Signs & Symptoms of Depression

Get in front of depression by learning its effects. Read what causes depression, what signs to look out for, and potential co-occurring disorders. Depression can affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

Depressive disorders, which are commonly referred to using the general term “depression,” are mental health disorders that are characterized by an overwhelming sense of sadness, lack of energy, loss of appetite, pervasive feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness, and related symptoms.

The two most prevalent types of depression are major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder:

  • Major depressive disorder involves powerful and distressing symptoms that last for at least two weeks, and that is severe enough that you will have problems functioning at work, in school, within the context of social relationships, and in other areas of life.
  • Persistent depressive disorder involves symptoms that are less intense than those experienced by people who have major depressive disorder, but that last for a period of at least two years. During the course of persistent depressive disorder, you may also have one or more major depressive episodes.

Regardless of which type of depressive disorder you develop, it is important to realize that these symptoms are not evidence of personal weakness and that they aren’t something that you can just “snap out of.” Depression is a serious mental health condition that typically requires professional care.

However, the good news about depressive disorders is that they are treatable conditions. With the right type and level of effective professional assistance, you can experience relief from your symptoms and live a happier, healthier, more satisfying life.


Depression statistics

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have collected the following information about the prevalence of depression disorders in the United States:

  • NIMH data indicates that about 16 million men and women, or nearly 7% of the adult population in the U.S., will experience at least one major depressive episode in an average year.
  • Among younger Americans, the CDC reports that about 5.7% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 will struggle with major depression in a given 12-month period.
  • Age group information on the CDC website documents that the highest prevalence of depression is found among adults between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • The CDC also notes that, in every age group, depression is more common among girls and women than among boys and men.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

Depressive disorders may be caused by a variety of factors, with most cases resulting from a combination of influences. The following are among the more common factors that may put you at increased risk for depression:

  • Gender (depression is more common among girls and women than among boys and men)
  • Family history of depression
  • Family history of other forms of mental illness
  • Previous struggles with mental illness
  • Abuse, neglect, or other trauma during childhood
  • Significant life stresses (such as death of loved one, end of relationship, loss of job)
  • Substance abuse

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

Symptoms of a depressive disorder may vary from person to person depending upon a variety of personal issues. However, the following are among the more common signs that you or someone you care about may be struggling with depression:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Pulling away from friends and/or family members
  • Giving away important possessions (may indicate suicidal ideation, which can be a symptom of depression)
  • Frequently discussing death or dying

Physical symptoms:

  • Frequent stomachaches and/or headaches
  • Digestive distress
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Disrupted sleep patterns (including insomnia and hypersomnia)
  • Changes in appetite

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Diminished ability to focus or concentrate
  • Impaired thinking and speaking patterns
  • Problems making decisions
  • Memory deficiencies

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Sense of worthlessness or incompetence
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Pervasive hopelessness or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in significant activities
  • Dramatic mood swings


Effects of depression

Failing to get effective treatment for a depressive disorder can cause you to experience a variety of negative short- and long-term effects, including but not limited to the following:

  • Strained or ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Family discord
  • Diminished performance in school or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Financial setbacks
  • Low self-confidence and/or poor self-esteem
  • Substance abuse and chemical dependency
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

If you are experiencing depression, you may also have an increased risk for the following co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Borderline personality disorder