By Tara Yombor, LMHC
Symptoms of depression sometimes show up in uncommon ways. Imagine you are out to lunch with a friend. While chatting over Cobb Salads and Diet Coke, she tells you about her cousin who has been severely depressed. She discusses how her cousin’s depression has steadily become more intense and that she’s worried about her mental health. You picture your friend’s cousin laying in bed, crying, and sleeping the day away.
Then, your friend states that her cousin is angry, irritable, and at times seems happy and even makes jokes at her own expense.
Wait, what? She’s angry? Making jokes? That doesn’t sound like depression; or at least not the typical signs of depression that you’ve known.
At some point, we all may experience a temporary feeling of sadness, whether it’s not getting the promotion at work, being sad over a breakup. Furthermore, depression is much more than a temporary feeling of sadness. The signs of depression may look very different to both the person experiencing them and to the loved one who is witnessing the suffering.
For someone who is facing Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), internally they may feel lost, hopeless, helpless, guilty, angry, sad, anxious, or even suicidal. They may experience a lack of sleep, lack of pleasure, and decreased or increased appetite. Depression can feel debilitating. Someone may still feel isolated even when surrounded by a sea of loving people.
Nonetheless, the symptoms they display to the outside world may be very different than the way they’re feeling on the inside. Traditionally, symptoms of depression may cause someone to have a hopeless and helpless outlook on life. However, there are many less commonly known signs of depression.
Uncommon Depression Symptoms:
- Anger and irritability: Signs of depression vary depending on sex. Anger is one of the most common symptoms of depression in men. History tells us that men are also less likely than women to acknowledge or accept their depression. This may explain why some men cope with their emotions by using drugs and alcohol or having displaced anger toward a loved one through verbal or physical abuse.
This does not mean that only men experience anger as a symptom of depression. Many women tend to show an increase in irritability and can lash out verbally against their loved ones or toward themselves through self-harm or drugs and alcohol.
- Anxiety: Depression can be paralyzing. It can cause feelings of inferiority or guilt, which then leads to anxiety over not being able to cope with day-to-day activities. Some clients report that they don’t know if they’re experiencing anxiety or depression during times of distress as the feelings associated with both can have similarities.
Those dealing with depression can have ruminating and intrusive thoughts, lack of concentration, and the inability to make decisions. Psychomotor agitation is also a symptom of anxiety, which causes a person to feel overly restless. Examples include pacing around the room, tapping your toes, or rapid talking.
- Overcompensation through perceived happiness: Those struggling with depression may do anything they can to deter people from knowing they are depressed. They may feel guilty, ashamed, weak, or embarrassed, and start overcompensating for their depression by doing anything to mask their depressive symptoms to appear “okay” or “happy.”
Someone who appears very outgoing and who is seen laughing within a crowd of people may be crippled with thoughts of sadness, emptiness, and desperation. Think back to the beloved comedian and actor, Robin Williams. He made millions of people laugh with his witty and slapstick comedy. However, he was struggling with depression, which eventually led to his suicide.
- Weight gain/weight loss: Depression causes changes in our appetite. This change in appetite can lead to overeating (weight gain) or weight loss when not dieting.
- Insomnia or Lethargy: not being able to sleep (insomnia) or extreme fatigue are also signs of depression. Some patients report wanting to “sleep the day away” as a way to turn off their brain and quiet their emotions.
- Uncontrollable emotions: Experiencing rapid changes in mood or emotion can also be a sign of depression. Not being able to control your emotions from one hour, minute, or day to the next. Someone experiencing depression may vacillate from crying to laughing, to anger, to guilt, to a feeling of numbness without reason.
These feelings may also be disproportionate to the current situation or event. For example, uncontrollable crying over spilling water on the kitchen floor.
- Loss of interest: Another symptom of depression is diminished interest or pleasure. A loss of pleasure is called anhedonia (learn more about anhedonia here) and usually experienced in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day. These activities would include things the person once used to enjoy that they no longer find pleasure in doing. This can also include a decreased sex drive or loss of interest in sex.
- Self-Harm Behaviors: these signs of depression include cutting the wrists, legs, hips or stomach; burning self, skin picking, or engaging in behaviors to create physical harm to self. Many report that self-harming behavior is a way to express on the outside the pain they are feeling on the inside. This can also include intrusive thoughts of death, with or without a specific suicide plan. Also, it can include a specific plan for committing suicide.
Depression is not an emotion; it’s a mental illness. If you know someone struggling with a mental illness, do not judge them. Provide support and lovingly encourage them to get help from a professional. If you identify with the symptoms above, know that hope and change is possible. You are not alone. Invest in yourself by reserving time with a therapist because you are worth it.
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