The Signs Are There - Recognizing Depression

So many times after a tragedy we hear people talk about how the signs were there if they had only paid attention or known what to look for. I know from personal experience that being aware isn’t obvious or easy. It requires us to be constantly and intentionally attentive to the needs, moods, and demeanor of those around us – especially those we love.

In particular today, I want to address depression. According to, depression is a “common and debilitating mood disorder. More than just sadness in response to life’s struggles and setbacks, depression changes how you think, feel, and function in daily activities. It can interfere with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy life.” (

While these symptoms sound like they would be obvious and easy to notice in others, many times people who are depressed try their best to hide how they are feeling. They may believe that feeling this way is a weakness or that others may judge them because of a lack of understanding. So it is incumbent on the rest of us to keep our eyes open and our hearts attuned to them so that we not only recognize what is going on, but are ready to step in and offer help.

Any Age, Many Ways

It is important to remember that depression can happen at any age. It is not a “normal part of growing older” for aging adults, nor can it be brushed off as “growing pains” or “teenage angst.” Therefore we need to be aware and attentive if we notice any of the following symptoms so that we can follow-up to determine if something needs to be done.

Depression can show itself in many ways, but let’s cover just a few that have been frequently identified. According to the same website cited above, ten common symptoms of depression include:

Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. People who are depressed sometimes are not able to identify ways in which they can improve their situation. Things look constantly dark and foreboding, and nothing seems to be getting better.

Loss of interest in daily activities. Does your child, who used to love baseball, no longer have any interest in playing or attending games? Does your aging mother no longer get joy from her hobbies? Does your partner no longer have any interest in things you used to enjoy doing together? All of these could be signs they have lost their ability to feel joy and pleasure.

Appetite or weight changes. Weight loss or weight gain can happen at any age and may be a sign of a medical condition apart from a mental illness. When weight fluctuates significantly (more than 5% in a month) it could indicate a host of issues including depression, manifested either in a loss of appetite or eating to soothe or meet emotional needs.

Sleep changes. Depression can manifest itself on either end of the sleep spectrum. People who are depressed sometimes suffer from insomnia and anxiety, while other times may sleep seemingly all the time in order to avoid situations that exacerbate their sadness.

Anger or irritability. Does your loved one or someone you know seem angry or on edge more than usual? Are they agitated or restless? Have they been violent or threatened violence? These are oftentimes signs that depression has lowered tolerance levels and increased anxiety and stress.

Loss of energy. Closely related to loss of interest in activities and changes in sleep patterns, a loss of energy can indicate depression. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, heavy, or exhausted might be normal in certain situations and when experienced infrequently. But when these feelings become “normal” or frequent, depression may be the reason.

Self-loathing. It is normal to sometimes feel dissatisfied with something you’ve said or done, or be disappointed in yourself. But strong and persistent feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or being highly self-critical, can indicate a problem.

Reckless behavior. Drug or alcohol abuse, reckless driving, compulsive gambling, or not caring about personal safety in sports or daily activities are warning signs something is wrong.

Concentration problems. Does your normally “straight A” student have trouble studying? Is your aging parent struggling with making decisions or remembering things? While these issues may indicate serious physical problems, they can also be indicators of depression.

Unexplained aches and pains. When your loved one, or someone you know, all of a sudden begins, or increases the frequency of, complaining of ailments such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, or stomach issues, it is time to take notice.

When you notice any or many of these symptoms it is important to get help. There are several resources available to you, some may be in your local community, and many services are offered free-of-charge. The National Institute of Mental Health Resource Center has a toll free number (1-866-615-6464, TTY toll free 1-866-415-8051) or you can email them at Also, there is the suicide prevention line at 1-800-273-TALK in the U.S.


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