Recognising depression

There are a number of signs and symptoms that may help you recognise depression in someone you know.

Our warning signs poster tells you what to look out for and this YouTube video may be helpful to look for a persistent trend.

Experiencing one or two of these warning signs for a short time is not usually a cause for concern: most of these signs can be a normal part of the ups and downs of everyday life and most people will have experienced some of them at some time. But if you, or someone you know, suffers from several of these (at least four) for a number of weeks they are likely to be suffering from depression and should seek professional advice.


Depression warning signs

Persistently sad, anxious or generally low mood
Everyone feels sad sometimes, has an anxious moment, or has a day when things feel a bit empty or low. However, when depression invades it seems to keep you feeling persistently sad, low, anxious or empty. Some people feel a combination of these four feelings. Others feel predominantly one of them.

Lethargy or decreased energy
Do you often feel unable to get up at the usual time? Or too lethargic to complete routine everyday tasks? Or do you generally find yourself less able to maintain your usual activity levels? Depression may be sapping your energy and taking root as you succumb to lethargy.

Irregular sleep or change in sleep pattern
It is very common for depression to have an effect on sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep disruptions like early waking. Sometimes there is a pattern of excessive sleep. Regular, sound sleep is essential for healthy functioning and sleep disruption is a particularly debilitating weapon in the depression arsenal.

Appetite or weight changes
Regular healthy eating is essential for general wellbeing. Loss of appetite and weight loss, or sometimes overeating and weight gain, can be a sign that depression is interfering with the healthy eating habits essential for maintenance of healthy mood levels.


Increased tearfulness
Crying serves a very useful purpose – stress hormones are released through tears. However, if you find yourself crying much more than usual for no clear reasons it may be a sign that depression is at work.

Do you find it hard to settle down to a task, or to sit still for any length of time? Some people are naturally energetic, but depression can bring a troubling sense of restlessness and inability to focus. Being constantly keyed up and over-alert in this way is very draining, in turn decreasing resistance to depression.

Poor concentration and difficulty making decisions
Depression is often said to be a problem of disordered thinking, with “automatic negative thoughts” crowding the mind. Poor concentration and/or difficulty making decisions can be due to ‘blanking things out’ or may indicate the need to address the thinking habits which are allowing depression a foothold.

Hopelessness and pessimism
Having a generally pessimistic outlook can feel like the “safe” approach in an uncertain world – “Well, at least that way I won’t be disappointed”. However, depression thrives on this negative attitude, increasingly robbing you of hope and leaving its characteristic “empty” feeling instead.

Feelings of helplessness
There are many uncertainties in life and things that cannot be controlled, yet many cultures emphasise the importance of individuals having “control” over their lives. Having bad things happen and not being able to prevent them can then leave someone vulnerable to the generalised feeling of helplessness that depression feeds on and perpetuates.

Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Depression thrives on opportunities to promote over-harsh self-judgement and feelings of worthlessness and being of low value. It causes people to inappropriately blame themselves for experiences such as being badly treated or failing to meet unrealistic standards. This can lead to corrosive and unhelpful guilt.

Thoughts of death or suicide
Death is said to be the most profound issue facing humankind, and it is natural that it should be contemplated on occasion. However, the excessive negativity caused by depression can lead to repetitive, unhelpful dwelling on death. Depression also reduces problem-solving ability and causes increasing ‘tunnel vision’, falsely making suicide seem like a solution to problems. Repeatedly thinking about suicide can be very risky. It should be taken seriously and dealt with promptly.

If you, or someone you know, experience four of these symptoms over a number of weeks, seek professional advice immediately. You may find it useful to visit our Seeking help for depression page.

You can find out more about depression from the NHS Choices website, which includes a depression self-assessment.

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