Depression is one of the most common medical conditions in the world today. The rise in numbers of people afflicted with this has raised awareness in the seriousness and truth that mental illness is real and not some made up condition used to seek attention.
It is normal for a person to feel sad, upset or down when dealt with many of life’s challenges. These feelings eventually go away. The same could not be said when a person has depression. A depressed person can feel bad even though everything in their life is going well.
Depression is medically defined as a mood disorder that leaves a person feeling intense bouts of sadness, loss, hopelessness and worthlessness. These bouts of negative feelings persist for days or even weeks. These feelings and thoughts are caused by a chemical imbalance in the neurotransmitters found in the brain that impact mood regulation. The theory is that having too much or too little of these neurotransmitters can cause or contribute to depression. Seems easy to understand but depression and other mental health conditions are very complex labyrinths that are not fully understood by science yet.
There are many factors that can cause and trigger depression. They can be caused by genetics, exposure to childhood stress or trauma, certain environmental factors and irregularities with brain chemistry. It is more often a combination of factors. People with depression often need to seek professional help, especially those with severe symptoms. Medication and psychotherapy are the most common forms of treatment.
Mental health specialists recognize about a dozen major signs and symptoms. For a person to be diagnosed with depression, they must exhibit at least five if not all of the symptoms for a prolonged period. Here are the most common warning signs that you or someone you know has depression. Be advised though that it is best to seek a mental health professional for a more conclusive diagnosis and proper treatment.
1. Constant feelings of sadness
Sadness is a normal human emotion that all people feel at some point in their lives. It is a natural reaction to events that cause emotional pain or upsets. People experience this to varying degrees. As with most emotions, sadness eventually passes and people go on with their daily lives.
When sadness is persistent and refuses to leave, that’s when depression starts to reel its ugly head. People with depression feel intense sadness that often lingers for days or weeks and no form of cheering up can clear away the cloud of misery that envelops them. Everything makes a depressive person sad. Even if all is going well with their lives, a depressed person would still feel bad.
Dark and lonely thoughts constantly bombard them and make them question everything that is going on with their lives. Hopelessness, worthlessness and anxiety often make their presence known too. These feelings interfere with a person’s ability to function in most aspects, take part in life and experience enjoyment. Depression turns a person against themselves in a way that sadness doesn’t.
Sadness and depression may look similar from a distance but they’re quite different up close. If sadness is a cold, depression is a serious flu.
2. Loss of interest in things and activities
When a person is depressed, everything becomes less enjoyable, less interesting, less important, less lovable and less worthwhile. People suffering from clinical depression lose interest in hobbies, friends, work, and even food and sex.
Anhedonia is the scientific term used for this loss of interest. It is a core symptom of major depression but it can be a symptom of other mental health issues. There are two types of anhedonia that can be discernible in depressed people.
Social anhedonia is the lack of interest in social situations, like going out and be around other people.
Physical anhedonia is the inability to find tangible pleasures like food or touching another person.
3. Significant change in weight
Depression can cause a person’s appetite to dramatically change. The part of the brain responsible for emotions also controls appetite. When this emotional part of the brain gets disturbed by a depressive episode, appetite gets disturbed as well.
When depression hits, the appetite center of the brain gets thrown in two ways explaining why there are those who gain weight and there those who lose weight, to an unhealthy degree.
The weight gain can be attributed to a person’s desire to consume food, especially those with high sugar and/or fat content, because they help make a person feel better, if only briefly. The lack of motivation to move about and exercise also leads to a depressed person to gain weight.
Losing weight is also caused by irregular eating habits brought about by depression. A depressed person may not feel hungry or may forget to eat altogether when experiencing extreme sadness.
Whether a depressed person loses or gains weight can be determined by the symptoms that they experience. It is also possible for a depressed person to lose or gain weight in response to two different depressive episodes. Weight gain is much more common and poses a more serious problem than weight loss due to depression. This is because extreme weight gain can cause a myriad of health issues like heart disease and diabetes.
There are two other known eating disorders that can be brought about by depression are binge eating disorders and bulimia nervosa.
4. Constant fatigue, feeling sluggish and low energy
People with depression often experience lack of energy even after a good night’s rest. Depression also takes a toll on motivation, making it physically and emotionally exhausting to carry out even the simplest of tasks like eating, taking a bath or cleaning the house. These activities feel like monumental feats for someone with depression.
Depressed people are just not interested in doing any activity, regardless of the task or the required amount of effort. More energy is exerted in order to focus on any activity. There are those who push themselves to get through the day that eventually make them feel more tired.
5. Irregular sleep
While sleep disorders can also stem from other medical conditions, most of those diagnosed with sleep problems often have depression. Approximately 15% of those with this condition experience troubled sleep, insomnia or hypersomnia.
