According to the DSM-5, these are 10 signs that may indicate one has a diagnosable depression. Depression is more than just feeling sad, it often includes many other symptoms that interfere with daily life and functioning. While feelings are the most well known signs, changes in thoughts and perceptions are also indicators that one may be dealing with depression. If suspect someone you know has depression, let them know that you care, avoid telling them not to be sad because depression is not that simple - if it was, they would just choose not to be depressed! But it’s not a choice, it can be many things. That’s why support is often needed to address it. Below are the signs to look out for:
1. Depressed mood
Depressed mood refers to experiencing tearfulness or feeling intense sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. To be considered a symptom, these feelings will occur most of the day, nearly everyday. This would be through reports from experience or by observation of others. In children this could look like irritability that is not related to typical frustration.
2. Decrease in enjoyment of activities
This refers to a decrease in interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly everyday. The typical things that were once enjoyed, no longer bring pleasure.
3. Significant change in weight
Either weight gain or loss of about 5% of body weight occurs within a month. This may look like a marked increase or decrease in appetite nearly every day. For children, this may present as not reaching the expected weight gain.
4. Significant change in sleep patterns
Insomnia or hypersomnia may occur nearly everyday and is a common sign of depression. Insomnia relates to not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep, while hypersomnia means that one is sleeping to excess.
5. Obvious significant change in speed of thoughts and motor functioning
There is an observable change in one’s psychomotor functioning, that may make a person move or speak faster or slower that what is considered normal for that person. This could feel like restlessness or being slowed down, but more importantly this should be noticeable to others. This symptom is not as common as some others, but usually hints to an increase in severity of the depression.
6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
Consistent feelings of tiredness and lethargy is a common sign in depression that may make it difficult to manage daily functioning and tasks.
7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt nearly everyday
Feeling worthless or experiencing an inappropriate level of guilt associated with depression may include feelings of low self-worth, being preoccupied with negative judgements of situations, or feeling “stuck” thinking about things in the past, mistakes, or embarrassments. Feeling overly responsible for things outside of one’s control may accompany this symptom, along with blaming oneself for not meeting expectations or responsibilities.
8. Lowered ability to think or concentrate nearly everyday
Those experiencing depression may experience increased difficulties in maintaining focus, making decisions, and feel an impaired ability to think overall. Memory may be impaired- with treatment, memory issues should improve, although with the elderly, these memory issues may be the first signs of dementia that may not improve. For adolescents, this may present as grades falling as there is an increased difficulty to function in cognitively demanding settings.
9. Thoughts of death or dying
This sign may look like suicidal ideation, which can be passive or active. Passive suicidal ideation refers to thoughts of not wanting to wake up in the morning or thinking that one not being there would improve others’ lives. Active suicidal ideation refers to an increase in severity and experiencing a real desire to die. This may look like one updating their wills and creating a plan to enact with the means to do so. This is usually motivated by a desire to end one’s emotional suffering, to not be a burden to others, to avoid trying to address a perceived overwhelming or impossible situation, or because one cannot foresee ever finding enjoyment in life.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation, it is necessary to seek medical care. Finding a therapist and possibly getting the right medication can be the difference between life and death. If you are unsure if someone you know is feeling this way- ask! Reaching out lets that person know that they are important and that they matter during a time where they may not feel like it. Reach out to a therapist, contact a loved one, or call or text the suicide hotline (800-273-8255).
10. Significant distress or impairment of functioning
Overall, these experiences would cause a impairment in functioning and could be incredibly distressing. Sometimes one might not be fully aware of their condition, which could be a mild form of depression or be viewed as “functional depression.”
It is important to note that symptoms experienced must last at least 2 weeks in which one may experience depressed mood or disinterest in activities, to be diagnosed with depression. Some individuals may express feeling “blah”, anxious, or not feeling much at all emotionally- if this is the case, you can observe sadness within their demeanor or facial expressions to help determine if they are experiencing a depressed mood.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, know that there is support out there. Seek a therapist, talk to your doctor, and if possible, reach out to loved ones and be honest about what is happening. With treatment you can find a better understanding of what you are experiencing and with support, find your way towards recovery. Even if you can’t see “the light at the end of the tunnel” - it doesn’t mean that it’s not there or that it can’t be reached.
"If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person." —Fred Rogers
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.