It’s not unusual to feel low every now and again. Everyday stresses and upsetting or anxiety-inducing factors in our personal life can lead to us feeling under the weather. But how do you identify when your persistent poor moods have developed into something more serious?
Depression is a common mental illness that impacts around 16.2 million adults in the United States per year. Women are more likely to experience depression than their male counterparts, and those in the 18-25 age bracket are particularly vulnerable. It can cause low mood, a loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, and low self-worth, amongst a host of other issues. Depression can interfere with sufferers’ work, social life, and relationships. If you suspect that you may be experiencing depression these are some common signs to look out for:
1. A persistent sense of hopelessness or guilt
Depression is often characterized by feelings of sadness, but in reality, the condition is much more complex. In addition to experiencing low mood, sufferers will often report a whole host of negative emotions. A sense that they are helpless to control factors in their life is an oft-reported symptom of depression, as are feelings of guilt — perhaps feeling that you are a burden or that you are somehow responsible for your mental state. If you are experiencing a combination of these psychological symptoms then you may need to seek help.
2. Neglecting your hobbies, interests, and friends
Losing interest in aspects of your life that were previously important to you — your personal interests, social circle, or even work — is known as anhedonia and is a key sign of depression. Evidence suggests that this is closely tied to the reward circuits in our brain and how we experience pleasure. Depression can rewire these circuits so that it becomes almost impossible to enjoy activities that you may have previously found gratifying. Anhedonia can be present in a number of mental health conditions, so if you are experiencing it, it’s a good idea to discuss with a doctor to identify the cause.
3. Changes in appetite
It’s well-known that depression can impact your relationship with food, but the experience tends to vary. Patients report both increases and decreases in appetite, with research suggesting that this can be tied to different manifestations of the disorder. In particular, individuals who are experiencing anhedonia may find that they lose interest in eating and no longer enjoy food in the way that they once did. It’s therefore hardly surprising that another symptom of depression is fluctuation in weight. To prevent this unduly impacting your physical as well as your mental health you should be aware of any changes to your body and mention any significant weight loss or gain to your doctor.
4. Low sex drive
Our libidos fluctuate throughout our lives and there are plenty of reasons why you might not be feeling the love. Stress, hormones, and even our contraceptive choices can all impact our sex drive, but a loss of interest in sex can also be a sign of something more serious. Depression can cause a decrease in desire, difficulty orgasming, and a lack of pleasure during intercourse. In addition, mental health problems often negatively impact interpersonal relationships, meaning that intimacy between you and your partner may be off the table for other related reasons.
5. Physical symptoms including aches, pains, and bowel movements
Although depression is primarily a psychological disorder, it can also have surprising physical manifestations. These vary enormously between individuals, and are often overlooked compared to the emotional and mental impacts of depression — however, it is still important to keep an eye out for physical signs that you might be struggling. Common symptoms include aching muscles (particularly in the neck and back), headaches, and fatigue. Stomach issues are also often experienced in conjunction with depression and may include cramps, bloating, nausea, and constipation.
6. Having thoughts of harming yourself
The urge to self-harm is often seen as a way of coping with or expressing emotional distress. Although it is most common in adolescents and young adults it also affects individuals of all ages who are struggling with depression. In some manifestations of the disorder the desire to self-harm may even extend to thoughts of suicide. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or an urge to harm yourself, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. There are a number of mental health helplines and resources that can offer advice, and your doctor may be able to assign a mental health crisis team if they feel that you are at risk.
When to seek help
Doctors advise avoiding taking too long to seek help for depression. You should always feel able to ask for advice and treatment if you are concerned about your mental health, but if you’re feeling unsure you should consider:
- Visiting your doctor if you are experiencing persistent low mood that lasts longer than two weeks
- Visiting your doctor if you find that symptoms of depression are interfering with your ability to function at work, to interact with people around you, or to keep up with your existing responsibilities and commitments.
- Consulting with a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible if you are contemplating thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
- Reporting to the emergency room if you feel that you are seriously considering suicide and think that a suicide attempt may be imminent.