Does this sound familiar? "I am so depressed. There is no way I am getting out of bed today. Why am I depressed?" You are not alone. Almost everyone feels sad at some point in their life. Daily stress, grief over the loss of a loved one, or even a change in seasons can cause someone to feel sad or 'blue.'
However, while feeling sad is a normal part of the grieving process, if you continue to feel sad for extended periods of time after that, or for seemingly without reason, you may be have symptoms of depression.
In the United States, roughly 14.8 million Americans, or 6.7% of the population, is depressed at any given time. Depression can affect anyone, but a depressive disorder may be more common for certain types of people. For instance, women are more likely to be depressed compared to men.
This guide will help you understand the symptoms of depression, common misconceptions, types of depression, and resources you have at your disposal. If you have been saying to yourself "Why can’t I stop feeling sad?" this guide may be helpful in clearing up some questions you might have.
Although this guide will give you important information about depression, it may not describe you perfectly or cover all symptoms and should not be substituted for the advice of a health professional.
The Truths of Depression
There are a lot of misconceptions about depression. In reality, depression is not the same for everyone.
Depression and Sadness are not Necessarily the Same Thing: Sadness is often a symptom of depression, but the two are not interchangeable. The emotion of sadness is usually temporary and goes away after the event which caused it (grief over the loss of a close friend, for example).
Clinical depression (also known as major depression) is something entirely different. A major depressive episode may see an individual experience sad feelings, but can also involve other symptoms, such as emotional numbness - the inability to feel anything at all (particularly positive emotions like pleasure).
Depression is Not Always Caused By Major Life Events: Yes, some major life events will make us feel sad and will resemble symptoms of depression. For most of us, losing a loved one may make us feel helpless. We might stay in bed for days. But eventually, we will return to our normal self. However, if you feel as though you cannot carry on with your normal life months or years after experiencing a significant loss or change, you may be experiencing depression.
It is a Real Illness: Hopefully, you have not been told that depression "isn't real," or that "You're fine, you're just sad. Go outside and get some fresh air! Spend time with others! Be happy!" While it’s true that spending time with other people or in nature have mental health benefits, being told these things rarely makes people with depression feel any better - if anything, it can do more harm than good and make them feel worse.
Depression is absolutely a real illness that needs treatment from a doctor.
Men do get Depressed. Many people believe that men do not get depressed. Although it is true that more women experience depression compared to men, many men experience the symptoms as well. In some cultures, men are expected now to show emotion, which makes discussing their feelings very difficult.
Without treatment, men and women are both subject to the negative symptoms of depression. In order to deal with depression, it has been found that men are more likely to commit suicide compared to women.
An Antidepressant is not a Quick Fix. Despite what commercials on TV might tell you, antidepressant medications are not always the safest or quickest way to reduce symptoms of depression. That said, medication can sometimes be helpful in mitigating the worse of your depressive symptoms while you undergo therapy.
Research shows that therapy combined with medication is the best approach to treating depression, rather than just medication alone.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Understanding the symptoms of depression can help answer questions you may have asked yourself, like, "Am I depressed or lazy?" "Am I depressed or just sad?" "How do I know if I am depressed?" Signs of depression can be subtle changes in routine or can be life threatening.
To be diagnosed with depression, a person needs to experience one or more of the following symptoms over the course of at least two weeks:
Negative Thoughts and Feelings: Although the occasional negative thought or feeling is inevitable, persistent and intrusive negativity may be a sign of depression. Negative emotions such as sadness, irritability, or even anger may take over your ability to see anything positive in life. You may also experience persistently low self-esteem.
Inability to Feel Positive Emotions (Anhedonia): Aside from constantly feeling negative emotions, you may also suffer from an inability to feel positive emotions. This is known by professionals as anhedonia, and takes the form of an reduced motivation, reduced anticipatory pleasure (wanting), and reduced consumatory pleasure (liking).
Sleep Problems: Changes in sleep routine, usually an increase of fatigue and sleep, is a common indicator of depression. Some individuals with depression experience too little sleep, although this is less common.
Loss of Interest in Usual Activities or Hobbies: Feelings of depression can cause you to not want to do the things you once enjoyed doing. Even the thought of doing what you love makes you want to stay in bed all day.
Avoiding Social Interactions: Not returning messages or calls from friends or family may be an indication of depression. You may also feel like a burden to people around you and keep your feelings and symptoms to yourself.
Feeling Helpless or Hopeless: When thinking about the future, you might feel like nothing will change. You may also feel like you do not have the ability or will to make a change in your daily routine or life.
Decreased Motivation and Energy: You might have asked yourself, "Am I lazy or depressed?" Your energy levels may be much lower than usual, despite sleeping more and spending more time in bed. You feel like you do not have the energy to complete even basic tasks in your life. Until recently, feeling lazy, lethargic, or sluggish was generally unusual for you.
Changes in Appetite: Overeating or a loss of appetite can accompany depression. The most important indicator of depression when it comes to eating is a change in eating habits. If you commonly ate a lot of food late at night in the past before you were depressed, eating in the same way now may or may not be considered a symptom of depression.
Reduced Memory and Focus: You might be finding it difficult to focus on and complete even simple tasks. Recalling information and memories may be exceedingly challenging.
