5 Major Depression Symptoms And How To Treat Them

Updated July 07, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

Are you feeling sad and down and just can’t shake these emotions? Depending on the other signs, having a low mood could be an indicator of having major depressive disorder (MDD). There are several different symptoms of depression that can make this common mental health issue so severe and potentially impairing. In this article, you will learn about them and also how you can get help and start treatment.

  1. Persistent Low Mood & Irritability
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The main hallmark symptom of major depressive disorder is a mood that can be characterized as sad, blue, or even hopeless and worthless. However, people can become extremely sad and experience despair,and technically not be depressed in a medical sense.

For example, someone who has recently lost a loved one can be distraught and might describe their feelings as being depressed, but they aren’t struggling with depression as a health condition. In this case, this person is dealing with bereavement or grief, but not depression. However, it is undoubtedly possible for life events like these to evolve into true depression. [1]

To have a diagnosis for major depressive disorder, all symptoms, especially a low mood, need to have been present for at least two weeks, but depression can often last for years, or a lifetime if left untreated. [1]

These negative feelings may also be unprovoked, and a person might have no explanation for why they feel sad or hopeless – they just do, and this can also be indicative that someone has depression.

  1. Loss Of Enjoyment Of Hobbies & Activities

When people are depressed, they often have a lack of desire to do things that they used to like to do. Activities might not sound fun or appealing, or there may be little-to-no motivation to do anything at all.

The medical term for lack of pleasure is known as anhedonia, and it’s very common in depression and other mental health conditions. There are also two types of it – social anhedonia and physical anhedonia.

People with social anhedonia might not have any interest in interacting with others and can turn down offers to spend time with friends and family members. It can also make forming relationships difficult and can potentially damage them as well.

Physical anhedonia can involve the lack of joy from activities, but it can also include no longer liking the taste of your favorite foods or not wanting to be touched and no desire for sexual contact. [2]

  1. Appetite & Weight Changes
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As mentioned in the previous section, depression can take the enjoyment out of things, and this can include food. It is very common for individuals to have weak appetites, and consequently, stop eating and lose weight.

Conversely, people might resort to food to make themselves feel better, even if it’s just temporary relief.

Typically these foods, which are often referred to as “comfort foods,” are high in fats, sugar, and calories, and other substances that make them taste good and cause people to crave them. Research shows that these foods will temporarily stimulate the brain and enhance their mood. [3]

Due to the contents of these foods, people who self-medicate their mental health issues with food are also at risk of gaining weight or becoming overweight and obese. In fact, those who are already struggling with weight gain and obesity may notice that they need to consume more food to get the same effect as someone is at a lower or normal weight, which makes these health conditions worse. [3]

  1. Sleep Difficulties & Low Energy

Another symptom of major depressive disorder that is frequently reported by patients is that they have problems with sleeping, and research shows that sleep is heavily connected with a person’s mood. Those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to struggle with mental health problems like depression and anxiety. [4]

This issue with sleep can go both ways – many people with major depressive disorder struggle with insomnia and have trouble going to sleep at night because their thoughts keep them up. This is especially true for individuals who also have anxiety, which is commonly found paired up with depression.

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However, people who are depressed might also find themselves oversleeping and possibly running late to obligations such as work or going to class. This is known as hypersomnia.

Even with many hours of sleep, these individuals often don’t feel rested and experience excessive daytime sleepiness. The fatigue makes it challenging to focus and concentrate on the tasks that they are presented with.

  1. Self-Destructive Behavior & Suicidal Ideation

While all of the other symptoms of depression covered so far can certainly make depression one of the most severely impairing mental health conditions, the topic of self-harm and suicide makes depression also one of the most deadly ones, if it isn’t treated.

This also goes for other mental health concerns, like bipolar disorder, where a depressive episode can be present and part of the diagnostic criteria.

If symptoms are severe enough, and the feelings of hopelessness are unbearable, individuals with depression might find destructive outlets to cope, such as self-harm, which can also include substance abuse. The latter is often used as a way to self-medicate.

According to Harvard University, the vast majority of depressed patients do not attempt or commit suicide, but it does greatly increase the risk of it. [5] Therefore, it is still essential that people find help and get treated as soon as possible, and in the next section, that will be discussed.

Finding Help For Major Depressive Disorder

Millions of people around the world struggle with major depressive disorder, and it’s one of the most common mental health issues around the globe, yet, it remains undertreated, despite being highly-treatable.

Typically, the primary methods for treating depression are medication and therapy, and people often see faster improvement and better outcomes when utilizing both of them.

Medication for major depressive disorder is almost always an antidepressant, such as an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), and it can treat the symptoms of depression that may be caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain. The neurotransmitter serotonin is especially correlated with depression, and these medications will help modify its levels. SSRIs tend to have fewer side effects than other options, but it can still be a trial-and-error process finding what works for you. [6]

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Always consult with your doctor if you have side effects from the medication, or you don’t think the one that you have been prescribed is effective. Don’t end the use of it abruptly as this can be dangerous, and always keep in mind that it often takes a few weeks before you see any benefits from antidepressants.

Psychotherapy is another method that is highly recommended to those who have depression as well as any other mental health concerns. Sessions can make use of general talk-therapy, or it can also utilize techniques that are more involved and hands-on such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can change your negative thoughts and behaviors into ones that are more positive and productive, and this can work for different conditions as well, not just major depressive disorder.

For instance, if you tell yourself that you’re not good enough and that there’s no point in trying, you’ll be able to recognize this negative thinking pattern and be able to change it on the spot. Instead, you’ll be able to tell yourself that kind of thinking will guarantee that you’re setting yourself up for failure and that you should try your best instead. The outcome may be better than you expect.

It will take practice, and a skilled therapist who is trained to help those with depression will be able to guide you every step of the way. Online therapy from BetterHelp can connect you to a licensed mental health professional as soon as you’re ready to get on the path to treatment. It’s affordable and convenient, and most importantly, effective.

Additionally, those who are the most successful in fighting major depressive disorder often report that they take medication and work with a therapist and that it makes their sessions more effective and that it gets easier each day.


Coping with major depression symptoms can be hard to deal with, and although they can last a very long time, they don’t need to be permanent. Hopefully, by reading this article and understanding the symptoms of depression, and through reaching out and getting assistance, you can overcome them and be a happier and healthier version of yourself. It will take time and effort on your part, but you’re not alone, and depression can be beaten, and good mental health can be achieved.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2017). What Is Depression? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
  2. Bhandari, S. (2018, October 25). Anhedonia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/what-is-anhedonia
  3. Mann, D. (2011, July 25). Why Comfort Foods Are So Comforting. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20110725/why-comfort-foods-are-so-comforting
  4. The Sleep Foundation. (2020). The Complex Relationship Between Sleep, Depression & Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/health-impact/complex-relationship-between-sleep-depression-anxiety
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Major Depression. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/major-depression-a-to-z
  2. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you. (2019, December 31). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273

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