How to Recognize Symptoms of Depression

Distressed man sitting on a bed
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If you or someone you know has unipolar or bipolar depression, you need to recognize the symptoms of depression and contact a doctor if they continue or grow more serious.

Warning Signs

  • If you start having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, keep a record and watch for other symptoms of depression.
  • Be on the alert if someone starts sleeping excessively. Seriously depressed persons can sleep as much as 20 hours a day in some cases.
  • Be concerned if someone begins canceling social engagements and staring at television programs he otherwise wouldn't watch.
  • Notice if mail is piling up unopened or other common tasks such as laundry, taking out garbage, etc., are not being done.
  • Marked change in appetite (increase or decrease), or significant weight gain or loss, can signify many conditions, including depression; consider it in light of other depressive episode symptoms.
  • Keep track of episodes of unexplained and uncontrolled crying.
  • Document feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, or despair that last for a significant part of the day or for several days.
  • Be alert if you or your loved one exhibits signs of unusual worry, anger, negativity, helplessness or hopelessness.
  • Pay attention if you or a loved one begins to have difficulty making even simple decisions. This is one of the very common symptoms of depression.
  • Be sensitive to behavioral changes such as disorganization, inability to concentrate, or indifference to everyday necessary tasks.
  • Notice if actions and thoughts seem to be slowing down (psychomotor retardation) or restlessness and purposeless movements (psychomotor agitation).
  • Watch your loved one for physical symptoms of depression such as slumped posture, frowning, decreased eye contact, frequent sighing, soft or slowed speech, or decreased sexual desires.
  • If symptoms of depression appear after a change in medication, contact the prescribing doctor promptly.
  • Contact the doctor quickly if you experience or someone reports recurrent thoughts of death and suicide.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Symptoms of depression can creep up slowly or emerge quickly. If they come on slowly, it may be harder to notice, especially in yourself. Get in the habit of observing yourself if you have depressive episodes.

Make a pact with your friend or loved one that if one of you sees a group of symptoms of depression in the other, the affected person will take appropriate action such as contacting a doctor. Or make a pact with yourself.

This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms of depression. You will encounter more through observing your own experience and reading about depression. Add more red flags to your or your loved one's personal list of depression symptoms as you spot them!

By Marcia Purse
Marcia Purse is a mental health writer and bipolar disorder advocate who brings strong research skills and personal experiences to her writing.