Are You Depressed, or Just Down?

The signs you should look for help when a bad spell lingers.

Posted Oct 30, 2018

We expect to see overwhelming sadness as the main symptom of depression, but that’s not always the case.  Are you wondering how to know if you have depression that should be treated? Try this three-minute test.  

Most of us have bad moods once in a while. To diagnose depression, doctors and mental health professionals look for symptoms that last at least two weeks and get in the way of your daily functioning—at home, school, work, or with friends.  

Some depression symptoms creep up over time and might not immediately strike you as a sign of depression. They include:

Chronic Pain. For example, depressed people often have chronic pains that don’t respond to medication. It makes sense that you could be feeling down because of the pain, but depression and pain share neurological pathways. You might need to treat your depression to treat the pain.

Irritability. You might be irritable, prone to bursts of anger, rather than sad or slowed-down.   

Drinking. Ask yourself whether you’re drinking more and if it makes you feel worse.  You could be using alcohol to soothe yourself, but heavy drinking actually can bring on depression.  You’ll need to stop drinking to manage your depression, and if you are trying to treat a drinking habit, you may find you need to treat depression.

Weight Changes. Has your weight changed quickly? Any unintentional change of more than 5 percent of your body weight in a month—either up or down—can be a symptom of depression. You might lose your appetite or stuff yourself with sweet or fatty foods. 

Changes in Habits. Do you keep forgetting to shower? If you aren’t showering, brushing your hair, shaving, flossing, or paying attention to your clothes, you might be slipping into depression.  

Indecisiveness. Do you have trouble making tiny decisions? Or are you putting off the big ones? Depression can slow your thinking and make it difficult to know what you want.

Self-Blame. Are you always apologizing or feeling that you’re a bad person? Continual or extreme guilt is one of the lesser-known symptoms of depression. You might focus on failings in the past. Or you might see a moment of irritability as proof that you’re a terrible spouse or parent.

Frequent Sickness. Are you getting sick more often? Depression weakens your immunity.

Heart Disease. Are you at special risk of heart disease because of a past problem or family history? Depression constricts the blood vessels and the dangers if you do have a heart attack. Heart disease can also lead to depression.

Low Libido. Have you lost interest in sex? Problems in your relationship might stem from the depression—or contribute to it—and skipping sex could make things worse.

Over time, your social life, family life or work may suffer if you are untreated.  Have friends or family expressed concern? Is there someone you trust you can talk to about how you’re feeling? You might start with someone close to you. 

If you think you could have depression, make an appointment with your primary care physician or a recommended therapist or psychiatrist. It’s important to be evaluated as soon as possible before related problems like drinking, pain, or conflict with other people get out of hand.  

A version of this story appears at Your Care Everywhere.