If you have experienced depression, you may be familiar with the way it can creep back into your life (the sneaky devil). We frequently misjudge or ignore the warning signs that pop up in our daily lives before a depressive episode occurs because we don't want it to be true.
With a rise in mental health awareness, most people know what depression is and understand that it should be taken seriously. It may not be obvious, however, that depression often isn't a one-time thing. It can be a long-term illness with recurrences and relapses. In fact, those who have had one depressive episode are at an increased risk of having at least one more in their lifetime.
Looking online for answers will usually turn up the same generalized lists—fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, changes in sleep and appetite, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities—you know the drill. But in reality, what do these symptoms actually look like? Where do they start?
The following list is by no means exhaustive. Depression is a very individualistic illness. It is important to recognize your personal red flags so you can seek out treatment early and discuss the possible need for maintenance treatment to cut down on the frequency and duration of relapses.
If you have a history of depression and notice the following signs, consider if it has become a pattern and take a moment to check in with yourself.
1. You aren't brushing your teeth as often.
Or maybe you aren't washing your hair or clipping your nails. When we read that people with depression struggle with hygiene, we think of someone who is obviously unkempt, but that isn't always the case. You don't need to look like Oscar the Grouch to be struggling with taking care of yourself.
2. You aren't singing along to the radio.
Most of us jam out to music when we're alone or in the car. If you're normally a backseat Beyonce and now you've lost your boogie, it may be time to take notice.
3. You are eating out a lot.
Even if you enjoy cooking, it can become a burden to prepare food when you're feeling low. This can be especially problematic when you start relying on McDonald's for all your sustenance.
4. You aren't eating all your meals.
It can be easy to make excuses for skipped meals. Maybe there is a lot going on at work or you woke up too late or your dog ate it. Take some time to examine if missed meals is becoming a pattern for you.
5. You aren't texting back loved ones right away... or at all.
Isolation and withdrawal are big red flags and can start in deceptively small doses.
6. You aren't sticking to your regular bedtime.
Whether you're following the sleep schedule of a night owl or your grandmother, sleep disturbances are a common and accepted symptom of depression.
7. You have a telling dream.
Dreams are crazy, man. Some people report having particular kinds of dreams that coincide with their depression, like an internal dreamy alarm system.
8. You stopped looking at the sky.
Looking up at the sky is a simple pleasure that you may participate in when you're happy. You could stargaze or appreciate a sunset or simply look at the clouds as they pass by, but you might stop doing this when the beauty no longer seems so obvious.
9. You can't finish the book you are reading.
Low concentration and energy make it hard to focus on and enjoy your book.
10. You start saying "that's funny" instead of laughing.
The natural ability to genuinely laugh is a pleasure that we can take for granted. It's also really hard to say "that's funny" convincingly unless you are actually laughing.
11. You stop turning lights on in the evening.
Don't be left in the dark by ignoring this red flag.
12. You have road rage.
It seems to be pretty common to mutter expletives at other drivers, but if you are normally even tempered this may need to be noted. Irritability is a symptom of depression that often gets looked over.
13. You are restless.
Restlessness is another very real, very unpleasant symptom that you may not attribute to depression.
14. You are binge-watching A LOT.
I know "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is the best show ever, but you may be using it as an unhealthy coping strategy in excess.
15. You are keeping yourself constantly busy.
It's like you're constantly canceling plans on your feelings. "I hate to do this again, Depression, but I have like five assignments and two personal projects I have to work on tonight. Maybe we can reschedule for never? So sorry!"
16. You are forgetful.
From forgetting to move your laundry to the dryer for the third time to not showing up to your friends birthday dinner because you genuinely forgot, memory lapses can be a really big nuisance.
17. Time moves differently.
You can spend half a day staring at that weird spot on your wall without realizing it or pet your cat for what seems like hours, but is only 10 minutes.
18. You aren't keeping up with medications.
Regardless of if your medications are for your mental health or another reason, slacking on your medical regimen is a big red flag.
19. You cancel appointments.
As an introvert, canceled plans (especially when it's someone else who cancels) is like a Get Out of Jail Free card. But when you've canceled all of your appointments (doctors, hair, friends, whatever) for the past month it may be time to make and stick to an appointment with someone who can help you.
20. You have unexplained physical symptoms.
That lingering cold might not actually be a cold. Depression can be a surprisingly physical illness.
21. You keep your thoughts to yourself.
This can be a thin line for someone who is naturally reserved, but not talking as much as you usually do can tip you off to an underlying issue. As a quiet person, the phrase "you've got to look out for the quiet ones" is slightly infuriating but accurate in this case.
22. You let dirty dishes pile up.
Who actually likes doing the dishes? But when you're in a depressive episode, dishes and similar chores can be overwhelming.
23. You have negative self talk.
Maybe this seems like an obvious symptom, but we don't always notice how hurtful our inner dialogue is.
24. Mornings are impossible.
Not everyone can be a morning person
(seriously, they're like annoying unicorns), but waking up should be at least somewhat bearable.
Note: Morning people are just regular people and aren't actually annoying.
25. You aren't exercising as much.
So, I don't know if this is common knowledge, but exercise is really good for you. But it can be a bit of a catch-22 that doesn't play nicely with depression. Exercise can give you more motivation, energy and even help improve depression; but, you also need motivation and energy to exercise, something that depression often saps out of you.
26. You make cynical jokes.
Depending on your personality, this may or may not be out of character.
27. You aren't putting on makeup or doing your hair.
You don't need makeup or perfect hair to look and feel good. But when it goes missing from your normal routine, it is usually because personal energy and motivation have gone missing too.
28. You can't concentrate at work.
Sometimes, we have those days where we just can't work anymore. And that's normal. It's when those days turn into weeks and months where we may have a problem.
29. You aren't as sexually active.
For a lot of people, doing the do is a pleasurable, normal part of their lives, but depression can significantly decrease your libido.
30. You consider self-destructive behaviors.
Some of the most serious symptoms of depression can include self-destructive behaviors such as self-harm, abusing substances, and suicidal ideation. This kind of behavior can also surface in self-sabotaging behaviors, like driving recklessly in front of a police car, gossiping about co-workers in the office and purposefully ignoring calls from friends.
31. You cry when your pet leaves the room.
Excessive crying is probably one of the hardest symptoms to ignore and can be embarrassing if you around other people. At least your pet won't judge you.
32. You hold grudges.
Forgiveness is already hard to give. It's even harder when depression is dragging you down and clouding your judgment.
33. You bring up old hurts.
Depression is a fantastic fisherman. It knows exactly what bait to throw in order to lure out old hurts and insecurities.
If you still aren't sure if what you're struggling with is depression, reach out anyway. Many of these symptoms can be signs of other issues and it is always best to receive care earlier rather than later.
Check out these prevention resources if you need help.
If you are in a crisis and need immediate support, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911, or go to your nearest emergency room.