Some people often say that they “feel depressed,” whenever they experience a letdown — it could be a temporary feeling of unhappiness or a simple case of “the blues.” But the truth is that they may not be truly depressed.
How to Know If You Have Depression: Keep an Eye Out for These Hallmark Symptoms
Major clinical depression is a disorder that generally affects the way you feel about life. The most common symptom is having a hopeless or helpless outlook,2 as if you’re spiraling into a black hole.
Some have a lingering feeling of doom, guilt or self-hate, while others feel empty, lifeless or apathetic.3 Men may also sometimes feel restless and angry.
No matter how it manifests or what negative emotions you may be feeling, one thing’s for sure: Depression engulfs your entire life. It inhibits your day-to-day activities and interferes with your work, performance at school and relationships.
Your sleeping and eating patterns are disrupted, and activities you once loved doing no longer feel interesting or enjoyable.
A depressed person may also harbor negative or even suicidal thoughts such as “I’m a failure;” “It’s my fault;” “There’s no sense in living anymore;” or “People are better off without me.”4 Here are some of the most common emotional symptoms of depression:5
✓ Feeling down, empty and numb
✓ Harboring a feeling of guilt or worthlessness
✓ Always upset or tearful
✓ Thinking about suicide or death
✓ Lack of confidence and low self-esteem
✓ Unable to relate to other people
✓ Hopelessness and helplessness
✓ Feeling a sense of unreality
✓ Restless, agitated or irritable
If you experience any of these feelings for two weeks or more, then chances are you are dealing with depression. A depressed individual may also have hallmark physical symptoms or behavior changes, such as:6,7
✓ Avoiding social events and other activities that were once enjoyable
✓ Feeling fatigued all the time, and moving slowly
✓ Restlessness or agitation
✓ Self-harm or suicidal behavior
✓ Difficulty speaking or thinking clearly
✓ Changes in menstrual cycle
✓ Experiencing aches and pains without any physical symptoms
✓ Losing interest in sexual intercourse
✓ Turning to recreational drugs, tobacco use or alcohol abuse
✓ Excessive eating (leading to weight gain) or no appetite (leading to weight loss)
Take note that depression can come on gradually, so some people may not immediately notice that something is wrong. Oftentimes, a person would try to cope with his or her symptoms without realizing that they are affected with this disorder. Sometimes, it takes a friend or family member to notice it.8
Depression Versus Complicated Grief
One of the most common reasons why people become susceptible to depression is because of losing a loved one or a person close to them. While this may be a risk factor for depression, take note that it may actually be a sign of grief, also known as complicated grief (CG).9
It can be difficult to differentiate these two because they share many of the same characteristics, but there are actually important differences between them. The first thing to remember is that depression is a mental disorder. However, grief is an entirely natural response to a loss.10 One study notes that between 10 to 20 percent of people who grieve show symptoms of complicated grief.11
CG, sometimes referred to as persistent complex bereavement disorder, is a stronger form of grief wherein a person has difficulty moving on for months, years or more after the death of the loved one. Some physicians believe that CG is related to adjustment disorder, which occurs when a person manifests a long and intense response to a stressor.12
Like depression, CG can severely affect your quality of life and lead to worse symptoms if not addressed for a long time. Common symptoms include the following — if you experience them for months or years, you may need to seek help from a qualified health expert:13
✓ Feeling extreme pain when you think of the lost loved one
✓ An overall feeling of numbness
✓ Feeling bitter because of the loss
✓ Being focused on the reminders left by the deceased individual
✓ Loss of purpose or motivation
✓ Inability to enjoy life
✓ Mistrustful of other friends and/or family members
Depression Diagnosis: When Should You Seek Help?
If you can relate to any of the physical and emotional symptoms of depression discussed above, especially for a prolonged period of time, then it may be crucial for you to seek help to check if you may be suffering from this disorder.
You can also do a self-check online to see if you may be suffering from depression. Psychology Today14 and Mental Health America15 offer screening tools that can help determine if you have depressive disorder symptoms. Answer these questions as truthfully as you can to help you better diagnose if you’re just suffering from “the blues” or you really have clinical depression.