What You Should Know

Depression is a complex mental health disorder. Some people with high functioning depression might put on a happy face in public, but be struggling on the inside. This hidden face of depression makes it all the more important for all of us to understand depression symptoms and what signs of depression to look out for.

Symptoms and signs of depression

There are several common depression symptoms and signs of depression that you can look out for:

Strong emotions 

One of the main symptoms of clinical depression is a heightening of emotions. People sometimes have a stereotyped idea that depression means someone is sad and down all of the time. While this can sometimes be true, someone with depression may also be prone to bouts of anger, anxiety, and worry. They may express higher levels of sadness or anger than seems appropriate given the situation. What’s even more tricky, people with high functioning depression may excel at hiding these depression symptoms.

Flatter expressions 

On the flip side, people with clinical depression can sometimes experience an absence of expressed emotion. Mental health practitioners sometimes call this having a blunted or flat affect. Someone who’s experiencing blunted affect might show fewer emotional reactions, even in situations where they normally would.

Low self-esteem

Depression can also negatively impact the way someone sees themselves. People with depression tend to have lower self-esteem, which may also be accompanied by negative self talk (ex: thinking things like “I’m worthless”).

Disruptions in sleep patterns

Sleep is so important for human functioning, and unfortunately, disruptions in sleep are one of the most common signs of depression. For some people, they might have a hard time falling asleep at night, have trouble staying asleep, or might even experience bouts of insomnia. For others, they might sleep much more than usual, to the point that they struggle to even get out of bed.

Loss of interest

When someone has clinical depression, they don’t feel like themselves. One of the biggest ways this shows up is in changes in interest – they might find that the hobbies or activities that used to get them really excited just don’t interest them anymore.

Lack of energy 

Depression can zap the energy right out of you, regardless of how much sleep you’ve had. People with depression can have a really hard time mustering the “get up and go” to start or finish tasks, even ones they might have felt excited about before. Something as small as brushing your teeth or taking the dog for a walk can feel like a hurdle that’s too big to overcome. This is another sign of depression that may be less noticeable in people with high functioning depression.

What causes depression?

Most researchers agree that there is a strong genetic component to depression, though most also agree that environmental factors and life circumstances can also play a role. In reality, both are likely true – genetics make some people more likely to develop depression, but events over the course of their lives build on that genetic predisposition and lead them to develop depression.

So what kind of life circumstances are linked to depression? Here are a few that might surprise you.

Social media use

It’s true, there is a link between social media and depression. While researchers can’t say for sure whether social media causes depression, they have found a relationship between the two. This is especially true for teens and young adults. Some experts think that increased social media use can contribute to lower self-esteem, which may then lead to an increased likelihood of developing clinical depression. 

Other researchers have explored how social media impacts our connections to other people. Close social relationships can be a buffer to protect against developing depression, but in our digital world, connection doesn’t quite look the same as it used to. Connecting with others online can be more isolating and less fulfilling that spending time with others in person.

So, while social media doesn’t cause depression, there’s enough research to suggest that spending less time on social media might improve your mental health.

Past trauma

Many people experience trauma over the course of their lives, whether during childhood or beyond. Trauma can have a negative impact on mental health because it disrupts a person’s sense of safety and their ability to trust other people. 

With regards to clinical depression, there is a lot of evidence that childhood trauma specifically plays a role in the development of depression later in life. Childhood trauma might include things like witnessing domestic violence, experiencing abuse or neglect, witnessing or being exposed to community violence, or living through a natural disaster. Researchers have found that children who experienced one or more instance of trauma were more likely to develop clinical depression as adults.

Negative body image

Negative body image is another life circumstance that has been linked to depression, but it’s not entirely clear which one comes first. Researchers have found that people with a negative body image are more likely to develop depression, along with other mental health conditions.

Having a negative body image is also associated with having lower self-esteem, which may explain its link to depression. Regardless, having a positive regard for yourself (both physically and mentally) may help protect against developing depression.


Depression and diet are linked together. Clinical depression can zap your energy and make you uninterested in doing things you used to enjoy. That can include things like cooking and eating a healthy, balanced diet, so it might be the case that having depression leads people to eat a less balanced and health diet.

While there’s no one diet that has been found to help heal or prevent depression, researchers had found that deficits in Vitamin B and Vitamin D are associated with mental health issues. Eating a diet that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids may also help prevent the development of depression.

What to do next 

Just by reading this article, you’re taking important steps in the fight against depression. If you recognize any of the signs of depression in yourself or someone you care about, please consider seeking out support. Mental health practitioners are available and can help treat and manage depression symptoms.

Depression may be a complex illness, but there are solutions that can help. Learn more here.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.

Depressed and sad young man

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