Depression is a very debilitating mental health problem, and one that is more common that you might think. An estimated 21 million adults in the United States alone have experienced at least one depressive episode, so there’s a good chance that you know someone who has had depression, and you may have had it yourself or be struggling with it right now.
However, the common conversations about mental health and the way that certain conditions are portrayed in the media can lead to a lot of misconceptions about what depression actually looks like. Not everyone with depression walks around looking like they might as well have a rain cloud hovering overhead, and while some depression can be so severe that the person can’t even get out of bed or maintain their work life or grades in school, it’s entirely possible to go about life during a depressive episode and not give many outward signs. Just because someone “seems fine,” that doesn’t mean they actually are doing fine.
Since depression is not always easy to notice, here are some signs that you can look out for in yourself or others that might indicate a depressive episode.
Sleep problems can often go unnoticed when a person has depression, but they’re actually a major sign that it’s important to take note of. If a person is suddenly sleeping for long stretches of time, going to bed much earlier than usual or sleeping well into the day, or if they can’t seem to sleep no matter what they do, those are red flags of a depressive episode.
The main thing to look out for is that the sleep disturbances are new or unusual for the person. If they’re a habitual insomniac or heavy sleeper, that would still be an issue that they might need to address, but a sudden change in how they sleep could indicate depression. Keep an eye out for people who start sleeping through alarms and meetings when it isn’t like them, or who mention their trouble getting to sleep over a fourth cup of coffee. It may be a sign that something else is going on.
Sudden changes in appetite are something that medical professionals look for as a sign for lots of physical problems, not just mental health problems, and much like sleep, they have to do with sudden changes or uncharacteristic behavior. Sometimes depression leads people to seek comfort in food and end up eating a lot more, and sometimes it can kill a person’s appetite and lead to them eating a lot less. Noticing a shift in how much and how often someone eats can be a sign of high-functioning depression.
However, if you do happen to notice this sign, it might be a good idea to not mention it specifically when you’re trying to reach out and help. Commenting on someone’s weight and food intake is generally rude to start with, and because depression can often go hand in hand with eating disorders or an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s best to just not bring up a person’s weight or how much they’re eating, even if they’ve lost weight and you feel like you’re paying them a compliment. Instead, choose to express concern for their wellbeing overall, make note of other signs you’ve picked up on, and try to offer support in any way you can.
Mindset About the Future
This sign can be subtle and hard to spot, but in talking to someone you can often get a sense of hopelessness from how they talk about the future. If it seems like they don’t really have big plans or anything they’re looking forward to or that they have a generally pessimistic outlook on how things are going to turn out for them, it might be a sign that they are struggling with depression, especially if they’re normally pretty chipper about the future.
Sometimes depression can seem to an outsider like sadness, anger, or a bad attitude when what the person is actually feeling is pure exhaustion. Having depression is tiring! This can lead to decreased performance in work or school and the abandonment of things the person used to love, although these are far from the only signs and you can still have depression even with great grades or stellar job performance. Keep an eye out for people who are suddenly fatigued or tired very often. They may be dealing with high-functioning depression.
If you notice these signs in yourself or someone you love, they may indicate a case of high-functioning depression. If you think that you might have depression, the best thing you can do for yourself is to seek treatment! If you think that a loved one might have depression, try to become a part of their support system by offering lots of positive reinforcement, being willing to listen, encouraging treatment, and finding ways to help them with tasks that depression can make challenging. If you’re interested in seeing a board-certified physician at no cost and possibly receiving new medications for depression, click here to learn more about our current depression trial.