Are you wondering, “Am I depressed or just sad?”

Or perhaps you suspect your friend or family has depression, but you are unsure.

How do you know when you or your loved ones are depressed?

What are the warning signs and symptoms of depression?

People who have depression might not even know they have depression.

Last month was the suicide prevention month and this month we have the World Mental Health Day on 10th October. As a depression survivor, I feel compelled to write a blog post on this topic, especially when I just received a heartbreaking news that a friend of mine had lost his life to depression not too long ago.

Even though some personality types or people who had unhappy childhood experiences might be more prone to depression, depression can affect anyone. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we are on a downward spiral until it’s too late and difficult for us to cope. Depression is unlike other physical ailments. If you aren’t mindful enough, you can’t really see that your brain has gone haywire. You can only tell from the symptoms you have.

Depression is complex.

Some people may see it as an illness or a mental disorder, while others may see it as an emotion or feeling. This blog post is meant to be an open dialogue. I’m not a neurologist or a psychotherapist. I can only talk from my own experiences and observations. Writing this blog post is just to bring more awareness to depression.

Furthermore, there are many types of depression such as seasonal depression, postnatal depression, manic depression and chronic depression. In this post, I’ll just be talking about depression in general, so it might not represent your experience with depression.

What Causes Depression?

From what I’ve gathered, there is no specific cure or cause for depression. Antidepressants might help to negate the symptoms of depression, but it doesn’t cure it.

If we don’t know the cause of depression, how do we solve it?

What Triggers Depression?

If you are feeling depressed, ask yourself if there’s something in your life that you cannot accept. Most people don’t get depressed until something traumatic or major happened in their lives. For example, the sudden loss of their loved ones, being bankrupt and jobless, being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, a terrible break-up or an unforeseen betrayal.

Most depression is a result of non-acceptance.

Sometimes, it could also be because we felt stuck and powerless. We don’t see any way out of our situation. For example, you are in a job that you don’t like, but you are too afraid to leave because of the responsibilities you have. However, even this is partially a result of non-acceptance. You can’t accept the job that you don’t like.

Everyone’s ability to handle stress and accept the situation is different. The more sudden and unexpected the event is, the greater shock it brings to our mental systems and the harder for us to accept. Most minds aren’t prepared to accept changes. We expect tomorrow to be somewhat similar to today. We don’t know what to do and how to feel when something abrupt happens to us.

If our minds take a wrong turn and we follow our streams of thoughts, we can be easily led down the path of depression.

Why Does Depression Happen?

If non-acceptance is the trigger of depression, then how you respond to the shocking event will determine if you have depression or not. Not everyone who can’t accept the event will have depression.

Sometimes, people just get angry with another person or the situation when they can’t accept it. Blaming others for their problems keep them away from looking at their own faults and feeling depressed. It shifts their attention and responsibilities away from themselves so their minds don’t feel that stressed. Even though it doesn’t resolve the real problem, at least they don’t blame themselves for their misfortune.

People who get depressed either put the blame on themselves or pretend their problem isn’t an issue to them. Depression is a feeling of hopelessness. When you take all the responsibilities on your shoulders and perceive yourself as the cause of the traumatic event, how can you see the hope to turn your life around?

Feeling emotional doesn’t mean that you can’t handle the situation.

Everyone wants to feel that they can handle stress and have it all together, but a shock brings intense emotions that most people are not used to handling. If you don’t allow yourself the time to process these emotions, they don’t get to release from your system. Feeling these emotions might make you look weak, but you don’t move on if you don’t feel these emotions.

A person needs to go through the proper grieving process of losing someone or something they held for so long before they can continue with their lives. It’s actually not the intense emotions that make one depressed, it’s the suppression of these emotions that keeps one depressed. It takes us a lot of energy to keep these emotions from surfacing. That’s why most people who are depressed have no energy to do anything else.

“Am I depressed?” Here’s how to know if you have depression.

Sometimes, people get confused between depression and feeling blue. How do you differentiate the two and how do you know if you are depressed?

Below is a checklist I’ve made to help you spot depression in yourself. I have grouped the symptoms into minor and major. If you have the minor symptoms, it could be just sadness or the start of a downward spiral. Taking immediate care of your body and mind might help you reduce the risk of getting depressed.

