Signs & Symptoms of Depression

Everyone experiences depression differently. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of depression is a key component of starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

A mental health condition that is defined by pervasive feelings of sadness, depression can affect individuals of all ages, at all difference stages of life. While we all experience periods of sadness from time to time, individuals who are struggling with a depressive disorder experience levels of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness that are so severe that it negatively impacts their ability to function on a daily basis. These people can find difficulty performing appropriately at work, at home, as well as in social settings. Even the most seemingly mundane of tasks can seem overwhelming for individuals who are suffering from depression. Fortunately, there is treatment available that can assist people in overcoming their symptoms and regaining control of their lives.


Depression statistics

While depressive disorders are one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders, affecting approximately one in ten people in the United States alone, it is said that only 52% of those who are afflicted by the illness actively seek treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that major depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 and additionally report that depressive disorders affect an estimated 15 out of every 100 adults over the age of 65.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

Rather than there being one specific cause that directly correlates to the onset of depression, it is otherwise believed that the development of this illness is due to a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors, in addition to the presence of other risk factors. These factors are described in more detail below:

Genetic: As an illness that is known to run in families, genetic ties are strong in the presence of depression, with research demonstrating that approximately 40% of depressive disorder diagnoses have a hereditary link.

Physical: People with depression are known to have structural difference in the parts of the brain that regulate appetite, sleep, and behaviors, as evidenced by neuroimaging studies. In addition, when neurotransmitters, which are the brain chemicals that regulate emotions, are imbalanced, it can lead to the onset of depressive symptoms.

Environmental: There are a number of environmental factors that can play a role in the development of depressive disorders. When individuals experience things such as abuse, neglect, or other types of trauma, suffer the loss of a loved one, or go through significant life changes with which they are unable to cope, they may develop symptoms of depression.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female (studies have shown that women are 70% more likely than men are to develop symptoms of depression)
  • Family history of depression or other mental illnesses
  • Personal history of preexisting mental illness
  • Chronic stress
  • Experiencing the death of a loved one
  • Financial problems / low socioeconomic status
  • Significant relationship discord
  • Unemployment
  • Suffering from significant health problems

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

The symptoms that are presented in individuals who are suffering from a depressive disorder will vary from person to person depending on a number of factors, including the person’s age, the support system the person has available to him or her, andthe level of coping skills that the person is capable of implementing.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • No longer performing appropriately at work
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Unprovoked angry outbursts
  • No longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Participating in self-injuring

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia)
  • Changes in eating patterns (overeating or not eating enough)
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic bodily aches and pains
  • Digestive concerns
  • Excessive feelings of lethargy
  • Psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Slowed thinking processes
  • Memory impairment
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Significant indecisiveness
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irrational feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Significantly low self-esteem
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased irritability


Effects of depression

Depression is a fully treatable illness, however, when treatment is not received, it can have long-term adverse effects on the lives of sufferers, as well as on the lives of those around these individuals. Examples of such effects may include:

  • Decreased self-esteem and low feelings of self-worth
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-injurious behaviors
  • Social isolation
  • Divorce / destruction of other significant interpersonal relationships
  • Familial conflict
  • Occupational failure
  • Decline in physical health
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who are suffering from depression to grapple with symptoms of an additional mental illness or illnesses. The most commonly cited disorders known to co-occur with depressive disorders include:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Other forms of dementia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorder