11 Early Warning Signs Of Depression Experts Say To Watch Out For
It can be tough to tell if you're depressed. But if you know what the early warning signs of depression might look like, it can be so much easier to spot a shift in your mood, or pick up on changes in your overall outlook on life. And from there, make a few steps towards managing your symptoms — before they become more intense.
"While everyone gets sad sometimes, depression is a pervasive and consistent sense of hopelessness and low self-worth," Victoria Fisher, LMSW, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker with experience diagnosing depression, tells Bustle. "It affects how you think, act, and move through the world. Depression may have medical, psychological, or social causes, and causes are different for everyone."
Many of the symptoms, however, can look the same, or at least very similar. And recognizing them is incredibly helpful. "Spotting early warning signs of depression allows you to face them head-on by seeking treatment or support," Fisher says, "which can prevent a prolonged bout and make it easier to recover in the future."
You can manage depression by making small lifestyle changes, and/or asking your doctor about other treatments. You can also reach out for help from a therapist, and take their recommendations. It's highly treatable, so if you notice any of the symptoms below — or someone in your life points them out — don't hesitate to reach out for support.
1. Your Sleep Schedule Has Changed
Sleep changes are among the first symptoms you might notice when dealing with depression. "Some people have trouble falling asleep or may find themselves waking up very early in the morning," Pooja Lakshmin, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health and perinatal psychiatry, tells Bustle. "Others can fall asleep just fine, but wake up throughout the night and do not feel rested in the morning."
It could go the other way, too, where you sleep too much. As Lakshmin says, "You may find yourself crawling into bed right after you get home from work, skipping meals in order to sleep, or spending weekends in bed."
2. You Feel Unmotivated
"One of the telltale signs of depression is no longer enjoying things you once enjoyed," Marianna Strongin, PsyD, founder of Strong In Therapy, tells Bustle. "And the symptom that often feeds this sensation is lack of motivation."
Maybe you don't want to read anymore, even though there's a stack of great books right by your bed. Or you don't want to see friends, even though they're texting you with fun plans.
The idea of doing these things might seem too tiring or overwhelming, so you back away instead. And, as Strongin says, that's when you'll want to seek the help of a therapist, friends, or family.
3. You Don't Enjoy Things In The Same Way
A loss of pleasure in the activities you used to enjoy is called anhedonia, Dr. Jamie Long, licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle. And while it can be difficult to spot when you're the one experiencing it, you can keep an eye out for red flags.
"It can be experienced socially or physically," Long says. "Social anhedonia is a lack of interest in engaging with others and the feeling that socializing is less enjoyable than it used to be. Physical anhedonia is an inability to feel sensory pleasures such as physical touch, eating, or sex."
Basically, depression can create an overall "blah" feeling, feeding into the aforementioned lack of motivation, and leaving you feeling detached.
4. It's Tough To Recover From Minor Inconveniences
When you aren't dealing with depression, it's easier to cope with minor inconveniences. Mishaps at work, traffic jams, losing your keys — these things may be annoying, but they won't cause you to feel despair.
If depression is kicking in, however, you might "start to believe that nothing will get better or change," Sheila Tucker, LAMFT, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist and owner of Heart Mind & Soul Counseling, tells Bustle. "Instead of rolling with the ups and downs of life, you may start to notice that when life knocks you down, you stay there. People with depression lose the ability to recognize that things can and will get better."
5. Everything Feels Difficult
Similarly, depression can make everything feel difficult, from getting up to make dinner, to showering or brushing your teeth, to texting a friend back — so you just let it all go.
"Some people describe the feeling of depression as 'moving through mud,' that every day, it feels like you are working very hard just to do simple things in your life and everything requires more energy than you have," Kathryn Moore, PhD, a psychologist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center, tells Bustle. "You may have trouble even getting out of bed or going to work in the morning."
6. Food Doesn't Taste Good
While it may sound unrelated to depression, pay attention to little changes, such as a lack of excitement over your favorite foods.
"Depression can cause profound changes in appetite," Lakshmin says. "You may find yourself just not caring about what you eat, despite being a foodie. Eating your favorite meal doesn't bring you the same level of pleasure."
On the flip side, depression can also cause you to feel hungrier than usual. "Some people notice an increased appetite during depressive episodes, and will eat as a way to cope with their bad feelings," Lakshmin says. "Even with an increased appetite, most people who are experiencing early signs of depression will still feel that food doesn't taste as good."
7. You're Less Patient
"Depression is an emotionally depleted state, and early on, you may show signs of decreased emotional reserve," Lakshmin says. "This could take the form of snapping at coworkers or feeling impatient with family members." You might argue more with your partner, or feel annoyed by a friend's every move.
Pay attention to this type of overall crankiness. If you feel irritated all the time, by the littlest things, depression may be to blame.
8. You're More Anxious Than Usual
Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, and "sometimes, the anxiety comes on first," Lakshmin says. "You might notice feeling overwhelmed at work, worrying about the future, or ruminating on self-critical thoughts."
It can be tough to identify this symptom as a sign of depression, especially since the jittery state of anxiety seems to be the opposite of depression. But it should prompt a visit to your doctor or therapist, so you can figure out ways to cope before it becomes more intense.
9. You Keep Saying You "Don't Care"
"Depression doesn’t always show up as intense sadness," Josie Munroe, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in California, tells Bustle. "Convincing yourself and demonstrating to others that you don’t care is usually a coping mechanism for attempting to avoid deep-seated pain."
You might catch yourself doing this at work. Or your friends might notice it and point it out. Whatever ends up being the case, take it seriously. While it's fine to have an "off" day on occasion, this shouldn't be something you experience regularly.
10. You're Spending More Time Alone
It's great to spend time alone and focus on yourself, but pay attention to a new desire to spend most of your time alone.
"If you've gone a few weeks without wanting to hang out with your usual crowd, and it's not because you've been especially busy lately, depression could be the underlying reason you've been isolating," Fisher says. "Take note of the reasons you've been avoiding spending time with people. If it's because you lack energy or don't feel good enough about yourself to be around others, you're looking at a depressive symptom."
11. It's Difficult To Concentrate
"Difficulty concentrating can also be an indicator that your mood is starting to take a dive," Dr. Sarah Kertz, a licensed psychologist and university professor, tells Bustle. "This often happens in response to increases in repetitive negative thinking like rumination, when people dwell on past mistakes or try to solve unanswerable questions." Instead of focusing on life in front of you, you're stuck in the past, or thinking about the future.
These, along with other physical and mental changes, can be early warning signs of depression. If you notice them, or someone points them out to you, it may be a good idea to reach out for help. By going to therapy, making some lifestyle changes, and possibly even taking medication, you can keep depression under control.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.