Recognizing the Subtle Signs of Depression

By Colin Gilbert

The wide variety of symptoms associated with depression often makes it difficult to identify. On the surface, especially to outside observers, the signs of depression are easily mistaken for laziness or other such character flaws that do not warrant professional help.

Consequently, friends and family members of depressed individuals are susceptible to misinterpret the manifested behavior. For example, if a woman notices that her husband has been unmotivated, apathetic, sleeping through the day, and gaining weight, she might scold him for being lazy instead of recognizing his malaise as symptomatic of depression. Her resentment is likely to intensify his depression, which may already be a source of confusion to him.

The confusion surrounding depression is compounded when the person suffering the symptoms misunderstands them. Besides the sadness and hopelessness that are most commonly associated with the condition, a sense of guilt can also prevent the depressed from seeking the help they need. A depressed person may see the way her illness brings down the people close to her yet feel incapable of changing her gloomy disposition. Constantly edgy and downcast, she’s likely to see her actions and their repercussions as a character flaw, and her failure to remedy the feelings will only exacerbate the problems.

According to, there are many possible sources of depression and many possible treatments. Research suggests that genetic predisposition plays a part in many cases; however, childhood experiences, personal choices, and environmental factors also contribute. Prescription medicines have proven themselves effective in relieving the debilitating symptoms of depression, but they are not a “cure-all.”

With depression taking so many forms, any single attempt to generalize about its fundamental nature fails to cover all the bases. In mild cases, people can often control the symptoms with non-medicinal means like psychotherapy and lifestyle changes. In more severe cases, drugs may be necessary to lift the crushing weight of despair. In any case, however, the suffering wrought by depression demands mercy from people on the outside.

In order for the depressed individual’s loved ones to show due patience and compassion, they need to understand the self-propagating nature of the disorder. Depression feeds on itself, snowballing as its most prominent symptoms stand in the way of recovery. It is easy for the outside observer, with no experience of depression, to accuse the depressed individual as being lazy, irresponsible, or weak-willed. But anyone who has been depressed knows the hopeless feeling of being trapped by the anguish—the sense that it has always and will always be that way.

Some of the key symptoms of depression, listed by the Mayo Clinic, include a loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, changes in sleeping or eating habits, trouble concentrating, restlessness, fatigue, and irritability. Of course, such symptoms can also stem from other physical or mental problems. None of them necessarily point to depression on their own, but whenever two or three of them are present at the same time, depression should at least be considered as a possibility.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the true causes and most virtuous treatments for depression, everyone can agree that any depressed person should receive help in getting well. For that to happen, the general population needs to recognize the warning signs so that depression is not confused with a less severe condition and that it does not go untreated.

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