Hidden Signs Of Depression And Other Mental Health Conditions

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated June 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety and depressive disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 1 in 5 Americans might be experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder at some point in the past year, with possibly more going unreported around the world. 

However, while some symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders might be well known, other symptoms can be less commonly discussed, and not everyone may be aware they have untreated depression or anxiety. Other people may be aware they are experiencing symptoms but choose not to seek treatment because they have experienced negative consequences in the past in doing so. Familiarizing yourself with both the common and hidden symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression can help you determine whether it’s time to reach out for help.  

Experiencing depression or anxiety disorder-related symptoms?

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About mental health conditions

Anxiety and depression are significant mental health conditions that often intersect, with major depression presenting through depression symptoms like a persistent lack of energy and overwhelming sadness. Bipolar disorder, another related mental health condition, can include periods of major depression, where individuals may also experience hidden depression, masking their struggles behind a facade. 

Anxiety often accompanies depression, intensifying feelings of unease and worry, and further complicating the mental health challenges faced by individuals dealing with these conditions.

Social media can sometimes exacerbate feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, or isolation, making it crucial to promote awareness and support for those affected

Exploring the link being co-occuring conditions

Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) and depression can commonly co-occur, with around 60% of people with anxiety also experiencing symptoms of depression (and vice versa). 

While it may not be entirely clear why these disorders can frequently co-occur, psychologists hypothesize that the neurological triggers of GAD and depression can be similar—or that overlapping symptoms might make it possible for many to meet the diagnosable criteria of both GAD and depressive disorders. 

The co-occurrence of these disorders can make them more difficult to diagnose, especially because anxiety disorders and depression can both cause symptoms that are seemingly unrelated to one’s mental health. 

For example, some people who live with depression may tell their doctor that they have been falling down frequently. While falling may be a result of old age or an underlying physical condition, it can be caused by depression.

If you have any physical or psychological symptoms that are unusual for you, you might consider reaching out to your medical practitioner.

They can rule out underlying medical conditions and provide you with a diagnosis, as well as a list of appropriate treatment strategies for you to consider. 

People living with GAD might experience effects such as:

  • Cold, tingling hands
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth (known to many as “cottonmouth”) 
  • Numbness 
  • Muscular tension 
  • Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and/or heart palpitations 
  • Feelings of overwhelm or sadness 
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Feelings of fear 
  • Feelings of “jumpiness” or exhaustion 
  • Sleeping difficulties

We do want to note: Depending on the type(s) of anxiety disorder(s) that someone might have, one can experience a range of different effects. Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders can include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder (SAD). 

GAD can be characterized by worry and stress that may not have a specific trigger. People with GAD might experience: 

  • Feelings of restlessness
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Trouble sleeping

Conversely, panic disorder can be characterized by intense episodes of physical and neurological ailments, known to many as panic attacks. Since panic disorder can mimic serious medical conditions, you may want to seek medical attention to ensure you’re physically healthy if you are unsure of your formal diagnosis. Typical signs of panic disorder can include: 

  • Racing heartbeat and chest pain
  • A sense of dread or feeling like you’re in danger
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal distress (such as nausea, heartburn or diarrhea) 

Social anxiety disorder is known by many as an intense fear around social situations. People living with SAD may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Avoidance
  • Self-consciousness 
  • Overwhelming worry or fear of judgment 
  • Excessive sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Gastrointestinal distress (such as indigestion)
  • Trouble making eye contact

Common symptoms of depression to look for

Depressive mood disorders include major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder. Genetics can play a part in developing the condition; if you have an immediate family member with depression you have a higher risk of experiencing depression than the general population. Depression is characterized by overwhelming sadness that can disrupt daily functioning. The effects many people might experience with this condition can include: 

  • Overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, or feelings of worthlessness
  • A lack of interest in activities you used to find enjoyable
  • Changes in sleeping habits (such as sleeping too little, too much or sleeping during the day)
  • Feeling tired or fatigued easily
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Forgetfulness, less attention to detail, and difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing guilt, excessive self-blame, or feelings of weakness
  • Thoughts or actions of self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation

If you think you may hurt yourself or someone else, please reach out for help immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Suicide prevention and mental health support is available 24/7.

Getty/AnnaStills

Hidden signs of depression that you may not notice

Anxiety disorders and depression can cause a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms—but many of them are not talked about. Common but under-discussed effects can include the following: 

