Signs & Symptoms of Depression

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of depression. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

The stress, challenges, setbacks, and disappointments in life are all things that can cause people to experiences feelings of sadness. However, individuals who are struggling with depression are not just facing the normal downswings in mood that occur from time to time. Instead, those with this mental illness tend to experience constant feelings of emptiness and despair that end up consuming seemingly all aspects of their lives. Furthermore, depressions can lead to significant disruptions in a person’s life, causing conflict with normal daily functioning.

Without treatment, the unrelenting symptoms of depression can interfere with a person’s academic or occupational responsibilities, create conflict within peer or family relationships, and generally prevent him or her from enjoying life. Devastatingly, without therapeutic interventions, the symptoms of depression will only worsen over time and have the potential to manifest into other mental health conditions. The good news is that depression is a very treatable mental illness and, with proper medication, therapy, and support, an individual can overcome his or her symptoms and learn to lead a happy, productive life.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

Experts believe that the development of depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. These factors are described in more detail below:

Genetic: Depression is one such mental health condition that can be inherited from an individual’s biological parents. Research has indicated that 40% of people who have been diagnosed with depression have a family history of this disorder.

Physical:  When individuals are suffering from depression, the parts of their brains that are responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior do not function properly. Additionally, it seems that important neurotransmitters are out of balance in those with depression.

Environmental: Trauma, losing a loved one, or any other stressful life event has the ability to trigger a depressive episode. This is especially true when an individual lacks the skills needed to cope with stress, or when one does not have a strong support system available to him or her.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Loneliness
  • Lack of social support
  • Going through stressful life experiences
  • Family history of depression or other mental health condition(s)
  • Personal history of another mental health condition(s)
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Marital or other relationship problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Experiencing a major life change
  • Health problems or chronic pain
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Being the victim of a crime

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

While depression will vary from person to person, there are some common signs and symptoms that exist. Actual presenting symptoms will also depend upon more specific individual characteristics. Below are some of the most well-known symptoms that are associated with a diagnosis of depression:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unexplained emotional outbursts
  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Engagement in reckless behavior
  • Inability to adhere to responsibilities at work or school
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Social withdrawal or isolation

Physical symptoms:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Stomach pains
  • Decrease in energy
  • Unexplained bodily aches and pains
  • Loss of energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Often unable to make good decisions
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory impairments
  • Delayed or slowed thinking

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Anger
  • Anxious mood
  • Irritability
  • Overly self-critical
  • Self-loathing
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Pervasive sadness


Effects of depression

Constantly struggling with distressing emotions and persistent sadness is extremely hard on a person’s health and overall wellbeing. Individuals who do not seek professional treatment services for their depression may eventually begin to experience a number of detrimental effects that will only further perpetuate the cycle of their depressive symptoms. The effects listed below are examples of what the future could hold if a person does not get the treatment they need. These include:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Higher risk for the development of an additional mental health condition
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Poor decision-making
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Difficulties within interpersonal relationships
  • Weakened immune system
  • Chronic tension headaches and ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Substance use / abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Death by suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

The following mental health disorders commonly co-occur with a depression diagnosis and could require their own treatment in the event a person seeks care for a depressive disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Dementia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders

My severe depression had taken over my life. I’m so thankful for San Juan Capestrano Hospital for giving me the strength to start living my life again to the fullest.

– Luis S.