However, if you have the major symptoms, it’s best that you seek help from someone else. Perhaps talk to your supportive friends or family about your situation or see someone professional in the mental health industry.

Minor Signs of Depression

1. You have problems with your sleep.

Many different things can lead to insomnia. Depression is one of them. So it doesn’t mean that you have depression when you have problems sleeping at night. You’ll have to investigate further.

Usually, people who have depression have difficulty sleeping at night because they can’t let go of their problems. They either keep ruminating on their problems or their inner critics keep attacking them. When I had depression, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about how naive I was to believe someone else. It’s like a broken record that won’t stop playing and I couldn’t go to sleep.

People who have depression can’t sleep because their mind is too active.

Sometimes, you might also wake up in the middle of the night or wake up earlier than you normally do and you can’t get back to sleep. Other times, you might want to sleep more than usual so that you don’t have to face the reality in your life.

Whenever I have consecutive days of nightmares or disrupted sleep, I would start to investigate because there might be something I am suppressing subconsciously that I am not aware of.

2. A sudden change in appetite.

If you usually enjoy eating a certain kind of food and now you don’t feel like eating them, you could be having a bad mood. It might not be depression. People who are depressed usually lose interest in eating altogether. They are so mired in their problem that daily routine such as eating becomes unimportant.

Any change in eating habits can be a sign of depression.

Someone who has depression can be eating more than usual too because they are using food as a response to suppress emotional pain and shame. But people who are stressed or feel unworthy binge-eat too. They may not have reached the stage of depression. So a change in appetite is not a very good indicator of whether you have depression or not.

Personally, I don’t have this symptom when I was feeling depressed. I just ate as per normal.

3. You cannot concentrate on anything.

Your attention wanders and you feel restless. Perhaps you are thinking about the issue all the time. Or maybe you are using distractors to prevent yourself from thinking about the issues.

Rumination can lead to depression, but it doesn’t count as depression because you are still actively trying to solve the problem in your head. You still care about finding a solution.

A depressed person usually gives up on solving the problem. Their minds are constantly bombarded with negative thoughts until they feel they cannot do anything about it.

Their inability to concentrate is due to the noise in their heads.

When you can’t focus on your work during the day, it could also be because of a lack of quality sleep the night before, a lack of interest in the work, or other reasons. So again, investigating the reasons behind your lack of focus before jumping to conclusion is important.

Major Signs of Depression

4. Excessive crying for no good reason.

Crying is not a symptom of depression. People cry when they are touched, grieving, feeling hurt or in pain. This is not depression. People who are depressed usually cry for no good reason. Let me explain what this means.

If you saw something that reminds you of a loved one that you love and you cry, there’s a good reason why you cry — you miss your loved one. And after you cry, you feel better and you move on with your life.

For depression, you might find yourself crying at any point of the day and multiple times during the day. It could be when you just woke up, when you are typing a document, when you are walking back home, or any daily routine that you perform.

You cry even when you are not thinking about the problem.

You might have suppressed your thoughts, but what you feel about the situation is not dealt with yet. So the depressed feelings still creep into your life from time to time. Also, you don’t feel better after you cry, you feel worse and more hopeless with your life.

5. You blame yourself for everything.

If you have depression, you are likely to feel shame, guilt and alienated too.

First, you feel lonely because other people don’t know what you are going through. Second, people might try and help you with your situation. But they make you feel like you are a liability and incapable of dealing with your own emotions and thoughts. Third, you feel worthless when people blame you for not performing at work, not involved in the relationship, or feeling irritated and angry.

A depressed person is likely to think, “It’s all my fault.”

Perhaps the most detrimental thing which you can blame yourself is that you are the cause of your depression. You believe that you are to blame for the break-up, the failure of your career and business, the loss of your loved one, and etc. So you might feel that you deserve to be depressed.

6. You have no interest in anything.

Usually, when you are feeling down, doing something you love or positive such as listening to happy music will get your mood back up again.

However, when you are depressed, nothing you do will make you happy. It’s not just sadness and pessimism you are feeling. You feel hopeless about your life and you start to lose interest in everything you do.

You feel like nothing is important in life.

