The essential features of depression include depressed mood (feeling sad, hopeless, empty) and loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.1 Depressed mood (or irritability for kids) and diminished pleasure are the primary symptoms people are cautioned to look for when depression is suspected.

While those symptoms certainly are red flags, the truth is that depression doesn’t always look like debilitating sadness. Some symptoms of depression can be far more subtle. Those same symptoms can also mimic other medical conditions or be dismissed as normal everyday problems.

Identifying and understanding symptoms of depression are important first steps toward getting the proper supports in place to work through. Check out these less obvious symptoms of depression.

Article continues below

Do you feel depressed?

Take our 2-minute Depression quiz to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Take Depression Quiz

1. Physical pain

Complaints of physical pain are common in people with depression. Back pain, joint pain, and limb pain are all symptoms of depression and can result in chronic pain if left untreated.

Studies show that the link between pain and depression is a shared neurologic pathway, and that the worse the painful physical symptoms, the more severe the depression.2

If you experience back pain, neck pain, or other sources of pain more often than not, don’t be so quick to brush it off. It just might be a red flag of depression lurking beneath the surface.

2. Grouchy is your new normal

If it feels like even the slightest trigger sends you into a rage, or you feel irritable and grouchy a lot, you might be struggling with depression.

Although symptoms of hostility, anger, and irritability are not central to the diagnosis of depression, research shows that these symptoms are highly prevalent in depressed people and associated with increased depressive severity, longer duration, a more chronic and long-term course of depression, and high co-morbidity with substance abuse and anxiety. 3

3. You drink more alcohol than usual

One drink after a long day might take the edge off, but if you find that you’re drinking a few drinks every night, it’s probably more than a hard day at the office that’s driving your behavior.

The interplay between heavy drinking and depression is complex. While some people might pick up a drink to cope with, or mask the feelings associated with, depression, heavy alcohol use can trigger a depressive episode. This is referred to as “substance- induced depression.” One long-term study found that for men with alcohol problems, almost one-third of reported depressive episodes were only seen during bouts of heavy drinking.4

4. Big changes in weight

Rapid weight loss or weight gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month) is associated with depression.5 Depression can either zap your appetite to the point where you rarely feel hungry or cause you to overeat.

While it’s perfectly normal to crave comfort foods when under stress, if you experience noticeable changes in your appetite that trigger weight loss or gain, you should seek an evaluation.

5. You forgot to shower (again)

Depression can impact your daily living, including your self-care routine. If you find that you’re not showering regularly, brushing your hair, practicing proper oral hygiene, wearing clean clothes, or struggling to even get out of bed in the morning, you might be in the midst of a depressive episode.

6. You can’t make up your mind

Depression diminishes the ability to concentrate, including making decisions.6 Whether you struggle to make a decision about your morning coffee or find that you’re paralyzed when making important decisions at work, your depression slows your cognitive processes.

7. You feel really, really overwhelmed with guilt

Do you apologize for every little thing? Are you completely overwhelmed with feelings of guilt nearly every day? Excessive guilt is a sneaky sign of depression that might take you by surprise.

The sense of guilt associated with depression can include guilty preoccupations over perceived past or present failings. It can also include an exaggerated sense of personal responsibility for trivial matters and increased self-blame.

Depression can sneak up on you. People are conditioned to look for that feeling of overwhelming sadness as the go-to symptom of depression, but the truth is that the above symptoms can develop over time and are sometimes hard to spot. If you do find that some of these symptoms impair your social, occupational, or other areas of functioning, make that phone call to your primary care physician for a referral for treatment. The sooner you begin the treatment process, the sooner the depression lifts and you can resume your normal daily activities.

Article Sources
Last Updated: Jul 10, 2017