional, or sexual) to trauma (i.e. loss of a loved one, parent’s divorce, etc.). If you have experienced such stress, it’s extremely beneficial to talk to your psychiatrist about these events.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Sometimes, two mental health conditions can co-occur with one another. When it comes to depression, one of the most common co-occurrences is drug and alcohol abuse. There are two ways in which these conditions develop into one another: ²³

  1. Depression symptoms become so overwhelming, they lead an individual to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol
  2. Through drugs and alcohol use (and the problems associated with this habit), depression develops

While there are certain substances (such as opioids) that have more of a prevalence with depression, all drugs put individuals at risk of developing the condition. If you are currently facing both depression and substance abuse disorder, it’s beneficial to seek treatment under a dual diagnosis.

Personality Traits

While it isn’t always the case, certain personality traits may leave a person more at risk of depression. For example, those who are highly critical on themselves may develop low self-esteem. Or those with a pessimistic outlook on life may feel hopeless about their future. ²⁴

It’s difficult for mental health professionals to diagnose depression solely on personality traits. While some may be inherited through genetics, others may have developed over time – possibly, from a highly stressful event.

Are You Depressed? (Depression Quiz)

Still not sure if you’re experiencing depression or not? Here are 10 questions to ask yourself in order to come to help you figure it out:

  1. Are you struggling with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness?
  2. Do you find it difficult to find pleasure in activities you used to enjoy?
  3. Have you noticed any appetite changes?
  4. Do you find it difficult to be motivated? (Are you lacking energy?)
  5. Have you noticed a reduction in your sex drive?
  6. Do you have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep? Or are you finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning?
  7. Have you ever considered harming yourself or ending your life?
  8. Do you feel guilty or tearful for no reason?
  9. Have you recently experienced a traumatic event?
  10. Do you find yourself avoiding social situations?

The way in which you answer these questions can determine whether or not you have depression and the severity of it. We suggest writing down your response and discussing it over with a mental health professional.

Final Word

Has this article led you to assume you’re struggling with depression? If so, help is available. There are a number of treatment options for people with depression – each of which depends on the type they suffer from and certain personal factors.

In order to find the right help for you, we highly advise you go to a mental health professional. They’ll be able to guide you on the right path and keep up with you as you continue to recover.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning how to know if you have depression?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further advice to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Depression

² Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience (Matrix Medical Communications): Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression

³ Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: The Link Between Depression and Physical Symptoms

⁴ National Institutes of Health (NIH): Behaviors May Indicate Risk of Adolescent Depression

⁵ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression

⁶ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Depression in Women: 5 Things You Should Know

⁷ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Men and Depression

⁸ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Teen Depression

⁹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Older Adults and Depression

¹⁰ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Bipolar Disorder

¹¹ Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): Does depression increase the risk for suicide?

¹² Psychiatry (Edgmont) (Matrix Medical Communications): Dysthymic Disorder

¹³ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Major Depression

¹⁴ Psychiatry (Edgmont) (Matrix Medical Communications): Atypical Depression

¹⁵ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Seasonal Affective Disorder

¹⁶ Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology (Springer): Social isolation, loneliness, and depression in young adulthood, a behavioural genetic analysis

¹⁷ National Library of Medicine: Stressful life events preceding the onset of depression in Asian patients with major depressive disorder

¹⁸ PLOS ONE: Social Relationships and Depression: Ten-Year Follow-Up from a Nationally Representative Study

¹⁹ Western Journal of Medicine (BMJ Publishing Group): Treating depression in patients with chronic disease

²⁰ Current psychiatry reports (HHS Public Access): Overview of the Genetics of Major Depressive Disorder

²¹ frontiers in Psychiatry: Genetics Factors in Major Depression Disease

²² Journal of General Internal Medicine (Springer): The Long-term Health Outcomes of Childhood Abuse

²³ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Substance Use and Mental Health

²⁴ Annual review of clinical psychology (HHS Public Access): Personality and Depression: Explanatory Models and Review of the Evidence

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