How to tell if you are depressed: 10 symptoms of depression

What are the main symptoms of depression and how to tell if you are depressed? Let’s find out how to recognize them to encourage early diagnosis!


How to tell if you are depressed: 10 symptoms of depression

Revised article from Guidance Committee for Psychologists

What are the main symptoms of depression and how to tell if you are depressed? Let’s find out how to recognize them to encourage early diagnosis!

26 APR 2018Last modified: YESTERDAY · Reading time: 9 min.



“Suffering from depression means not wanting anything anymore, not having the strength to change. We feel alone even among others, who often do not understand our suffering. We are unable to love and at the same time we desperately need affection” , Romano Battaglia.

What is depression?

One of the mood disorders that is experiencing an increase in cases worldwide is depression . This pathology, caused by biological, genetic and psychological causes, is often confused with other disorders or simply with a period of sadness. Despite this, an early diagnosis of depression is essential to avoid seriously compromising the psycho-physical health of the person suffering from it. Depression is indeed a mood disorder that presents itself with deep sadness, lack of interest and pessimistic thoughts, but which also brings physical and behavioral symptoms.

Depression was included in the DSM3 in 1980 (the statistical and diagnostic manual of mental disorders): the world health organization considers this disease as one of the most disabling and with a very high social cost. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to treating depression.

Types of depression

There is not only one type of depression , but there are several types. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Major or unipolar depressive disorder: Thisis the most general type and is one of the most severe forms of depression. The presence of this type of depression prevents any form of daily activity: not only work or going out with friends or other pleasant situations, but also fundamental activities such as sleeping or eating.
  • Dysthymia :Dysthymia is characterized by the same symptoms as major depressive disorder but which present themselves in a slightly milder way.
  • Depressive disorder not otherwise specified: in this category are classified those depressive disorders and episodes that cannot be placed in other categories.
  • Bipolar disorders: bipolar disorders are characterized by the alternation of manic disorders (i.e. with a very high mood with high doses of excitement and energy) and depressive states. In turn, bipolar disorders are divided into bipolar disorder type 1 and 2(which differ in episode of mania or hypomania that alternate with depressive states ) and cyclothymic disorders (which provide for a minimum duration of two years of such depressive episodes and hypomanic)

All these disorders are included in the DSM5 with insights into the characteristics and therapies.

What are the symptoms of depression?

According to the DSM5, to talk about depression it is necessary that there are at least 5 of the signs that we will expose below , of which one of the aforementioned symptoms must be depressed mood and loss of interest in doing anything. Here are the top ten red flags of this mood disorder:

1. prolonged sadness

A depressed person is not simply sad, but experiences a prolonged and persistent feeling of sadness characterized by a feeling of emptiness and a depressed mood. A prolonged negative mood is therefore a symptom of this disorder.

2. apathy and loss of interest

Depression causes sufferers to lose interest in everything around them. Not only for those activities that were previously a source of happiness but also for all those daily activities essential to subsistence. One becomes apathetic and suffers from a profound lack of interest in anything.

3. Insomnia and sleep disturbances

People with depression often also have sleep disturbances. Insomnia or, on the contrary, sleeping for many hours, are among the most common symptoms. These disorders can in turn lead to an exacerbation of depression, since altering the biological sleep-wake rhythms always leads to imbalances. The association between sleep disorders and depression is therefore very strong in the context of this disease and present in all age groups.

4. Weight loss and lack of appetite

Weight loss and a lack of appetite are a frequent symptom of depression. People suffering from such a disorder may also suffer from sudden weight loss due to the fact that, during depression, the person’s relationship with food changes. Losing your appetite and not wanting to do anything can cause rapid weight loss.

5. Constant physical and mental fatigue

Constant fatigue : Fatigue in depression occurs both mentally, due to anxiety, apathy and the feeling of emptiness, but also on a physical level. Very often it does not take this symptom into consideration, because it tends to be associated with external factors, but if fatigue becomes something chronic it is always important to ask yourself why and consult a doctor.

6. Physical symptoms and pains

We have already seen that depression brings not only mental and mood symptoms but also physical pain: headaches and joint or generalized pains can be a wake-up call for depression and can worsen the situation by creating a circle vicious risky.

7. Recurring thoughts of death and suicide

Depression and suicide are strongly linked : between 40% and 70% of patients with this disease develop these thoughts. The negative emotions that accompany depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. In some cases, in fact, death is seen as the last solution to find an escape route. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if this symptom appears or to contact 118, forbeing able to prevent any tragic choice.

8. Feeling of unreality

Depression can cause a feeling of unreality. Depressed people may feel that they are not in control of their actions, as if they are in a parallel dimension. It is a dissociative type of disorder that leads to seeing things around you in a distant and unreal way and your gestures and behaviors as detached and not belonging to yourself. It is a symptom that can present with sporadic or prolonged episodes.

9. Difficulty in making decisions

Fatigue, apathy and physical and mental pain greatly reduce the ability to make decisions. This type of symptom is closely related to all the other symptoms that annihilate interest and the will to live or do anything.

10. Problems with concentration

Lack of interest puts a strain on the concentration of those with depression . Therefore, starting a new day can be very tiring and devastating. People suffering from depression therefore cannot concentrate on work and study and very often end up leaving (at least temporarily) what they are doing, lacking the interest and strength to deal with it.

