“Ugh, I’m depressed.” We’ve pretty much all said this at some point in our lives, but there’s a big difference between feeling sad and actually battling a depressive disorder. One is a temporary, bummed-out feeling (it can be awful, but it eventually passes) while the other is a medical condition with some pretty specific characteristics.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder and clinical depression are characterized by a period of at least two weeks of feeling down, anxious, empty, disinterested in life, and more. Among Americans adults, about 6.7 percent will be affected by depression at some point in the year, and women are more likely than men to be afflicted.
There are also different types of depression that fall under the broader umbrella of the term. Some can result from particular experiences — such as postpartum depression (which happens after childbirth) and seasonal affective disorder (occurs in the winter months) — and others have certain qualities, like persistent depressive disorder, which is the name for depression that lasts for two years or more.
If you’ve heard or read anything about depression, you probably know that trouble sleeping — sleeping too much and too little — lack of interest in social gatherings, persistent sadness, and negative thoughts are signs of a depressive disorder. But there are other, subtler signs that something’s up.
To better understand what depression looks like, BuzzFeed spoke with psychologists and therapists to find out which signs of the disorder most often get mistaken for other conditions, or go totally ignored. If you’re concerned about your own mental health or a friend’s, pay attention to the symptoms below. Of course, this article is no replacement for medical care — talk to your doctor if you think you might be depressed.
1. You’re more irritable than usual.
You’re being short with your friends and family. Things that don’t usually bother you are all of a sudden extremely irritating. Or you’re noticing that your mood can change on a dime. According to counselor Elizabeth Black of The Renfrew Center, increased irritability is a common symptom of depression that’s often overlooked. “It can be challenging to have patience or compassion for those who present as irritable and therefore harder to identify when it is a sign of depression,” she tells BuzzFeed.
2. You’re feeling extremely nostalgic.
Thinking back on old times every once in a while is completely normal, but pining for some other period in your life isn’t quite the same. “Many people who struggle with depression look to the good old days as a coping mechanism,” says psychologist Dr. Sal Raichbach. “A depressed person might feel great for years but then plunge back into their sadness when a loss or a major life change occurs. Fun times in the past help them feel better temporarily.”
3. You’re constipated.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Research shows that constipation and depression are linked. In fact, according to a 2011 report, 33 percent of constipated people studied showed signs of major depressive disorder. So if you’re dealing with this frustrating bathroom issue, consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of depression as a cause.
4. You find downtime extremely stressful.
Relaxing, plan-free downtime is something most adults look forward to, but for a depressed person, an empty calendar can induce feelings of anxiety. As psychologist Dr. Cindy Graham explains to BuzzFeed, “These moments [of downtime] may feel heavenly and highly sought after by some, but for someone struggling with depression, downtime leads to plenty of opportunity for negative thoughts to run unchecked.”
Similarly, couples' counselor and relationship coach Kim Leatherdale also notes that for men, depression often looks like a lot of doing. “[Depressed] men will drink more, work more, party more, rage more, be irritated more, be anxious more, act out more, watch more porn, gamble heavily,” she says. “They still feel the dark mood [that’s often associated with depression, but] because of cultural training to fix things, they will do stuff to try to change the mood.”
5. You can’t concentrate, no matter how hard you try.
Dr. Graham says that overwhelming negative thoughts, which often go hand-in-hand with depression, can make it hard to concentrate. Unfortunately, poor concentration is sometimes misread or misdiagnosed as ADHD, especially when providers are unaware that it’s negative thoughts getting in the way of your ability to focus.
6. You’re more impulsive than usual.
Can’t seem to stop adding stuff to your virtual shopping cart? Pay attention to that impulsive behavior — it might indicate that something’s up with your mental health. According to licensed clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, “Being impulsive can mean that you’re reaching for a fast solution that will mask depression.” She notes that impulsiveness is not the most common symptom of depression, but says it makes sense that if you don’t feel great, “you do the first thing that seems like it might help.”
7. You’re having weird aches and pains.
About two-thirds of people with depression experience unexplained physical pain, often caused by abnormal brain function. Unexplained pain in people with depression is especially problematic because it can prevent patients from getting a correct diagnosis — since many doctors will start by treating the physical symptoms rather than looking into possible mental health issues. Daramus tells BuzzFeed that unexplained pain often afflicts people people who “repress emotion and try not to feel it.”
8. You feel guilty about everything.
The American Psychological Association (APA) considers “inappropriate and excessive guilt” a symptom of depression. That’s defined by misinterpreting “neutral or trivial day-to-day events as evidence of personal defects and [having] an exaggerated sense of responsibility for untoward events.”
This could manifest as feeling miserable and deeply personally responsible when a launch goes sideways at work, even if a huge team worked together on the project. Or, consider this APA example: “A realtor may become preoccupied with self-blame for failing to make sales even when the market has collapsed generally and other realtors are equally unable to make sales.”
9. You’ve developed psoriasis.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that’s characterized by patches of red-silver scaly skin that can be small or cover your entire body. Studies have found that among people with psoriasis, about 62 percent showed signs of depression, with the caveat that depression can lead to psoriasis and psoriasis can lead to depression — it goes both ways.
10. You feel like you’re failing at work.
Deep, persistent feelings of failure and being “not good enough” can be a sign of depression, according to mental health counselor Justin Baksh. He tells BuzzFeed that if you’re convinced, for example, that your boss doesn’t like you, start by weighing those thoughts against reality. “The first step would be to have a conversation with your boss. Ask him or her if there are any concerns,” he says. “If your boss tells you that there are not any and that your performance is fine, you need to look inwardly to figure out what else may be going on.”
11. Your personal hygiene is taking a back seat
People with depression often speak anecdotally about how difficult it can be to make their personal hygiene a priority during a bout of depression. When you’re feeling totally overwhelmed, exhausted, and you’re isolating yourself from others, your motivation to care for yourself can drop off completely. While studies have yet to formally link depression with poor personal hygiene, online health community The Mighty has published scores of first-person essays and articles offering advice for how to cope during these periods, highlighting this link.
“Engaging in daily tasks and chores can be more burdensome when feeling depressed,” says Chicago-based counselor Black. “Changes in hygiene practices (showering, brushing teeth, changing clothes) can be a sign that someone is feeling depressed.”
And by the way: This list is for informational purposes and definitely not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.
But if some of the things in this list were familiar, you might want to look into ways to take care of yourself. SO, here are some quick resources:
You might want to learn more about starting therapy, since pretty much everyone can benefit from talking to a professional.
You can learn more about depression here.
And if you need to talk to someone immediately, the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. A list of international suicide hotlines can be found here.