Insomnia is often a characteristic of depression and other mental health conditions. Negative feelings brought about by depression disrupts sleep and may cause the mind to go in overdrive and brood about situations over which the person has no control over.
Hypersomnia is excessive sleepiness and it is more common in children and adolescents with depression. When a depressive person sleeps all the time, it is due to the lack of energy and interest to do anything.
Abnormal sleep patterns interfere a lot with mood and energy levels which makes it hard for a depressed person to engage with others, do activities or take care of themselves. To cope, depressed people tend to self-isolate which could worsen the depression even more.
6. Feelings of excessive guilt
Depression affects a person’s reasoning and problem-solving capabilities hence why a depressed person feels unrealistically negative about himself or herself. They feel very guilty about certain aspects in their lives that they feel has gotten out of their control. It is more on perceived past or present failings.
The guilt becomes persistent and overwhelming and it makes one feel that they’re not good enough nor doing enough with their lives. People with depression are more prone to negative self-judgement and intense guilt.
Extreme guilt associated with depression leads to self-doubt and self-harm. This guilt can drive the depressed individual into a cycle of negative thinking, with each thought worsening the situation into a deeper and more hopeless frame of thinking.
7. Inability to concentrate and delayed cognitive functions
Memory loss and difficulties with focusing may not be obvious signs but depression makes it hard for a person to focus on things. Several researches found out that ability and speed to take in information and process it becomes impaired in individuals who are depressed. Several parts of the brain that are involved with the creation, retention and retrieval of memories become affected.
It can be quite taxing to accomplish anything with this fuzzy-brain feeling. A study suggests that the inability to focus and concentrate is one reason why depression has a big social impact for people with this affliction. It makes it harder to keep up with relationships.
Therapy and medications are two standard components for the treatment of depression but if a patient feels that the inability to concentrate and focus has become too much, cognitive-emotional training could be added to the treatment. Cognitive-emotional training helps you gain more cognitive control over emotional situations
8. Increased irritability and sudden outburst of anger
Few people can recognize depression symptoms when they manifest in an unusual way. Some people with depression become very irritable and angry with virtually everyone and everything in their life. They exhibit inexplicable mood swings and find that nothing those around them does is right. When internal loss or feelings of helpless or hopeless is always present, it’s easy for a depressed person to lash out.
Depression is not just an illness of mood but also as an impairment in the control of emotions. People with it are more sensitive to cues around them and more often get easily irritated if things get too overwhelming.
Increased irritability occurs more in depressed men than they do in women with this condition. It often accompanies aggressive feelings, substance abuse and risk taking. It is also noted that the level of anger depressed people feel is connected to the severity of their depression.
9. Recurrent thoughts about death and dying
Passively wishing about dying, actively planning one’s death, or becoming absorbed with thoughts of dying is a hallmark symptom of depression. Although the majority of people who have this condition do not die by suicide, having major depression increases the suicide risk compared to people without depression.
Preoccupation with death and having suicidal ideations, or thoughts about committing suicide, are very alarming and depressed people who express these thoughts should be taken seriously. Statements like “I wish I were dead” are often common throwaway phrases that people utter without meaning but with depressive people with active suicidal ideations, these words can quickly progress to actual plans of following through on them. The painful emotions get to overwhelming that they see suicide as a way out and due to their decreased ability to rationalize, depressed people lose sight of the fact that suicide is a very permanent solution to an otherwise temporary state or problem. The depression slowly kills with thoughts and emotions that rob them of their reasoning and will to live.
Glaring signs to look out for if things are getting dangerous for the person are continued isolation, changes in hygiene and appearance, giving away valued possessions, and saying words about not wanting to be around anymore or everybody is better off without me. When the risk becomes high of a depressed person committing suicide, friends and relatives should intervene and seek help for their depressed loved one ASAP.
10. Unexplained physical pains and problems
Even though depression is a mental illness, it can also manifest as a physical pain too. They are closely related. The two create a vicious cycle in which pain worsens symptoms of depression, and then the resulting depression worsens feelings of pain.
Physical pain and depression have a deeper biological connection than simple cause and effect; the same neurotransmitters influence both pain and mood. Disturbance of these transmitters is linked to both depression and pain.
Depression causes a lowered tolerance to pain. This means that depressed people are more sensitive to physical pain. Back pain, headaches and aching muscles are the most common complaint noticed in people with depression. Others complain of eye problems, stomach pains or uneasiness and other digestive problems.
If you or someone you know is feel suicidal or is contemplating self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). It’s always open, and you can speak to a trained counselor who is ready to listen and help.