Fundamentally the individual warning signs of depression are similar to the individual symptoms of depression.
A person my be considered to be suffering from clinical depression if there is a combination of several symptoms over a prolonged period (see diagnosing depression).
However, before any formal diagnosis is made, look out for the depression warning signs listed below, but bear in mind that taken on their own these may be explained by causes other than depression.
Depression warning signs
These are typical indications that a person may be becoming depressed or actually suffering from depression:
- Low mood
- Loss of enjoyment in things that usually give pleasure
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in weight
- Feeling hopeless
- Being more self-critical than usual
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Feeling lethargic or hyperactive
- Finding it hard to concentrate of make decisions about things
- Withdrawing from your normal social activities
- Not wanting to talk to people
- Not wanting to make new friends or engage with people you don’t know.
Spotting the depression warning signs early
Often the onset of depression is a gradual process. There are many circumstances in life that may cause us to be sad or unhappy or to describe ourselves as feeling depressed.
These can include bereavement, job loss, relationship breakdown, forced separation from friends and family. In most cases these feelings pass. But if the negative feelings arising from these events persist, they can also give rise to depression.
It is well understood that the potential causes of depression include genetic make-up, brain chemistry and life circumstances. Whilst genetics and brain chemistry may be operative in any given case, it is only really our life circumstances that we can pay deliberate attention to.
So, if you are worried any changes in your mood or general outlook, think about what has been going on in your life recently and whether there may have been any stressful events that could be linked to those changes.
Consider also whether you have been suffering from any long term strain. A period of sustained stress can leave you much more susceptible to developing depression in response to any further stressor (such as work or reltionship problems), even though those problems may not have had the same effect if they had come at a time when there had not been a prior period of strain (See Beck and Alford, Depression Causes and Treatment, 2nd Edition, 2009, page 252).
I know from personal experience that this can be the case. I would also suggest that the signs that may give you the earliest warning that depression could be on its way are the ‘withdrawal’ ones, i.e. the ones involving:
- loss of interest in normal socializing; including turning down invitations to events, parties or even impromptu nights out,
- wanting to spend more time alone,
- not wanting to meet new people, go to new places or have new experiences,
- not wanting to talk much even with friends or family.
These may be the first signs that somebody is at risk of becoming depressed. If these are coupled with or follow a known stressor, such as the ones referred to above, then it makes sense to try to address the problem before it deteriorates significantly.
It is often the case that a short course of counselling or psychotherapy can help deal with troubling thoughts or moods and help avert depression before it has a chance to develop fully.
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