Depression affects as many as 20% of women and 12% of men in the course of their lifetime. However, it is not only adults that are affected. As many as 0.9% of pre-school children, 1.9% in school-aged children and 4.7% of adolescents also experience depression.
Overall depression is the most common mental health condition. Yet this condition is often missed as the signs of symptoms are not always typical of of what would expect to see in depression. However, apart from the diagnosis being missed it is also believed that depression is at times overdiagnosed.
How To Spot Depression
Spotting depression is not as easy as is sometimes thought. The symptoms can be subtle and may not be spotted by family and friends. When it arises during or after a major life event, the symptoms are often attributed to grief which is a natural response to loss. Similarly the symptoms of depression may be missed as a separate condition if it occurs during or just after a major physical illness.
Certain people are more prone to developing depression. These risk factors increases the likelihood of a person developing depression. However, not all people with one or more of these risk factors will develop depression. Similarly a person can develop depression even without any of these risk factors.
- Psychological trauma and stressful life events.
- Personality traits like low self esteem.
- Childhood trauma.
- Alcohol or illicit drug abuse.
- History of depression especially in childhood or teens.
- Other mental health disorders like anxiety or eating disorders.
- Life-threatening illnesses like cancer or a heart attack.
- Certain medication such as strong painkillers and sleeping tablets.
There are several signs and symptoms that are commonly seen in depression. When these signs and symptoms are spotted then depression should be considered as a possible cause. However, the final diagnosis must be made by a health professional after the relevant testing. These signs and symptoms can occur with other mental health and even certain physical conditions.
Feeling sadness and hopelesseness
Being ‘under the weather’ at certain times does not continue depression although we may refer to this emotional state as being depressed. There are many reasons why there may be short term sadness. However, when the feeling of sadness is ongoing and unrelenting then it could be a sign of dpression. It may be accompanied by tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness and a sense of emptiness which further support a diagnosis of depression.
Outbursts of anger and irritability
Anger is not an uncommon emotion but usually it is triggered by some event or circumstance. In depression a person may become angry over trivial matters and there is a constant state of irritability. There are also feelings of frustration in response to events that do not warrant it. This state of irritability and frustration with angry outbursts are out of character of a person and may develop over a short period of time.
Self loathing and guilt
Another common sign fo depression is a feeling of worthlessness. It can relate to every aspect of life and a person may feel the need to blame themselves even for events that were not within their control. This can be severe enough to the point where a person may express a dislike or even hatred for themselves. There may also be disproportionate guilt about past events with a fixation on previous failures in life.
Disturbances in mental functions
A host of disturbances in mental functions are seen with depression. Common complaints include poor memory, impaired concentration and difficulty making decisions. The degree to which mental functions are hampered varies among individuals who are depressed. Sometimes this may be seen as incorrectly recalling past event and making mistakes in mental tasks that were part of everyday life.
Loss of interest in regular activities
We all have activities that are of interest to us or bring us pleasure. As a result we try to undertake these activities as often as possible. However, when depression sets in a person loses interest in these activities. There is some degree of apathy when even thinking of these activities. It can range from playing a sport that was previously enjoyed, spending time on a hobby, social activities like being with friends or even personal acts like having sexual intercourse.
Fatigue and low energy levels
Low energy levels are not specific for depression only and has to be correlated with other symptoms. Despite sleeping properly and eating well, a person may experience persistent low energy levels. There is also fatigue which does not correlate with the level of physical or mental activity preceding it. This fatigue is ongoing and does not ease fully with sleep. The degree of fatigue and tiredness varies from person to person.
Read more on low energy levels.
Changes in appetite
Changes in appetite is another common sign but it is not specific for depression. A person may experience a loss of appetite where food intake is drastically reduced from normal levels. Meals may also be skipped and a person even forgets to eat. However, on the other hand some people with depression may find an increase in appetite with larger and/or more frequent meals as well as snacking. There may also be food cravings.
Alterations in sleep patterns
Disturbances in normal sleep patterns is very common in depression. However, it is important to note that sleep problems is often seen in modern life and with psychological stress even when depression is not present. The alterations in sleep patterns can vary from difficulty falling asleep to waking up in the middle of the night or on the other extreme feeling sleepy all the time and sleeping for longer hours than normal.
Read more on excessive daytime sleepiness.
Slowness in action
With depression there is a slowness that is seen with normal activities, ranging from talking, walking and other acts that are a part of everyday life. This should not be confused with the slowness that is seen in conditions like Parkinson’s disease which is known as bradykinesia. Instead the slowness in depression is uncharacteristic of the person who is depressed and may also be partly due to apathy and disinterest in activities.