Depression is a big topic when it comes to mental health, and with good reason: the World Health Organisation (WHO) proposes depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, with over 264 million people of all ages experiencing it.
Depression can affect anyone at any time, but the events of the last year have led to a dramatic increase in people experiencing depressive symptoms, with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggesting the rate to have doubled since the start of the pandemic.
With the current challenges of 2020 and 2021, it’s possible you may have experienced symptoms of depression and low mood. It’s important to recognise that going through low mood from time-to-time is a normal part of emotional regulation. However, it’s equally essential to identify early signs of depression so that you can manage it more effectively, and have a better understanding of your mental health.
When people think about what depression is, they tend to label as it feeling sad or emotional (whatever that means!). But experiencing depression is much more than low mood. Below, you will see 10 symptoms that might indicate someone is suffering with depression.
DISCLAIMER: it is likely that you currently are experiencing at least one of the following symptoms right now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression.
Losing interest in things you once enjoyed
This symptom is a typical indicator of the onset of depression. It could be anything that you previously enjoyed doing, such as engaging in a hobby or occupation. It could be that you enjoyed going to yoga classes throughout the week, and as time has gone on, you have started missing classes more and more. This may explain the link between depression and weight fluctuations, especially when people stop engaging in hobbies that previously kept them active.
Lacking a sense of hope or optimism
It’s completely normal if you’re typically a ‘glass is half-empty’ kinda person, but sudden changes to your outlook may be an early sign of depression. One classic indicator of this may be that you don’t have any hopes or goals for the future. Whilst coping day-to-day can be resourceful in some situations, not looking toward the future can suggest that is no hope in feeling better.
Issues with sleep
Dysregulation or fluctuations in sleeping patterns can be a dominant indicator of early depression. A person with depression may display tiredness and fatigue a lot of the time, but may also report struggling to sleep well. Issues with sleep can vary, so it might be that you struggle to fall asleep or sleep the recommended 7-8 hours a night without waking up. You could also struggle with getting up, possibly sleeping for most of the day.
Other sleep issues such as changes to your routine (such as sleeping through the day and waking up at night) may also indicate depression. However, it’s also important to note that other factors can affect sleeping cycles, such as shift patterns, stress and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a depressive disorder in which levels of melatonin, serotonin and circadian cycles are disrupted, as a result of less sunlight in winter months.
Whilst there are always things that just get on our nerves from time-to-time, feeling regularly irritated – usually by insignificant things that are outside of your control – can be an early sign of depression. This symptom might present more readily in men who suffer from depression.
Fluctuations in appetite
Changes to eating patterns may be an early symptom of depression. This could present as either losing the desire to eat, or an increase in eating. A loss of appetite may be associated with symptoms listed above, such as losing an interest in cooking balanced meals. On the other hand, experiencing negative feelings may make you turn to eating as a comfort or coping mechanism.
A lot of people say that they want to feel happy all the time, but regulation of emotions allows us to experience and express our feelings in every moment. Emotions are supposed to fluctuate steadily, so it is expected that we will experience perceived negative feelings from time-to-time. However, if you feel that your mood changes from happiness and excitement to deep sadness and despair in an intense way, this may be a sign of depression.
Reliance on negative thinking and behavioural patterns
In lacking a sense of optimism, you might gravitate towards negative thinking. Whilst this can be an inevitable symptom of depression, this can feed into a cycle of diminished self-worth through self-criticism and a lack of compassion towards yourself or others.
Loss of concentration
Whilst symptoms such as sadness and negative thinking are quite well-known, many people overlook loss of concentration as a key indicator of depression. This ‘brain fog’ can impact on tasks that you previously have been able to focus on (or you know you’re good at), such as reading or problem-solving.
Feelings of guilt or shame
This symptom is not talked about very much when addressing depression, but many people disclose feeling a sense of guilt for no reason. Guilt may also present in people with depression in instances where their negative thoughts cause them to think that they are making others feel bad. Feelings of shame may be derived from thinking that they ‘shouldn’t’ be depressed, particularly if they have been exposed to the stigma of depression.
Depression can manifest through physical ailments and is linked to health problems such as cardiovascular disease. It’s important to recognise there is a mind-body connection, so headaches, sore muscles or joints and skin irritations may be the body’s way of communicating mental distress. However, keep in mind that aches and pains alone are not indicative of depression, and may be signs of other health problems. Remember that a diagnosis of depression will involve the presence of other symptoms, such as those listed above.
This list of early symptoms for depression is not exhaustive. Individuals can experience symptoms in a variety of ways, ranging from mild to severe. Formal diagnosis of depression involves meeting a multitude of criteria over a prolonged amount of time. If you are concerned about suffering with some of the symptoms outlined, please contact your healthcare professional.