11 Little-Known Symptoms of Depression

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Depression isn’t one-size-fits-all. Here’s what to look for if you think you — or a loved one — might be depressed.

By Beth Anne Macaluso


Sometimes it’s obvious that you, or someone in your life, is suffering from depression. You feel awful, the world seems bleak, and even the move from your bed to your couch feels like too much to handle. Yet depression, which, according to the World Health Organization, affects more than 300 million people worldwide, can present in more subtle ways, too. And just because you’re still able to check off most of your to-do list doesn’t mean you don’t need help — around 3.5 million American adults will suffer from what experts refer to as dysthymia, or chronic, low-level depression, each year. “Depression is the leading cause of disability globally,” says Dr. Lekeisha A. Sumner, clinical psychologist and professor at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. “And it remains underdiagnosed and undertreated, which is unfortunate because it impacts the quality of life of those affected and has implications for medical morbidity, response to medical treatments, and mortality.”

The trouble is, if you’re feeling “off,” but not presenting with the symptoms most commonly associated with depression, it may not occur to you that there’s something more serious going on. Here are a just a few things to think about if you haven’t been feeling like yourself lately.

1
THINGS THAT DIDN’T MAKE YOU SAD BEFORE NOW MAKE YOU CRY

Crying spells are a hallmark of major depressive disorder, but if you’re a sensitive person in general, you should also pay attention to what is making you cry. “If you cry normally anyway, [you may] notice that your threshold for crying is different with depression,” says Dr. Anita Everett, psychiatrist and president of the American Psychiatric Association. “Things that didn’t used to make [you] cry before — for example, a particular movie, or news that a neighbor’s dog died — that’s one thing to look out for.”

2
YOU’RE IRRITABLE …

Depression doesn’t always equal “sad.” Both Everett and Sumner note that sometimes, people suffering from depression seem to be irritated by everything — and everyone — around them, and may lash out over something that wouldn’t normally annoy them.

3
… OR YOU DON’T FEEL MUCH OF ANYTHING

Feeling numb? Sumner points out that people with depression may exhibit “diminished emotional reactivity to events” — meaning things that used to make you happy or angry or sad no longer get much of a response at all.

4
YOUR CHRONIC PAIN GETS WORSE

“People that are depressed will be more sensitive to pain — a headache will bother them more, or migraines will feel sharper,” Everett notes. “And the pain associated with a lot of chronic conditions, like fibromyalgia, rheumatologic conditions, things like that, becomes amplified.”

5
YOU’VE BEEN MISSING DEADLINES

Sumner points out that depression can cause memory deficits and make people physically slower — both symptoms that can cause big problems at work. If you find you aren’t as productive as you used to be, “That’s when we recommend people seek professional help — when feeling down impairs your ability to function,” says Everett.

6
YOU CAN’T SEEM TO CONCENTRATE

Your ability to focus on the task at hand is also affected by depression, Sumner and Everett say.

7
YOU’RE EXHAUSTED

People with depression may become exhausted “after even seemingly mild exertions of energy,” Sumner notes.

8
YOUR SPEECH MAY SUBTLY CHANGE

9
THINGS THAT USED TO INTEREST YOU NO LONGER DO

If yoga used to be the highlight of your week but you haven’t been in a month, or if you don’t seem to care whether or not you catch the TV show you were once obsessed with, that could be a sign something’s wrong. “One of the ways I think about depression is, there’s not much color in life,” Everett says. “It seems kind of gray or bland.” Experts refer to this phenomenon as anhedonia, defined as “the loss of interest in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.”

10
YOU CAN’T SEEM TO MAKE UP YOUR MIND

It’s not a big deal if you occasionally — or, OK, even semi-regularly — have a hard time figuring out where to get takeout. But if your inability to make a decision keeps you from taking any action at all when it really matters, Sumner says depression may be to blame.

11
YOU DON’T WANT TO BE AROUND ANYONE

People with depression may lose interest in socializing or worry about others judging them — both of which can cause them to withdraw. Of course, by avoiding other people, they’re only contributing to their own sense of isolation, which can cause them to feel even worse.

If you suspect someone you love may be dealing with depression, pay attention to the frequency of your interactions, Everett suggests. “If it’s a friend you normally interact with once a week, but it’s been three weeks since you last spoke, that represents a pretty significant change,” she says. “Be on the lookout for changes, especially those that would indicate withdrawal or isolation.” Notice something amiss? “Move toward that person, not away from them,” says Everett. “You’re not going to make them feel worse by asking them what’s going on.”

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