10 Warning Signs of Depression


There’s an odd dynamic that happens to us when we’re close to people. We don’t always notice when they’re in serious trouble. Things we’d notice immediately about a perfect stranger don’t register on us with people we love. We just tend to make accommodations and excuses for the troubled or even weird behavior of people we care about.

I remember when a good friend and fellow grad student started cycling into a major manic episode, the likes of which I’d never seen before. He started calling me at 2 and 3 am, and launching into whatever he was thinking about, without even saying ‘Hello, this is Steve’.

My internal reaction was to be annoyed, but not to think, ‘Yikes, Steve is in trouble’. It’s a form of cognitive dissonance: I didn’t want to see him that way, so my brain made adjustments and called him inconsiderate instead.

Similarly, serious depression in a dear friend or loved one can get interpreted as ‘he’s a drag to be with lately’, or ‘why does so-and-so never follow through?’ or ‘she’s not a very good listener these days and hasn’t called me in weeks..’ That’s why we’re countering that natural tendency to overlook signs of trouble with this list – Ten Warning Signs of Depression.

  1. Hopelessness. Feeling hopeless or empty is a common sign of depression. People may find themselves unable to control negative thoughts, or crying for seemingly no reason. They have actual cognitive distortion, irrationally finding things pointless or doomed to fail.
  2. Guilt. People feel worthless. They’re overly self critical and dislike themselves. This is a signature sign of depression.
  3. Irritability. Depression is often described as anger turned inward. It shows up as irritation, a short fuse, general negativity, or agitation mixed with anxiety. For some women and for even more men, this can show up as reckless behavior or aggression.
  4. Loneliness. By definition, depression is isolating and disconnecting from normal social connection.
  5. Cognitive Changes. People have problems with focus, concentration and memory. They stall on making decisions, and experience their thinking as slower and more plodding, sometimes even drawing blanks. 
  6. Physical Changes. The biggest change is heightened fatigue, loss of energy. There also may be somatizing symptoms like aches and pains, digestive problems or headaches that don’t seem to have any other cause and don’t respond to treatment.
  7. Loss of interest. Loss of interest can show up as neglecting your responsibilities and your physical grooming. It may also manifest as decreased interest in pleasurable activities like sex, hobbies, or social interactions.
  8. Changes in Sleep Habits. People sleep too much or too little, with various kinds of sleep disturbances, especially waking up too early.
  9. Changes in Eating Habits. Just as with sleep, people eat too much or too little.
  10. Suicidal thoughts. People can have thoughts of harming themselves, or that it would be good to be out of this misery and just die somehow. It’s always a good idea to ask someone if they’re feeling suicidal, or have any fantasies of doing themselves in – and then a follow up question that shows how serious they are: How would you do it? If they have a very specific plan, you probably need to act. Surprisingly, asking a friend to promise not to act on this often works; and even better, you can combine this with encouragement to seek professional help or, if this is an emergency, to call a suicide hot line – local or national (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:1-800-273-8255).

So it’s good to be aware of this natural, human tendency to ‘normalize’ abnormal behavior in those we love. Pay attention! Someone you love may need it.

All Best,


This list was adapted from a similar article in Everyday Health.