When people think about a depressed person, they usually think of someone lying alone in a dark room with a box of tissues, crying with feelings of hopelessness. This is one picture of depression but there are many more. Knowing the many symptoms of depression can help you or a loved one identify and treat depression if needed. Knowing these symptoms might also help you be more compassionate to someone who is depressed, that someone could even be you.
Brain Fog- Studies have shown that depression can reduce cognitive functions (1). These functions include memory, decision making, and ability to focus. Depressed people have differences in the structure of their brain that contribute to these deficits (2). This can be really frustrating for the person experiencing it and for those around them. Have patience and take things one step at a time. Forgive forgetfulness.
Addiction– Addicts are often looked down upon as trashy people making poor choices. What not everyone sees is what’s under the surface. Many addicts are self-medicating their depression with drugs or alcohol. They may not be aware that they are depressed, may not have the resources to treat their depression, or may not believe depression is a real thing. If society judged both addiction and mental health treatment less, addicts may be more comfortable getting necessary help.
Weight Changes– Some people can’t eat at all when they are depressed; some people eat a lot. Big fluctuations in weight can be a warning flag of depression. One person may be fat shamed for their weight gain; another may be praised enthusiastically for their weight loss when both weight changes were caused by depression. Both overeating and undereating can increase physical and emotional issues. It’s important to be body positive where you are with a goal to balance mind and body health.
Irritability- Irritability, anger, and impatience may seem to come out of nowhere for both the person projecting these emotions and those on the receiving end. The person with these emotions may feel both shame and confusion at their inability to control outbursts. This is another sign of depression. One study published by the Cambridge University Press suggests that angry reactions in depressed individuals may stem from rejection, guilt, fear, and “ineffective management of the experience and expression of anger” (3). Anger attacks are sudden intense spells of anger that could be uncharacteristic and inappropriate in the moment (4). Having an anger attack doesn’t make someone a bad person but telling a trusted healthcare professional could prevent further attacks.
Extreme Fatigue– Being depressed often strips a person of all energy. Onlookers may see someone as lazy, dirty, and disorganized while this person may be struggling with every fiber of their being to get out of bed. Chores may go undone. Hygiene may falter. Chemicals imbalances are often the culprit of this fatigue, not laziness. Norepinephrine is a chemical that can cause fatigue and lack of motivation when low (5). Another chemical, serotonin, can cause sleep issues and lack of joy when low (5). When the chemical dopamine is low, one may feel a lack of interest in everything including being around people or doing things that were once enjoyed (5). For these reasons, many antidepressants work to increase these chemicals in the body.
Physical pain– The chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine not only affect mood but also pain. (6) So, it follows that one could have both depression and physical pain with no other cause than this chemical imbalance. There are other biological factors that increase inflammation and decrease immunity during depression (7). The headaches, body aches, and stomachaches are all real even with no direct causation from anything other than depression and chemical imbalances. This is not to say to avoid depression to avoid pain but to be compassionate with yourself and/or others that are going through these real pains.
Depression is complex. It comes with a wide variety of symptoms, more than what most people may be aware of. Brain fog, addiction, weight changes, irritability, fatigue, and pain are all symptoms of depression. Depression can cause changes in the brain and be caused by low stores of certain chemicals. No one chooses depression and there are ways to manage and live with all these symptoms. Professional advice is encouraged with any of these symptoms.
- Cognitive function following a major depressive episode: a systematic review and meta-analysis – The Lancet Psychiatry
- Widespread reductions in gray matter volume in depression – PubMed (nih.gov)
- anger_and_depression.pdf (cambridge.org)
- Anger attacks in patients with depression – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Neurotransmitters and Depression: What You Need to Know (pronghornpsych.com)