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How to Know if You Have Depression

Three Parts:Learning the Signs of DepressionFinding the Cause of DepressionTreating Your Depression

Depression is a long-term problem that usually lasts for months or years if remains untreated. You may suffer from it if you are having trouble functioning in your daily life, or if you experience frequent negative emotions, whether or not you know the immediate cause. No two people with depression are identical, so don't expect to have every symptom on this list; read the full entry to learn how closely each one is associated with depression. If, after learning the signs, you suspect you might be depressed, continue reading to determine possible causes to address and ways to recover from the condition.

Part 1
Learning the Signs of Depression

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    Understand the relations between depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Most people with depression or an anxiety disorder experience some symptoms of the other condition as well, but determining the primary problem can help treat it. Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is a different condition easily mistaken for depression that requires specialized medication. Read these descriptions carefully before continuing:[1]
    • Depression is a medical condition characterized by overwhelming negative emotions or lack of emotions that persist longer than ordinary sadness and interfere with your life. If untreated, it can occur in mild to moderate form for years at a time ("dysthymia"), or in severe episodes of about six months ("major depression").
    • Anxiety sufferers feel overwhelmed by worry and fear. The symptoms below include notes where they could be a sign of anxiety instead. In addition, panic attacks, cold or sweaty hands, or obsessive thoughts are symptoms of an anxiety disorder, not depression. If you have a mix of both, the Treating Depression section still applies.
    • Bipolar disorder causes the appearance of severe depression for several weeks or longer, but then gradually shifts to a manic period instead, with reckless behavior, racing thoughts, and high energy. If you experience this cycle, you should immediately let a doctor know. Bipolar disorder should not be treated with antidepressants.
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    Examine your persistent moods. Depression is a medical condition that prevents the brain from regulating its emotions. Everyone feels down occasionally, but people suffering from depression frequently experience one of the following emotions or states of mind, or a combination of them.[2][3]
    • Sadness. Are you often sad or low spirited?
    • Emptiness or Numbness. Do you feel as though you have no emotions at all, or have trouble feeling anything?
    • Hopelessness. Have you felt tempted to "give up", or had trouble imagining any improvement? Have you become more of a pessimist since you began suspecting depression?[4]
    • If these are your most frequent states of mind, or if they prevent you from functioning in your everyday life, you would probably benefit from Treating Your Depression.
    • If you are trying to diagnose other people, realize that they may be hiding these emotions or even not admitting them to themselves. In that case, it may be appropriate to put more weight than usual on the outward symptoms listed further down, especially mood swings and irritability.
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    Identify thoughts of death, self harm, or suicide. Major depression or anxiety often causes morbid thoughts of fantasies, but different patients often exhibit these in different forms. If any of the following apply to you, you should begin Treating Your Depression:[5]
    • You wish you were dead.
    • You think the world would be better off without you.
    • You harm yourself intentionally.
    • You fantasize about hurting or killing yourself, or plan how you would do it. People with anxiety sometimes have similar experiences, imagining deaths they're afraid of or worrying that they'll become suicidal.[6]
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    List any activities you've abandoned or no longer find fun. Depressed people often abandon hobbies, stop spending time with friends, or lose interest in sex.[7] If your friends have stopped inviting you places, it's possible they're responding to your lack of interest or repeated declining.
    • If you're not sure whether this applies to you, write down a list of the activities you regularly participated in before you started feeling worse, and estimate how often you did each one. Over the next couple weeks, make a note whenever you do one of these activities and see if your rate has significantly decreased.
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    Identify other changes in your energy level and mood. Depression can have opposite effects in different people. Are you restless, unable to concentrate, and extra irritable? Or have you become tired, unable to perform routine tasks, and prone to avoiding active motion?[8]
    • Have you been snapping at people or getting into arguments without good reason? A shortened temper is another example of a mood change sometimes caused by depression, especially among men and teenagers.[9]
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    Keep an eye out for crying or appetite changes. Sudden weight gain or weight loss could be a sign of any number of medical issues, but even if depression is not the cause you should still consult a doctor. Frequent crying paired with some of the above symptoms could indicate depression, especially if you aren't sure why you're crying.[10]
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    Consider whether your feelings of guilt or worthlessness are proportional. It can be difficult to be objective about your own emotions, but compare your behavior to that of the people around you. Do you feel intense guilt over minor mistakes, events that no one blames you for, or things you have no control over? Do everyday actions make you feel worthless or useless?
    • If you answered "yes" to these questions but the symptoms before this one don't describe you well, consider consulting a doctor about anxiety disorder instead.
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    Get mysterious aches and pains diagnosed. If you have frequent unexplained headaches or other pains, consult a doctor. A medical condition is likely at fault, and depression is a likely possibility if you are a preteen or teenager who matches some of the other symptoms as well.
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    Look for these other symptoms if you are still uncertain. If you're still on the fence about whether you have depression, these other problems could be additional signs. These can have many other causes, however, so don't worry too much if these are mild or your only symptoms:
    • Trouble sleeping or waking up earlier than usual, especially if combined with restlessness and irritability.
    • Oversleeping, especially if combined with low energy and avoiding activity.
    • Difficulty making minor decisions, especially if the attempt makes you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. This could also manifest itself as an inability to concentrate long enough to make the decision.

