Depression can be caused by range of either external factors (such as family problems, or relationship breakdowns), or internal factors (including low self-esteem, loneliness, or lack of support). It could even be a combination of factors. Some people know exactly what has triggered their depression; however, for others, it can be hard to understand why they feel the way they do.
Depression Warning Signs
Depression affects people in different ways. If you recognise a trend of several of these warning signs, then depression may be trying to move in on your life.
Look For a Persistent Trend
Most of these signs can also be a normal part of the ups and downs of everyday life, and most people will experience some of these signs at some time.
However, if you can see a combination of several of these signs persisting over several weeks, then it should be taken seriously.
Persistently sad, anxious or generally low mood
Everyone feels sad sometimes, has an anxious moment, or has a day when things feel a bit empty or low.
However, when depression invades, it seems to keep you feeling persistently sad, low, anxious or empty, seemingly without cause. Some people feel a combination of these four feelings. Others may predominantly just feel one of them.
Loss of interest
Do you find yourself feeling you can’t be bothered with things you used to find interesting or engaging?
Depression thrives on cynical or ‘bored’ attitudes to life, and itself generates a sense of meaninglessness. This loss of interest may include loss of sexual interest, which can create strain in relationships, in turn allowing more room for depression.
Lethargy or decreased energy
Do you often feel unable to get up at the usual time? Or too lethargic to complete routine everyday tasks? Or do you generally find yourself less able to maintain your usual activity levels? Depression may be sapping your energy and taking root as you succumb to lethargy.
Irregular sleep or change in sleep pattern
It is very common for depression to have an effect on sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep disruptions like early waking.
Sometimes there is a pattern of excessive sleep (hypersomnia). Regular, sound sleep is essential for healthy functioning, and sleep disruption is a particularly debilitating weapon in the depression arsenal.
Appetite or weight changes
Regular healthy eating is essential for general well-being.
Loss of appetite and weight loss, or sometimes overeating and weight gain, can be a sign that depression is interfering with the healthy eating habits essential for maintenance of mood levels and general functioning.
Crying serves a very useful purpose – stress hormones are released through tears.
However, if you find yourself crying much more than usual, for no clear reasons, it may be a sign that depression is at work.
Do you find it hard to settle down to a task, or to sit still for any length of time? Some people are naturally energetic, but depression can bring a troubling sense of restlessness and inability to focus. Being constantly keyed up and over-alert in this way can be exhausting, in turn decreasing resistance to depression.
Poor concentration and difficulty making decisions
Depression is often said to be a problem of disordered thinking, with ‘automatic negative thoughts’ crowding the mind. Poor concentration and/or difficulty solving problems or making decisions can be due to ‘blanking things out’, or may indicate the need to address the thinking habits that are allowing depression a foothold.
Hopelessness and pessimism
Having a generally pessimistic outlook can feel like the ‘safe’ approach in an uncertain world – “well, at least that way I won’t be disappointed”.
However, depression thrives on this negative attitude, increasingly robbing you of hope and leaving its characteristic ’empty’ feeling instead.
Feelings of helplessness
There are many uncertainties in life, and things that cannot be controlled, yet many cultures seem to overstate the importance of individuals having ‘control’ over their lives. Having bad things happen and not being able to prevent them can then leave someone vulnerable to the generalised feeling of helplessness that depression feeds on and perpetuates.
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Depression thrives on opportunities to promote over-harsh self-judgement and feelings of worthlessness. It causes people to inappropriately blame themselves for experiences like being badly treated or failing to meet unrealistic standards. It can also lead people to compare themselves negatively against others. All of this combined can lead to corrosive and unhelpful guilt.
Thoughts of death or suicide
It is natural that people will think about death on occasions. However, the excessive negativity caused by depression can lead to repetitive, unhelpful dwelling on death. Depression also reduces problem-solving ability and causes increasing ‘tunnel vision’, falsely making suicide seem like a solution to problems. Repeatedly thinking about suicide can be very risky. It should be taken seriously and dealt with promptly.
I Need Help Now
If you have been having thoughts of suicide, getting help now is important and you can find sources of support here.
If you are concerned that you might be depressed, do speak to someone about it and start the process of getting the support you need. There are lots of resources across this site that will help you learn to take care of yourself during times of difficulty. Try taking a look at the information in the Making Changes section for some ideas.