How to tell if you are depressed: Depression physical and mental symptoms

We have seen that the symptoms of depression involve various aspects of the body, of the mind, of behavior. We could group the symptoms of depression into 5 macro groups:

  • Cognitive symptoms: such as difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things. In the same way, some symptoms also concern ruminations and feelings of guilt and the tendency to devalue and not feel worthy or deserving. Everything that happens in everyday life is taken as a sign of a personal flaw or lack.
  • Symptoms of the affective sphere:depression normally involves a withdrawal from the social sphere, due to the various symptoms of lack of interest, apathy and loss of the sense of pleasure associated with certain activities. Depression leads to not being able to enjoy anything anymore : this feeling is accompanied by a constant sadness that can be considered as a real pain of living.
  • Motivational Symptoms:These symptoms relate to everything related to motivation and tiredness of doing things. As we have seen, depression is marked by constant fatigue , even in the absence of real physical activity or stress, which make the person feel that even small tasks require incredible effort. Even feeding or getting out of bed could become tasks that take a lot of time and effort, and the person might even decide not to do them.
  • Behavioral Symptoms:These symptoms affect everything that is part of the changes in the person’s habits and behavior . We have already seen some of these symptoms, including: lack of appetite resulting in weight loss, sleep disturbances that can include both insomnia but also oversleeping and a consistent motor slowdown, due to tiredness and the difficulty of getting things done. (this slowdown includes both physical activities, such as slowed body movements, but also slowness of thought and concentration).
  • Physical symptoms of depression:The physical symptoms of depression are different and can occur even before or in the absence of mental symptoms: it can happen that they are somatized symptoms for which the doctor cannot find any organic cause. A condition called masked depressionand which is diagnosed following a positive patient response to antidepressant drugs. On the other hand, it should also be emphasized that some physical symptoms such as fatigue, stress, nervousness are not always identified as symptoms of depression because they are very common sensations. If we find ourselves in a prolonged situation where negative feelings arise, it is always better to talk to a doctor. Some of the physical symptoms of depression are therefore: headache, palpitations, various pains (in the bones, muscles or joints). Sense of loss and gastrointestinal problems.

Myths about depression

There are a whole series of false beliefs or half-truths about depression that can lead to underestimating the problem or avoiding the correct diagnosis. Among the main ones we find:

  • suicide attempts only serve to attract attention: if a person tries to commit suicide (or even self-harm), even if he fails to do so, he needs to immediately receive psychological and, in some cases, pharmacological support. If this episode is underestimated, in fact, we risk that it can reproduce in the short term and that the person will be able to reach his goal;
  • bereavement is not the same as being depressed:the stage of bereavement following the loss of a loved one is not the same as suffering from depression. However, if grief is not processed correctly, the pain and sadness can become chronic and lead to full-blown depression.
  • depression is hereditary: genetic causes are also mentioned in the causes of depression. It is therefore possible that depression has a hereditary component. However, the causes can also be of other kinds, such as stress or a traumatic event . For this, everyone is at risk of suffering from depression, regardless of the hereditary issue.

If you want to receive more information on the subject, you can consult our list of professionals experienced in depression.

Causes and consequences of the disorder

The causes of depression can be traced back to various factors that may have to do with biology or genetics but also can be related to trauma or negative episodes from one’s past . In particular, the main causes are connected to:

  • biological causes of depression:this type of cause is linked to hormonal or neurotransmitter changes or related to the immune system . For example, depression could be caused by a decompensation of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin, causing an alteration of the subject on his initiative, on sleep, in interactions with others, etc.
  • Psychological and Social CausesTraumatic and stressful events can function as catalysts for depressive episodes. Some of these events could be bereavement, personal conflict, physical illness, traumatic life changes, abuse or separation and divorce, or other types of events that can have traumatic repercussions on the person. The impact of these events is greatest in those people who have had negative childhood experiences and therefore lack the skills to deal with them.
  • Genetic and physiological causes:It is not depression that is transmitted genetically but the predisposition to develop the disease. People with first-degree relatives who have suffered from major depression are two to four times more likely to develop the disorder than others. Therefore , genetic causes can favor the development of this disorder but it does not necessarily mean that it develops.

Therapy: does depression have a duration?

The depression has a variable duration depending on various factors. In milder cases it may even disappear spontaneously but there are cases in which it can last from 3 months to 2-3 years. This is why an early diagnosis and timely intervention are important in order to help the patient to relieve pain by trying to reduce the intensity and duration of the disease. Those who experience feelings related to depression normally tend not to ask for help : it is important instead to be able to overcome this block in order to be able to improve.

Therapy can in fact help reduce suffering and improve the quality of life, while the absence of medical therapy can lead to the chronicity of the disorder with the recurrence of several episodes. Therapy can therefore give the first small signs of recovery from depression, which correspond to less suffering and an improvement in the quality of life. Obviously, each case must be taken separately and considered according to the severity, intensity, duration and causes of the disease.

But we reiterate once again how asking for help and going to the doctor could reduce the time of the course of depression, thanks to an early diagnosis and the consequent treatment and therapy. The therapy can include both a real psychological therapy where an attempt is made to accompany the patient towards a recovery of his life, and a therapy with antidepressant drugs that try to stabilize the mood at a biological level. Even some drugs of natural extraction (such as extracts of St. John’s wort or St. John’s wort) and vitamins can bring some benefits in the case of mild forms. Therapy will always be given after a diagnosis and specific to each patient.


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