Symptoms of depression: knowing the signs

While we can all feel blue from time to time, when does it turn into depression, and how can we tell? Psychologist Dr. Sasha Lynn takes a look at the symptoms of depression; what they might look and feel like, and how signs can differ between people. 

We all have those days when it feels like we’re being followed by a dark cloud. The cloud hangs steadily over our heads, making everything seem darker. When it all piles up, it can feel as though we’re being rained on! 

For most of us, the rain clears up and the cloud continues to float by, leaving us to enjoy the clear blue skies of life. But what happens when that dark cloud lingers on, and it’s seemingly raining more than not? Then we might be showing signs of depression.

What is depression?

Depression is more than just feeling sad, or having a cry. Depression involves a range of behavioural, emotional and physical symptoms that last over a prolonged period of time, and can cause significant difficulties in daily functioning. Depression is now the worldwide leading cause of disability, affecting around 1 in 20 people in Australia in any given year. It often lies on a continuum, from mild to severe.

Depression affects women and men alike, though symptoms may present differently at times. 

Symptoms of depression

You may have heard of constant tears and feeling sad as signs of depression, but did you know depression can also look like irritability, aggression, aches and pains? Some signs that you may be experiencing symptoms of depression include:

  • Low mood, present most days than not for two weeks or more
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Reduced energy or excessive feelings of tiredness
  • Apathy - just not caring much about anything
  • Excessive teariness
  • Excessive irritability
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Eating issues - either over-eating or under-eating
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Self-harm, or thoughts of self-harm
  • Sleep disturbances - either excessive sleeping or insomnia

Other factors that can indicate signs of depression can include reduced ability to concentrate and focus, lack of self-confidence, excessive feelings of guilt, or pessimistic views of the future. Physical signs of depression may include headaches, muscle fatigue, stomach problems and physical agitation. These symptoms may occur regardless of the circumstance the person finds himself/herself in, or the people he/she surrounds himself/herself with. 

a woman showing the symptoms of depression

Can depression look different in men and women?

The signs of depression, while often similar in men and women, can often be impacted by gender differences when it affects if or how individuals address symptoms and reach out for help. Children and teenagers will also experience the same symptoms of depression as adults, but they may look different. Read here for more on depression in teens and kids.
According to leading depression research and support organisation, Beyond Blue, men often put off seeking help for depression, and they may also not recognise the signs until they become more severe. Symptoms of depression men are more likely to notice are the physical symptoms of depression, such as unusual weight changes, or excessive tiredness, while symptoms of depression women identify more are sleep disturbances, and low mood.

Research also suggests that men may also exhibit greater levels of irritability and anger when depressed than women, and have a higher tendency to turn toward substance abuse and risk-taking behavior as a result of depression. 

Regardless of gender, age and types of depression symptoms, the big factor is the impact on lifestyle. If these symptoms are getting in the way of work, friends, family and general health, then they cannot be ignored. 

Getting help

Depression is more than just feeling sad. There are a range of depression symptoms that do not necessarily all occur together. But if you or someone you know experiences one or more of the range of symptoms above, occur more days than not over at least a 2 week period, then it is important to see a doctor to explore the symptoms further and get additional help and support. 
Depression often is not something that will simply just ‘go away’. The good news is, getting help as early as possible with the right management strategies and treatment for you can help get you back on track. 
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