Part 2
Finding the Cause of Depression

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    Understand the typical causes of depression. Depression is a complex disorder, and there's no simple test doctors can do to see whether you have it. However, if anything on this list applies to your life, that information can help you, your friends, or your therapist work on your recovery:[11]
    • Trauma and grief. Abuse or other violent experiences can cause depression, whether they occurred recently or otherwise. Grief after the death of a friend or other traumatic event can develop into full blown depression.
    • Stressful events. Sudden changes, even positive ones such as getting married or starting a new job, could be responsible. More long term stress from caring for a sick person or going through a messy divorce are common triggers as well.
    • Health conditions. Chronic pain, thyroid disease, and many other medical conditions can bring on depression, especially if you are fighting a long battle with an illness.
    • Medication and substances. Read the side effects label on any medication you are taking. Avoid alcohol and other drugs to see if your symptoms improve; depressed people often abuse drugs, which makes the problem worse.
    • Genetics. If your biological family members suffer or used to suffer from depression, you are more likely to as well.
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    Know how different groups typically respond to depression. Certain demographics are more at risk for depression than others, and display different signs. Learn more about how depression manifests itself in these categories of commonly affected people, especially if you're trying to identify it in someone else through outward signs:[12]
    • Women are twice as likely as men to be depressed, partially due to more extreme hormonal changes. Track your depression symptoms to see if they are linked to your menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, or childbirth.
    • Men are at lower risk of depression, but higher risk for suicide. In many cultures, they are less likely to acknowledge emotional changes, and may need to be diagnosed by other symptoms, especially increased irritability and violence, substance abuse, and sleep problems.
    • Teenagers are also less likely to display or admit to sadness. More often, they react to depression with anger, irritability, and/or substance abuse.
    • Elderly people often complain about physical problems over mental or emotional ones, and so depression may hide for a long time. Be aware of any physical changes, deaths of friends, and losses of independence that could trigger depression.
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    If you recently gave birth, figure out when the depression began. New mothers often experience mood swings, irritability, and other symptoms, which can range from minor to serious. If your depression began after delivery or at some point in the following few months, you may have postpartum depression.[13]
    • Most new mothers experience "baby blues" symptoms for a few days, then recover on their own. This is probably due to hormonal changes and stress following birth.
    • If you are having suicidal thoughts, or the depression is preventing you from caring for your baby, or if the symptoms last more than a week or two, consult a doctor immediately.
    • Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that can occur within two weeks of childbirth. If your depression symptoms are severe and accompanied by extreme mood swings, thoughts about harming your baby, or hallucinations, go to a hospital immediately.
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    See whether your depression is linked to fall or winter. If your symptoms appear as the days become shorter and darker, your depression may be Seasonal Affective Disorder, caused by too little sunlight. Exercise outdoors during daylight hours to see if you improve, or ask a doctor about artificial light treatment. [14]
    • Not all temporary depression is seasonal affective disorder. Many people have depressive episodes that occur every few weeks, months, or years.
    • If you are especially manic and energetic when you are not depressed, tell a doctor you may have bipolar disorder.
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    Don't dismiss your depression if none of these causes apply. Many episodes of depression have a primarily biological or hormonal cause, or a cause that's difficult to identify. This does not make it any less serious or worth treating. Depression is a real medical condition, not something to feel ashamed of because you don't think you have a reason to be sad.

