How to recognise depression: the 3 signs you can’t afford to miss

This is the second in a series of articles on depressive disorder. (Did you catch the first one? Find it here: What it’s like to have depressive disorder.)
I want to show you a simple way to recognise depression.

After my last article (see it here: What it’s like to have depressive disorder), I got people asking: “So how do I recognise depression?” Well, that’s what I’ll be talking about in this post. I’m going to tell you how to know if you—or someone you care about—might have it.

[I should make one thing clear: this is no substitute for seeing a professional. In fact, this is to help you decide if you may need to see one. Lots of people show up at our clinics who aren’t even aware that they might be depressed — they’re often complaining of everything but. So this is to help someone out there who may have it and doesn’t know, or thinks that’s just “how I am.” To help make this personal, I’ll be talking to “you,” but even if you don’t personally relate, you can use this knowledge to help someone you care about.]

Ok, so let’s get started.

First off, at the end of this post, I’ve posted a link to test yourself (or someone you care about) for depression, and you can scroll straight down to see it, but I think it may help if you read the post first. But you choose. :)

Depression comes in many forms, and no two people get depressed the same way. In fact, even in the same person, it can appear differently at one time than another. Here are some of the symptoms…

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Crying often, sometimes without being able to even say why
  • Tiredness that doesn’t go away
  • Strong feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death, or even of suicide
  • Keeping to yourself
  • Weird physical sensations (like internal heat and “something crawling under your skin”)
  • Blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong around you…
  • And of course, sadness

You get the idea. It’s a whole bunch of stuff, and different people have different ones in different combinations.

Good thing is some of the symptoms show up commonly enough that you can often recognise depression with some confidence.

The top 3 signs of depression

These are the ones you absolutely can’t afford to miss. If you forget everything else in this post, please don’t forget these.

Why are they important? Because even we psychiatrists need a minimum of 2 of them to make a diagnosis. Whatever other symptoms are present, at least 2 of these 3 should be present too.

So what are they?

Low mood. You’re just sad. Unhappy. Maybe you can think why, maybe you can’t. You feel numb, dull, like someone came when you weren’t looking and sucked all the joy and meaning out of your life. And it doesn’t go away.

Low energy. You wake up tired, even after sleeping for hours. Getting up out of bed seems like one of your morning chores. The simplest tasks seem to just drain you. Life becomes a drag.

Losing interest in things you normally enjoy. Maybe you like football, but it doesn’t seem as interesting as it used to. Or music, but even your favourite songs don’t seem to move you. Or hanging out with friends doesn’t make you feel better the way it normally would.

Now look very carefully at that list, and just think back to the last time you were sad. If you’re like most people, I bet you experienced all 3 to some extent: besides the sadness (which is, of course, the low mood part), you were probably low on energy, and you were probably not too interested in or able to enjoy things you normally liked.

Which raises the question: is depression then just a very deep sadness?

The answer is no. It’s more.

But what’s the difference then, if they’re so similar? Well, if you read my first post on mental illness, (“Fela, Denrele and what mental illness really is“), you’ll recall I said among the marks of a mental disorder are distress (a sense of suffering in either the person or those who love them) and disability (not being able to do things as well as you normally would).

So that clearly distinguishes depression from regular sadness. (Another is if these 3 things occur in the context of grief, that is, having lost a loved one.)

Basically, if you’re sad, tired and losing interest in things you normally enjoy (or any 2 of the 3), and that lasts 2 weeks or more, you just might be depressed. (Tweet that.)

There’s more to depression, of course: these are just the 3 most important. These 3 are the top signs of depression: persistent low mood, tiredness (or low energy) and reduced enjoyment. (Tweet that.)

In later posts, I’ll talk about other things you need to know: other common symptoms of depression and the different types there are, plus some of the unique ways we in Nigeria (and other Africans) express it.

For now though, here’s the link I promised: go to this page to test yourself (or someone you care about) for depression FREE (the link opens in a new tab).

Then come back and speak your own mind! I’d like to know if this has helped you: with what you know now, do you think maybe you (or someone you know) may have depression?

As always, don’t forget to share! You never know whose life this might change.

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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  1. Very rich n educative.. Illuminating even.. Will try the test later but from the post alone I’m feeling confident tht anyone can do an easy self-assessment regarding the illness..Thanks Doc.. :-)

  2. I followed the link it suggested I may be suffering from some form of depression. I have been down lately, and quite unmotivated as far as school work, but I have been seeking a job for over six months with little or no success, and in need of money to get by. Not to diagnose myself, but I feel that could be the reason why. There’s days I feel like what’s the point, and I have to push through feeling that way, but it is good to be informed.

    1. Hey, javigo, sorry I’m just replying to this, my internet access was flaky over the past couple days. I’m sorry about the issues with school and work and finances, but I’m glad you can at least put a name to what might be going on with you psychologically.
      You’re right about not diagnosing yourself—the link is only to highlight if you might be dealing with a depressive disorder, but you’ll need to see a professional to confirm that. I know you didn’t ask my advice, but do you think you could possibly book an appointment with your school counsellor?
      Take care.

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