It’s as though nothing you do matters. You believe that your life will not be normal again and nothing you do is going to change anything. Therefore, people who have depression often feel a lack of energy. It’s not just because of the lack of sleep or the exhaustion from crying. It’s because they have no motivation to do anything. Everything is just lifeless and empty to them.

7. You have suicidal thoughts.

Probably the biggest symptom of depression is when you have suicidal thoughts. It doesn’t matter if you make plans or not. When you feel that life isn’t worth living and you’ll be better off dead, it is depression. You have lost complete hope for life.

If you reach this stage of depression, please seek help.

Let someone give you another perspective on your situation first. Don’t act so quickly to your suicidal thoughts.

How to Know When Someone Is Depressed?

Knowing whether someone is depressed or not is difficult, especially if you have never been through depression before. Depression is called a hidden or invisible illness for a reason.

Most people who feel depressed hide it from others.

There are several reasons why people hide their depression from others. Most of these reasons are already covered in point #5 under the symptoms. The main reason is depression is a social stigma around depression and people feel ashamed of letting others know they are depressed. They are afraid that other people will judge them for not able to handle their emotions. So they rather keep their depression to themselves.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to tell if someone is depressed or not because not all depressed people had a tough time with their daily life. Some people can still cope or even excel in their job, relationships and pretend to be happy on social media despite having the symptoms of depression. This is called “high-functioning depression”.

So how could you tell if someone has depression when they are so good at covering it up?

1. There is a prolonged loss of interest in social interactions.

If you notice that your friends or loved ones become more withdrawn than usual for a long period of time, they might be going through depression. There are two things to note here. One is the duration. The other is the deviations from the norm.

How long has this person been rejecting social invitations?

If you used to meet someone every month and they are very outgoing, but they don’t even meet you once a year now, it might be an indication that they have some problems in their life or depressed.

People who are depressed want to be alone. They don’t feel like interacting with others. But this shouldn’t be confused with introverts taking a break from socializing. Introverts need some time alone to recharge so that we have the energy to interact with others.

Furthermore, your friends or loved ones might not be depressed after all. They might just want some time alone to resolve their own issues or maybe you all have drifted apart from each other. You’ll have to investigate a little further to understand why they want to be alone.

2. There are some major changes in the person’s life.

If you know that your friends have some major changes to their lives, for example, they just lost their job or one of their family members, be more aware of them. Some might not be able to cope with these life changes and end up feeling depressed. But it’s not easy to tell.

They might pretend or think that they are okay.

Major changes in life could be in areas such as:

  • Relationship: Break-up, divorce, betrayal.
  • Family: Death of loved ones, children left the nest, newborn.
  • Career and Income: Bankruptcy, business failure, loss of job or income, retirement, new management.
  • Health: Terminal and chronic illnesses, aging, injury.
  • Others: Relocation, mid-life crisis, being charged with a crime, death of a pet.

If someone tells you that they are fine with the change, but yet you notice that they aren’t coping so well in the other areas of their lives, then they might not have fully dealt with the situation and accepted the change. For example, one might have just gone through a divorce and said she’s fine, but yet is constantly distracted at work.

No matter how hard one tries to pretend that they are okay with something. If they aren’t, it will show in other areas of their life.

3. There are subtle hints of hopelessness.

Ultimately, you can’t know for sure if a person has depression or not unless they share it with you. If you want to know if your friends or loved ones have depression, you have to be more empathetic and judgmental-free. People usually don’t share their vulnerabilities with others if they have past experiences of the other party judging them.

It all depends on whether the person is willing to share their pain with you.

You have to be sensitive enough to pick up on the cues. If someone tells you they would rather die than live or they don’t know what to do their future, you don’t give them advice such as “snap out of it”, “don’t be silly”, “there are many things you can do” or “be more positive”. This will just stop them from opening up to you.

Instead, listen and understand their point of view. You can delve a little further by asking them why do they feel this way and why do they make such a statement. Come from a place of care and curiosity, be neutral, and they will open up. Then, you will know if they are truly depressed or not.

Remember it’s up to the individual to share this information with you. It’s their choice. You can’t force them to open up when they don’t feel safe around you.


Featured Photo Credit: Depression / ryan melaugh

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