Sadness and grief are normal reactions to the various struggles we come across during our lives. We’ve all felt this sometimes, whether it be due to death in the family, divorce or break-up, loss of a job, or even failing a test at school or university. Sadness, loneliness or grief are natural responses, whereas depression is an actual illness. Depression can also sometimes seem to come out of no-where without a clear cause. In addition to low mood, depression also often comes with issues with sleep, energy levels, motivation and changes in appetite.
The warning signs or symptoms of depression can be different for different people, and you don’t necessarily have all of them all at once. What tends to be common in general are feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
These feelings last at least several weeks or even months, and they interfere with your work and personal life. As depression can creep in gradually and not everything comes at once, overnight, it can be difficult to spot that something is wrong until it starts interfering with different aspects of your life.
It’s important to recognise the signs of depression both in yourself and in others – in yourself so that you can seek help early before it gets too difficult, and in others so that you recognise when to be there to support them, and to understand why they might be behaving the way they do. Sometimes, it takes another person to help notice that something is not right.
I hope this list is helpful and informative. If you are depressed yourself though and struggling to get well, please make sure you seek professional help. 💛
(You can read about what resources helped me with my recovery journey from depression here.)
Common warning signs of depression
These are some of the more widely recognised and talked about symptoms of depression that you might be aware of already, as they tend to be mentioned in the media more often and talked about, for example, at the workplace. There are both mental and physical symptoms, which people might not always consider when it comes to this illness.
- Persisting low mood or sadness
- Feeling hopeless
- Having low self-esteem
- Low self-confidence
- Feeling like you’re worthless
- Feeling empty or numb
- Feeling tearful and like you’re about to cry
- Feeling guilt-ridden
- Lack of motivation and interest in things that you used to enjoy doing
- Feeling worried or anxious
- Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself
- Feeling negative about the future
I had all of the above symptoms. They gradually increased over time, until culminating in self-harm and suicidal thoughts. At that point I sought help and started to slowly recover, however, I wish I had recognised the need to seek help much earlier.
Yes, it is possible to have physical symptoms of depression. Here are some of the common ones:
- Gaining or losing weight
- Changes in appetite
- Cramps and muscle pains
- Other chronic pain without a clear reason
- Feeling tired or fatigued without a clear reason
- Difficulties with sleep (sleeping too much or too little, insomnia)
Losing weight was one of my physical symptom with depression, as I lost my appetite and either didn’t feel like eating or couldn’t do it due to just not being able to even get out of bed. At my lowest point, I was 38 kg. I also had insomnia, but that was due to the side effects of my anxiety medication, and I think it was not so much related to depression itself.
Unusual SYMPTOMS of depression
I also include here what I feel are “lesser-known” warning signs, in addition to being less common. With those I mean symptoms that others, when telling them you have these, might be surprised and not know that depression can also cause these. I’ve come across this so many times both at work and when trying to explain to others what I’m going through and why.
- Feeling easily irritable or often grumpy
- Difficulties in decision-making at work and in personal life
- Difficulties remembering things, absent-mindedness
- Experiencing a sense of unreality
- Delusions, paranoia
I had auditory hallucinations during a period where I had both depression and anxiety at the same time. I used to hear a full-on concert happening directly outside of my window, and no matter how hard I looked or googled, there was nothing. The sound briefly “switched” or somehow “flew” to the other side of my house momentarily, and then back again to its original point behind my living room window. The whole experience was super creepy, and it happened about three times in total. I heard a man’s voice addressing an audience while tapping a goblet drum, in exactly the same detail and wording during each of those occasions and the drum’s tapping sound sometimes came from the walls of my flat. I’m still creeped out whenever I think about it. 😬
- Changes to your menstrual cycle
- Loss of libido – no interest in sex
- Other digestive issues
- Back pain
- Stomach pain
- Restlessness and agitation
- Reduced coordination (e.g. stumbling in the stairs)
- Inattention to your surroundings
- Decreased pain tolerance / greater impact of pain
- Decreased vision or the world looking “hazy”
I didn’t get my period for over a year during depression, and constipation was sometimes really bad. Trying to go get my stomach checked out by a doctor during depression was really difficult, as even just getting out the door, or out of bed, could take all my energy.
How to spot if someone you know might be depressed?
Many of these symptoms below are also called ‘social symptoms’ of depression. You might notice if someone you know is suffering from depression, that they are
- not doing well at work compared to before (e.g. poor time management, forgetting tasks, less attention to detail and making more mistakes than usual)
- avoiding contact with their friends (e.g. longer time responding to messages or not responding at all, cancelling or just not showing up to gatherings)
- speaking slower, mumbling or taking more time to think of even common words
- dropping hobbies and interests they used to be excited about
- having difficulties at home / with relationships and family
- not keeping their home clean (rubbish bins not emptied, mountains of dishes piling up, dust gathering on floor etc)
- drinking a lot more alcohol than they used to, on a regular basis, or taking other recreational drugs (self-medicating)
- not taking care of their personal hygiene (e.g. not brushing their teeth, not showering)
- drastically different in terms of personality (e.g. used to be kind and empathetic, but is now cold and uncaring)
I went through a period during depression where nothing really mattered in my life anymore. Relationships didn’t matter, I didn’t matter, and I started saying every thought out loud and not caring if it was hurtful or not. I was careless and reckless and ultimately drove some people away.
During the worst parts of depression, I was unable to perform even basic tasks such as showering, brushing my teeth or cleaning my flat. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you might be aware that I’m still, years later, trying to get some of those basic routines back in order. That’s how hard it can be.
Sources and further reading
Even though I have extensive knowledge about depression due to having done research over the years and going through it myself, I have made sure that the information above is also matching what well-known and reliable mental health resources are saying about depression.
The topic is too important for me to just claim something based on what I think I know, so I have double-checked everything I’ve written here in addition to writing from experience. 🙂
If you want to read more about the warning signs and symptoms of depression, have a look at the below websites for more detail. 👍
- What are the symptoms of depression – Mind
- Clinical depression symptoms – NHS
- What is depression? – American Psychiatric Association
- Causes and symptoms of depression – WebMD
- Warning signs of severe depression – WebMD
- Top 10 signs of depression – PsychCentral
- Harvard Health – Recognizing the “unusual” signs of depression
- The 7 physical symptoms of depression we rarely talk about – Healthline