Is it a Sign of Depression?
The most classic sign of depression is a pervasive feeling of sadness, perhaps accompanied by frequent crying. Other well-known symptoms of depression include low self-esteem, pessimism or hopelessness, and thoughts of death or suicide. No two people with clinical depression have the same symptoms, and many of the common symptoms do not fit the “stereotypical” image of a moping, tearful person. In fact, not everyone with depression even reports feeling persistent sadness; instead, some people just lose interest in the things they used to enjoy.
Unexpected Symptoms of Depression
A variety of symptoms have a surprising connection with clinical depression. Here are a few:
Insomnia. People with trouble sleeping may believe they have a sleep disorder or simply too much stress, but insomnia is also a common sign of depression. In fact, mood disorders such as clinical depression have a close relationship with sleep patterns, with each potentially affecting the other. Other unusual sleep patterns associated with depression are early waking and hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness.
Headaches, stomach problems, or back pain. Psychological disorders like depression can have genuine effects on the body. These effects are not imagined or made-up; they are real physical symptoms. They just happen to be caused by a mental disorder instead of a medical disorder. If medical testing cannot pinpoint a physical cause of symptoms like pain or digestive problems, depression may be the culprit.
Boredom. Depression is notorious for causing a lack of motivation, which may be interpreted as being perpetually and incurably bored. Nothing sounds interesting; no activity can capture the attention; everything seems too dull to bother with. In depression, persistent boredom is not a bad attitude, but a symptom that can often be debilitating. Imagine what it would be like to lose the motivation to get dressed in the morning, prepare meals, or go to work!
Lack of libido. Diminished sex drive may not be a sign of a relationship problem or a hormonal imbalance. Depression frequently dampens sexual interest and response.
Restlessness and agitation. The very name depression implies that one’s mind and body functions are slowed down, but sometimes the illness causes an increased activity level. This symptom, technically called psychomotor agitation, manifests as restlessness or an inability to sit still, with purposeless, repetitive movements. It is clearly noticeable by others.
Forgetfulness. Depression often causes disability by impairing concentration and attention. Sufferers may describe being in a mental “fog” or unable to concentrate for extended periods. A common manifestation of this symptom is forgetfulness—for example, difficulty remembering conversations, losing household items, or missing appointments.
Delusions. Seen occasionally in severe depression, delusions are unshakable yet obviously false beliefs. They are a form of psychosis, or severe and persistent break with reality, always a serious psychiatric symptom. In depression, delusions are usually “mood-congruent”—in other words, they are consistent with a sadness, hopelessness, or self-loathing. I once saw a film of a severely depressed person who believed that she was the devil—the actual, literal devil itself. Other depressive mood-congruent delusions might be beliefs that certain people (acquaintances or famous people) hate them, or that everyday symbols, like a stop sign, actually mean that they are worthless.
Depression Symptoms and Diagnosis
According to the DSM-IV, the experts’ manual of mental health, a depression diagnosis requires either a persistent low or sad mood, or a loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed (or both). In addition, several other symptoms, such as the ones described above, must be present.
If you think you have several of these symptoms, visit your doctor, or ask for a referral to a psychiatrist. Antidepressants may help, and depression can also be successfully treated without medications.