Part 3
Treating Your Depression

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    Ask for help. Realize that your feelings of helplessness are part of your disorder, not reality, and that isolation feeds those feelings. Friends and family can help by listening to your problems, encouraging you to do something about it, and supporting you during the worst moments.[15]
    • If you have trouble being active or leaving the house, let your friends know you're depressed and encourage them to keep inviting you to activities you enjoy even if you don't make it every time.
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    Cultivate good relationships. If you don't have anyone in your life to support you, learn how to reach out and make friends with people. If someone in your life makes you stressed or unhappy, avoid them.
    • It's important to find a support group, so make it your priority. If you wake up and feel that you're having a better day than usual, cancel your plans and spend the day at a social event or contacting old friends.
    • Try joining a club of people who share an interest with you, or even a group you'd never thought of before. A regular meeting such as a weekly dance night or book club can make it easier to develop a habit of attending.
    • If you're too shy to speak to strangers at one of these events, a smile and eye contact can be enough to start a conversation. Find a smaller group or one with people you're more comfortable around if you're experiencing severe anxiety about it.
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    Make healthy lifestyle changes. Regular and sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet are all vital to lowering stress and encouraging a healthy emotional state. Consider meditation, massage, or other relaxation methods.
    • Use your support network. Ask about exercise advice from the professionals at your gym, discuss relaxation methods with your religious advisor, or get a friend of housemate to help you build a schedule and stick to it.
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    Address the cause. If any of the steps in the Finding the Cause section match your experiences, try to deal with them directly as well as treating your depression. Removing the underlying cause can be an extremely effective way of treating depression.
    • If you are grieving, talk about your grief with friends, family, and mentors. Seek counseling to help you through the process.
    • If you recently underwent a big change, try to figure out what parts of the change made you unhappy and reverse them. If you moved to a city where you don't know anyone, phone your old friends, try to find new ones, or move again to an area you have more connection with. If you thought you would like the change and aren't sure why you're responding with depression, talk to a counselor.
    • If you suspect your depression is linked to your menstrual cycle or menopause, inform your doctor and ask about treatment.
    • Consult a doctor, counselor, or specialized support group if you have a chronic illness or substance abuse problem.
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    Get a diagnosis — or two. Try to be open and honest with your doctor about your symptoms, and contact them again if there are any changes. If they are prescribing medication to treat your depression, it's wise to get a second opinion, especially if they seem distracted or spend little time with you.
    • Your doctor won't necessarily prescribe medication. If she thinks there's a specific cause of your depression, she may recommend a course of action or lifestyle changes instead. Referral to therapy is a common occurrence as well, and does not mean the doctor thinks you're crazy.
    • If your depression only lasts a few weeks and is gradually replaced by "high" periods of reckless energy, ask your doctor to consider bipolar disorder before taking any prescription medicine.
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    Attend therapy or counseling. There are many types of therapists or counselors that can help you through recovery. If you do not have a counselor currently or if their efforts aren't helping, find a cognitive behavioral therapist or ask a doctor to recommend one. This style of therapy has the best evidence for successfully treating depression.[16]
    • Try to ignore the stigma against therapy. It is an effective option for assisting your recovery, not a sign of weakness.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapists work with you to identify the thought processes and behaviors that keep your depression going, then teach you to alter these. The process can take many sessions, but will be faster and more effective the more open and willing you are about participating.
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    Take antidepressant medication. Once you are sure of your diagnosis and have begun taking steps to fight the depression, ask your doctor whether medication would be a good idea. Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants even if he thinks your main problem is an anxiety disorder, since they can be effective in treating those as well as depression.[17]
    • Give the medication time to work. If you experience no changes after a few weeks, or if you can't stand the side effects, ask your doctor to prescribe a different medication.


  • Be prepared to improve in "baby steps". Don't expect to get better immediately after identifying your problem, but recognize small improvements and accomplishments along the way.
  • Depression is not a trivial thing. It is a real illness that should be treated and cared for just like any other illness like typhoid or influenza. Just because depression isn't necessarily physical does not mean that it is something that can be overcome through sheer willpower. Seek help and treatment.


  • If you are depressed, some of your friends may try to dismiss your symptoms or tell you you can handle it. Explain to them that you have a medical condition and don't have full control over your emotions, and avoid them if they persist.
  • If you suspect a friend is considering suicide, don't be afraid to talk to them about it directly.
  • If you're considering immediate suicide or serious self-harm, visit this website to find a U.S. suicide hotline or this one for suicide hotlines in other countries.

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Categories: Depression