  • Gastrointestinal issues: Stress can release hormones that can make it difficult for the body to control normal gastrointestinal functioning. This can trigger symptoms such as diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, cramps and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 
  • Tinnitus: While research is generally unclear on the causal relationship between anxiety disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), studies have suggested that they can be closely linked, and that stress might be a possible trigger of anxiety disorder-related symptoms. 
  • Skin problems: Anxiety and stress can cause flare ups of skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea, acne and eczema. Anxiety disorders may also cause itching, burning sensations, rashes or hives. 
  • Numbness, tingling, or “pins and needles” sensation: These sensations can be commonly encountered during a panic attack, particularly when the heart rate increases and blood vessels become constricted. Constricted blood vessels can reduce blood flow to extremities, possibly causing temporary tingling or numbness that can feel frightening during a panic attack. 
  • Phantom smells: Also called olfactory hallucination, phantom smells can be sometimes seen in people who live with anxiety disorders. 
  • Globus hystericus: Anxiety disorders can cause the sensation of a lump in your throat (technically called globus hystericus). The sensation can make it feel difficult to swallow or breathe, and it can become a medical emergency in rare circumstances. Globus hystericus can result from muscle tension experienced during high periods of stress, and you may be able to reduce the sensation by drinking water or getting some light exercise. 
  • Dissociation: Dissociation can be characterized by feeling disconnected from your body, floating outside your body or as if you’re living in a dream or video game. It can be frequently experienced by people who have experienced trauma, but it can also commonly experienced by people who live with an anxiety disorder or depressive disorder. 
  • Dry eyes and blurred vision: Stress, depression and anxiety disorders have been scientifically linked to dry eye, which can cause blurred vision. 
  • Unexplained physical pain: According to Harvard Health, more than half of people who reach out for help with their depression might also experience physical pain. Common types of pain can include back pain, migraines, gastrointestinal distress and nerve pain. 
  • Irritability: Many people know that depression can cause sadness and hopelessness, but those are not the only common symptoms. Irritability, or a heightened proneness to anger, is one of the personality differences that can be a very common predictor of psychiatric disorders later in life (including anxiety disorders and depression) as well as a very common symptom of depression. 
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionism is generally defined as a character trait that can be linked to anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perfectionism can drive extremely high standards and inflexible beliefs, possibly making perfectionists more susceptible to feelings of low self-esteem and nervousness.  
  • Poor temperature control: Anxiety can cause sweating, hot flashes, chills, blushing or shivering, which can occur in response to altered heart rate and irregular vasodilation or vasoconstriction. 
  • Restlessness: Anxiety disorders and depression can cause an uncomfortable need to fidget or move, which can make it difficult to relax, concentrate,e or enjoy restful sleep.
  • Trichotillomania: Also called hair pulling, trichotillomania can develop as a coping mechanism to deal with discomfort from anxiety and depression. 
  • Falling frequently: Depression can make people less aware of their surroundings, which can make them more likely to fall. According to Dr. Anne Fabiny, this symptom may be common in older adults. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Supportive strategies for hidden signs

You generally cannot diagnose depression or anxiety disorders on your own, and these disorders might not get better without help. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to negative consequences including an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and even physical health risks like cardiovascular disease. If you’re experiencing any of the above discussed in this article, you might consider reaching out to your medical practitioner or an in-person mental health professional. They can use a diagnostic manual (called the DSM-5) to carefully evaluate your ailments, and a medical practitioner can run blood tests and conduct a physical exam to rule out physical conditions.

After making a diagnosis, healthcare professionals can provide you with a recommended treatment plan. Their recommendation may include therapeutic support or pharmaceutical intervention such as antidepressant medications. Your doctor will also be able to provide you with additional resources such as information about local support groups.

Potential lifestyle changes that may improve mental health conditions

Someone with hidden depression or anxiety may benefit from lifestyle changes that help improve both their mental and physical health.

Eating habits are one factor that can impact someone experiencing depression. Studies show diet high in processed foods can make anxiety and depression worse, while eating a mixture of fruits, vegetables, non-refined grains, and fish is associated with improved symptoms. 

Seeking treatment for substance abuse can also help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol use have all been associated with higher rates of the disorders and can have negative consequences for your anxiety or depression symptoms. 

Finally, prioritizing how you manage your time can help if you’ve been hiding depression or anxiety symptoms. Work toward a healthier work-life balance, spend time with friends and family members, and aim to engage in hobbies that bring you joy. Spending time doing things you enjoy can provide a major boost to your mental health. 

How can online therapy help you and your mental health? 

Peer reviewed studies have proven talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to be an effective way to address depression and anxiety for most people. Even if you do not meet the diagnostic criteria for the mental health condition, you can still reach out for help from a therapist. 

Research shows that most people hold an optimistically biased belief regarding the future; they expect the best instead of the worst. In people with depression, however, this trait is absent. Therapy can help you view life and your future with a more positive outlook. It can also help you reduce negative self-talk that’s contributing to poor mental health. 

If you want to meet with a therapist as soon as possible, you might want to consider online therapy. One hospital reportedly had 880 patients on their waiting list for mental health care in 2022, and many people wait 6+ weeks to see an in-person therapist. In contrast, online therapy providers, like BetterHelp, typically match clients with therapists within 48 hours. It can also be more convenient and comfortable for those who are living with these conditions and who might experience difficulty leaving the home. 

Does online therapy improve mental health conditions? 

According to a 2017 study, online CBT can effectively address symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder and chronic pain. The literature went on to note that it can often be more cost-effective for both patients and the healthcare system as a whole, connecting people with the support they need more efficiently. 

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Experiencing depression or anxiety disorder-related symptoms?

Takeaway

Anxiety and depressive disorders can be very common, but some of their symptoms are not frequently discussed.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders (whether they are commonly discussed or not), you might consider reaching out for mental health treatment. The longer depression and anxiety are left untreated, the harder it may be to improve your symptoms. Online cognitive behavioral therapy has been suggested to improve symptoms for most, and it can be generally easier to reach compared with in-person therapy. 

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