11 Signs You May Be Living With Depression

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated July 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a serious mental disorder and chronic illness that can impact your mental, emotional, and even physical health. While some signs of depression are well-known, others may not be as recognizable or widely discussed. Knowing what to look for when it comes to a mental condition like this can help you understand when it may be time to seek professional help. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of 11 of the possible symptoms of depression and how they may manifest, and then we’ll cover what you can do to address them.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Depression Can Lead To Complex Symptoms

11 Common Symptoms Of Depression

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is one of the most common mental disorders today. Major depression is estimated to affect around 8% of US adults and is a leading cause of disability worldwide.

It can negatively impact a person’s daily functioning, relationships, work, school, and overall health and well-being, which is why seeking treatment is generally recommended for those experiencing symptoms. There is also a link between depression and substance abuse, including alcohol abuse and drug abuse, although not all people experiencing depressing have substance use disorder. The following are some of the common signs or depressive symptoms that may indicate that an individual is living with depression, particularly if they persist for more than two weeks, represent a significant change in functioning, and can’t be explained by another cause.

  1. Persistent Sadness Without A Clear Source

A depressive episode can be triggered by specific events, such as a breakup or the loss of a loved one; however, many people with the condition experience a low mood that isn’t linked to a definitive cause. Persistent sadness is one of the most recognizable symptoms of depression, and it can be the catalyst for several additional symptoms. It may manifest as being tearful, feeling hopeless, or just generally experiencing a low mood.  

  1. Low Motivation

Depression can make it hard to pursue your goals, maintain healthy routines, and fulfill your responsibilities at school or at work. If you’re living with depression, you may even find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Decreased motivation relates to many other symptoms on this list as well. For example, you may experience a lack of interest in something you once enjoyed that can affect your willingness to pursue that activity. Or, trouble sleeping could lead to low energy which could impact motivation.

  1. Difficulty Concentrating

Because depression can impact cognitive function, the disorder may make it hard for you to focus. As a result, you might notice yourself forgetting things, missing important details, and falling behind with work or school. It could also be a lack of motivation that can make concentrating on a task difficult, because the task itself may seem pointless. Plus, getting behind in tasks you need to complete may make you feel anxious, which can trap you in a negative cycle where focusing is even harder. 

  1. Social Withdrawal

Depression can make it hard to reach out to others. If you’re experiencing sadness and a low mood, you may feel like you have to put on a smile in order to socialize—which can often feel like too much effort. If you do share how you’re really feeling with friends or loved ones, you might worry you’ll make them uncomfortable or bring them down. Or, engaging socially may simply feel like more effort than you have the energy for. As a result, you may withdraw and isolate yourself—which can lead to a cycle in which symptoms worsen.

  1. A Lack Of Interest In Activities Once Enjoyed

The reduced ability to experience pleasure, also known as anhedonia, is one of the most well-known depression symptoms. It could apply to any or all of the activities you used to be able to enjoy, from hobbies to spending time with friends to sex. While researchers have uncovered physiological mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for the effects of anhedonia, trouble sleeping, low energy, social withdrawal, and low motivation could all contribute to and exacerbate this symptom as well.

  1. Significant Changes In Sleeping Habits

Major changes to sleeping patterns is another highly common symptom of depression. In fact, a recent review of literature on the topic estimates that around 90% of individuals with depression also experience some form of sleep disturbance, which can include insomnia, hypersomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and others. The review also notes that sleep and depression have a bidirectional relationship. This means that the quality of one’s sleep can exacerbate symptoms of depression, and symptoms of depression can impact the quality of one’s sleep. Sleeping problems may also impact the immune system, causing individuals to get sick more often and for longer periods of time.

  1. Significant Changes In Appetite

Depression can also alter your interest in food. Some people may lose their appetite, making it difficult for them to get enough nutrition. Low energy and motivation can also contribute to this symptom, since shopping for or preparing meals can become more difficult. Other people may turn to food for comfort as they experience other symptoms like sadness and hopelessness. Since comfort foods are often high in calories, sugar, and/or fat, this coping mechanism can lead to a person feeling ill or not getting adequate nutrition. Research suggests that eating comfort foods can help boost mood in the short term but is unlikely to help longer term, and may also lead to other health problems such as weight gain, cardiovascular disease, or heart disease.

  1. Aches And Pains

Aches and pains that can’t be explained by any other condition or cause represent a lesser-known symptom of depression, perhaps because some people are surprised to find that a mental health condition can cause physical symptoms too. Someone with depression may experience muscle or joint pain and headaches, which can also exacerbate other symptoms of depression.

  1. Digestive Issues

The brain and stomach are connected via the gut-microbiome-brain axis, through which they exchange information and signals. That’s why when an individual is experiencing mental stress as a result of other symptoms of depression and changing stress hormones, they may experience gastrointestinal issues as well. These may include an upset stomach, heartburn, or cramping. It’s also worth noting that a significant number of studies in recent years have found a correlation between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—a chronic gastrointestinal condition—and depression. One reports that “self-reported anxiety and depression provide a twofold risk for IBS onset”. 

  1. Low Libido

Many people living with depression or experiencing a major depressive episode report significant changes to their sex drive. This symptom can be a result of or exacerbated by other symptoms of depression, including a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, low energy, and aches and pains. Experiencing low self-esteem is also common in those with depression, which is yet another factor that could contribute to the disinterest in sex an individual with this mental health condition may experience. 

  1. Increased Irritability

It’s also not uncommon for people with depression to feel more irritable than usual. Frustration with their inability to function the way they used to—because of low motivation, mood, energy, or other environmental factors, for example—may contribute. However, research suggests that depression and irritability may also share some risk factors that make a person who is prone to one prone to the other. For example, “higher rates of family history of depression, specific childhood temperaments and personality styles, and negative parenting styles” may all contribute to both.

Seeking Treatment For Symptoms Of Depression

In addition to the symptoms listed above, individuals with depression may also be at higher risk for self-harm, which means it is important to seek treatment if you or a family member is experiencing depression. Clinical depression can impact both young teens and older adults and is unlikely to resolve on its own without the proper treatment, but effective treatment is available. It usually involves psychotherapy, sometimes in conjunction with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common modalities for treating depression. It’s based on the idea that core beliefs and thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, so cognitive behavioral therapists aim to help individuals learn to recognize and reframe flawed or unhelpful thoughts. 

Depression Can Lead To Complex Symptoms

People who are experiencing certain symptoms of depression such as low motivation and low energy may find it difficult to regularly attend in-person therapy sessions. In cases like these, online therapy can be a more accessible option. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. Research suggests that online CBT may be even more effective than in-person treatment for those with depression, so this therapy format may be worth considering for those who are experiencing symptoms.


Understanding key symptoms of depression can help you recognize if you or a loved one may be experiencing signs of this mental health condition so you can seek the appropriate treatment. The treatment for depression typically involves therapy—whether online or in-person—sometimes in combination with medication.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

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