Feeling down for a day or two is one thing, but when that state of sadness persists, you could be facing something more serious: depression. It’s important to be able to recognize the difference between commonplace mood dips and more severe signs of depression, both in yourself and in others.
While no gender or age group is immune to depression, women are thought to be at greater risk, but there’s a catch. “This may be a reflection that women are more likely to seek help for their symptoms,” says Samar McCutcheon, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Depression in seniors and adolescents is also common. And having a personal or family history of depression can increase your future risk of depressive episodes.
The trouble is, people often use “depression” to loosely describe normal disappointments or moments of sadness. So how do you know if you’re actually depressed? “The official definition is two or more weeks of a constellation of five or more distressing and impairing symptoms,” says Dr. McCutcheon, adding that there are several major signs of depression. In general, if the depression symptoms are present more days than not, and are getting worse versus improving, you could be experiencing a major depressive episode.
And it’s nothing to take lightly, as depression can take a tremendous physical and mental toll on your health. “Depression is a mental disorder that affects how you feel, think, and act, and can lead to serious emotional or physical problems,” says Barbara Nosal, PhD, LMFT, LADC, chief clinical officer at Newport Academy in Orange County, Calif.
Here’s the surprise, though: It’s entirely possible to be depressed and not realize it. Since depression tends to develop gradually and can manifest in small changes in behavior, mood, or energy, it can be tough to spot the signs, Nosal says. Symptoms also vary from person to person and aren’t one-size-fits-all, she adds. While one person with depression might have insomnia and difficulty concentrating, another may sleep too much but still feel physically and mentally fatigued.
If you suspect you’re suffering from depression, don’t try to get over it on your own. “Depression is a medical condition, similar to hypertension or diabetes, and is best treated with the guidance of a medical professional,” says Dr. McCutcheon. Of course, many people are ashamed or embarrassed to seek help, but remember that your life may literally depend on it. If you’re struggling with any combination of the below-mentioned signs of depression, or it’s interfering with your everyday life, talk to a mental health provider or your primary care provider about next steps to prevent things from getting worse.
To help you figure out if you’re suffering from depression, here are five of the most common symptoms to watch out for. Read more on the next page.