Common Symptoms of Clinical Depression

Warning Signs You May Be Depressed

While only a qualified medical or mental health provider can diagnose depression, there are certain warning signs that can help you identify whether you or someone you care about may be depressed.

Depression looks a little different in different people, however. So while one individual may struggle to get out of bed due to depression, someone else might be able to go to work every day without co-workers noticing that he's depressed. 

Sometimes, symptoms that look like depression aren't really depression, however. Substance abuse issues, medical problems, medication side effects, or other mental health conditions may produce symptoms that look similar to depression. 

The DSM-5 recognizes several different types of depressive disorders. The two most common types include major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder

The good news is, depression is treatable. If you recognize signs that you or someone you may know be depressed, professional help may be warranted. Medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two could be instrumental in reducing depressive symptoms. 

Low Mood

Anxious woman sitting on couch, staring into space
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A person with a depressed mood may report feeling "sad" or "empty," or may cry frequently. Having a low mood is one of the two core symptoms which is used to diagnose depression.  

Depressed mood is consistent with both major depression and persistent depressive disorder. In major depression, an individual must feel depressed most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report or observations made by others. Children or adolescents may appear more irritable than sad.

People with persistent depressive disorder experience a depressed mood more days than not for at least two years. Children may appear more irritable than depressed and they must experience it more days than not for at least one year. It may be chronic and less severe than a full-blown major depression, but could also represent symptoms of a major depression that have persisted for more than two years.

Decreased Interest or Pleasure

The second core symptom of major depressive disorder is a decreased interest or pleasure in things that were once enjoyed. A person exhibiting this symptom will show markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, daily activities.

Changes in Appetite

Significant changes in weight (a gain or loss of 5 percent or more in a month) while not attempting to gain or lose may be indicative of major depressive disorder. In children, this may also present as a failure to make expected weight gains.

Persistent depressive disorder may involve a poor appetite or overeating but there may not be the same marked change in weight that is present in major depressive disorder. 

Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, feeling sleepy despite a full night's rest, or daytime sleepiness can indicate either major depressive disorder or persistent depressive disorder. 

Psychomotor Agitation or Retardation

Agitation, restlessness, or lethargy that affects a person's daily routine, behavior or appearance is a symptom of major depressive disorder ​These symptoms can be evident in body movements, speech, and reaction time and must be observable by others. 


A loss of energy and chronic feelings of fatigue can be symptoms of both persistent depressive disorder and major depressive disorder. Feeling tired most of the time can interfere with an individual's ability to function normally. 

Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt

Excessive, inappropriate guilt, and feelings of worthlessness are common symptoms of major depressive disorder. The feelings of guilt may be so severe they become delusional. 

Difficulty Concentrating

Both major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder involve difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Individuals with depression may recognize this in themselves or others around them may notice that they're struggling to think clearly. 

Recurrent Thoughts of Death

Recurrent thoughts of death that go beyond the fear of dying are associated with major depressive disorder. An individual with major depression may think about suicide, make a suicide attempt, or create a specific plan to kill themselves. 


Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.​