Increased Substance Use or Reckless Behaviors: An increase in substance use (alcohol and other recreational drugs) might indicate a sign of depression. Reckless behavior, such as driving far over the speed limit or not caring for your own well-being may also suggest depression.
Physical Aches and Pains: Your body feels achy or in pain for no apparent reason. You may experience hot flashes, chest pain, or overall muscle aches.
Suicidal Thoughts or Attempts: This is the most serious sign of depression. If you have thought of ending your life or have attempted to end your life, it is important to seek help right away. Helpful resources can be found here.
Some of These Symptoms Describe Me and Some Do Not. What Does This Mean?
You may have found that some of these symptoms describe how you are feeling and acting, but not others. For example, you may be experiencing trouble focusing and greater fatigue but your appetite has not changed.
If you don’t fit all the things described above, does this mean you aren’t depressed? Maybe; maybe not.
To keep it simple, here’s what the DSM-5 says you need to be diagnosed with a depressive disorder:
In other words, if, no matter what you do, you either continually feel sad, or feel no emotion at all, and have experienced five or more of the other symptoms over more than two weeks, talk to your doctor. You may have a depressive disorder.
I Have Symptoms Other Than Those Listed
Maybe you’ve been having a tough time, but the symptoms listed above don’t quite describe what you’re feeling. Or, maybe you’ve been feeling sad, but also other emotions like stress. If you have other undesirable symptoms that do not seem to be described by depression, you may have what’s known as a comorbid disorder.
Research has found that over 50% of adults that experience some type of mental health issue are actually diagnosed with having 2 or more mental health 'disorders.' The occurrence of two or more mental health disorders within one individual is called comorbidity. Some studies have found that upwards of 60% of adults with depression experience one or more types of mental health issues.
So it makes sense, and is actually quite common, that you may be experiencing different symptoms. Symptoms of anxiety disorders are the most common non-depressive symptoms experienced by people with depression. Symptoms of anxiety are usually more physical than those of depression. Individuals who feel stress or anxiety usually experience increased heart rate, sweating, and/or body tremors. These can be acute (happening in a short period of time) or long-term.
To make things more confusing, some symptoms of anxiety-related disorders are the same as depression-related symptoms. These include sleep problems, feeling upset, trouble concentrating, and difficulty remembering information.
If you have been feeling sad but also experiencing emotions like stress or anxiety, visit this page for helpful information about anxiety, and consider seeking the support of a health professional.
You may have asked yourself "How depressed am I?" and wondered if there are different levels of depression. If you have spoken with someone else who feels depressed, you may have found that their symptoms may not match up perfectly with yours.
This is because depression comes in several forms, so you might find your symptoms do not match with those experienced by others. We are all unique, and we all experience things differently.
A few types of depression are briefly described below:
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): Symptoms of depression (see above) are moderate or severe, and last at least 6 months with very little or no relief from symptoms.
Minor Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): Minor to moderate symptoms of depression that can last up to two years. You might not feel depressed everyday, but episodes happen frequently.
Bipolar Disorder: Remember when we said depression sometimes exists alongside other mental disorders? On the surface, bipolar disorder appears to be two separate disorders, when it is actually categorized as one. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience depressive episodes, but also experience manic episodes where they feel invincible and impulsive.
Postpartum (Peripartum) Depression: After giving birth, some women may find that they are experiencing many symptoms of depression. Although this type of depression usually clears up within a few months of giving birth, the chances of experiencing later episodes of depression increase.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): A lack of sunlight in winter months can lead some people to feel symptoms of depression. Very sunlight deprived places (Canada, Norway, etc.) have a higher prevalence of seasonally-related depression than areas near the equator. A lack of sunlight can worsen typical depressive symptoms.
Other types of depression include persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, and atypical depression. The differences between all of these occur from different circumstances, occur in different intensities, or are classified by slightly different symptoms. It is very difficult or impossible to self-diagnose oneself.
Speaking with a health professional is the best way to not only tell if you are depressed but what type of depression best fits your range of symptoms. This is the most effective way to get the support you need and deserve.
What do I do Now?
Still unsure and wondering, "Am I depressed?" or "Why am I always feeling sad?" Remember, you are not alone in feeling this way. Whether this has been going on for the past few weeks, months, or years, it is never too late to seek help from a professional. If searching for and speaking in person with a health professional is intimidating or inconvenient, talking online with someone might be a better option for you.
By talking with a professional through BetterHelp, you will be able to talk confidentially about your symptoms with someone who is experienced and can help you answer any questions you might have. Regardless of the resources, you find online, speaking with someone else is sometimes the best option to really understand what your symptoms mean and get the support you need.
Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:
How do I know whether I have depression?
If you have been feeling sad for two or more weeks, and have experienced symptoms such as low motivation, avoiding social interaction, or inability to feel pleasure, you may be depressed.
What are the 7 forms of depression?
What can be mistaken as depression?
What are 5 cause of depression?
What does it mean if you cry for no reason?
How does anxiety feel like?
What is last stage depression?
What's the highest level of depression?
How long do most depressive episodes last?
Can you get undiagnosed with depression?