What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

If you think you might be depressed, you first need to understand the signs and symptoms to look out for.

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Page medically reviewed by Dr Natasha Bijlani (FRCPsych, MBBS), Consultant Psychiatrist based at Priory Hospital Roehampton in October 2021.

Feelings of unhappiness and despair are a normal part of life for everyone. It’s natural to feel sadness or helplessness from time-to-time in response to the daily challenges of life. However, when these feelings start to become overwhelming, to the extent that they are severely affecting your life, you may be suffering from depression. It’s estimated that over 280 million people have depression across the world.

Early signs of depression

People experience depression in widely different ways. The signs and symptoms will differ from person to person, as will the onset of each of these symptoms. This makes it difficult to suggest some 'early' signs of depression. However, there are some common signs of depression you can look out for if you, or someone you know, think they're struggling with depression.

These common signs include:

  • A lack of energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling low or down
  • Physical symptoms such as aches and pains

If you're experiencing any of the signs of depression mentioned above, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're clinically depressed. It's normal to experience periods of low mood, sadness and other similar emotions throughout life, and these symptoms may be a sign of these experiences rather than depression.

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If you need help assessing yourself, our free assessment tool could help.

Watch: Priory explains depression

Hear a Priory expert explain the common symptoms and causes of depression, as well as different coping strategies.

Common symptoms of depression

Depression symptoms can vary widely for each individual, as can the severity of those symptoms. For people suffering with depression, it’s likely that your symptoms will be affecting your day-to-day activities, work, social, and/or family life.

Below are symptoms of how you might feel if you’re struggling with depression and how your body might react to the depression.

If you're struggling with the symptoms of depression, you may feel like nothing brings you pleasure anymore, even things that you used to enjoy, and you may find it difficult to motivate yourself to do anything. Other signs include:

  • Feelings of guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Flat affect (reduced emotional reactivity)
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in physical appearance or personal hygiene
  • Tearfulness – crying more than usual and becoming emotional for no apparent reason
  • Intense feelings of sadness – affecting your ability to function and take care of yourself
  • Suicidal thoughts

psychological symptoms of depression

If you’ve been having suicidal thoughts, or know someone who has, then you need to look for help straight away. Contact a suicide helpline, such as Samaritans, ask for an urgent GP appointment, or go straight to the A&E department at your nearest hospital. For more information, visit our crisis support page.

  • Low energy/excessive fatigue
  • Psychomotor agitation (being restless or unable to sit still)
  • Psychomotor retardation (slowing of movements)
  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or struggling to get out of bed
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Unexplained digestive problems
  • Sexual dysfunction, including reduced libido and erectile difficulties
  • Appetite changes – either increased or reduced appetite which may also result in weight fluctuations

physical symptoms of depression

In some cases, depression can also lead to physical symptoms like chronic pain or gastrointestinal problems. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned about your mental health, it's important to seek professional help. With proper treatment and support, it's possible to manage depression and improve your quality of life.

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What does depression feel like?

If you're experiencing depression, your mood will likely be unstable, varying from day-to-day. On some days, you may find it easier to manage your emotions and handle the challenges you face. You may feel more positive and upbeat, and find that it's easier to put difficult emotions to the side. You might not experience a sense of sadness or hopelessness (a key symptom of depression), and instead feel more in control of your thoughts and feelings.

There will also be days where you feel incredibly low and depressed. The symptoms you experience can feel more notable and you can feel like the days ahead will be very challenging. Some days you could feel irritable and have angry outbursts, other days you may be very overwhelmed and tearful.

Everyone who has depression experiences it differently, but it's common for everyone to experience highs and lows. At times, you may feel like you're stuck in an endless cycle, but on other days, you may experience moments of positivity and happiness.

Risk factors for depression

Certain circumstances in your life can make you more vulnerable to depression. It’s rarely just one single cause, but certain life events can combine with other factors to trigger depression. These include:

  • A recent divorce
  • Losing your job
  • Death of a loved one
  • High levels of stress
  • Chronic illness or pain

However, your age, gender and other circumstances in your life can have an impact on the likelihood of you suffering from a type of depression, whether that be dysthymia, bipolar depression or clinical depression. This might also impact on the symptoms you experience.


Statistically speaking, depression in women is more common than in men. In one large scale survey published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, women and girls were found to be twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.


While depression in men is less prevalent than depression in women, it should also be noted that men are less likely to speak openly about their feelings, bottling up their emotions and increasing the likelihood of further problems down the line. In fact, despite 77% of men admitting they have suffered from depression, anxiety or stress in their lives, 40% said they haven’t shared their emotions with anyone.


Depression can become a reality no matter your age, but the statistics suggest that 7% of over 60s suffer from it – which is more than those under 60. In general, the older you get, the more likely you are to feel the physical effects of depression such as fatigue and unexplained pains.

Sadly, depression affects a number of children and teenagers too. If you’re worried your child or teenager is suffering from depression, look out for changes in behaviour at home or in school. Signs and symptoms might include:

  • Increased hostility or angry outbursts
  • Low mood
  • Less interaction with their friends
  • A drop in concentration or deterioration in academic performance
Patrick's inspirational story of his depression recovery

Treating your depression

No matter your gender, age or life circumstances, know that depression is a treatable condition and help is not only available, it’s what you deserve to get your life back on track.

If you feel like the symptoms detailed above are having a damaging effect on your life, it may be time to seek professional help. The first place to go is your GP, who can offer you professional advice and a diagnosis.

For a diagnosis of depression to be confirmed, a doctor will assess your state of mind and look for specific symptoms. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) criteria, which is used to diagnose depression, doctors must look for two ‘core’ symptoms:

  • During the last month have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • Do you have little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Doctors making the assessment will look to see if one, or both, of these symptoms have been present for at least 2 weeks.

Alternatively, you could seek depression treatment here at Priory, where we can work with you to develop a recovery programme that fits your needs and circumstances. We offer intensive inpatient stays, weekly therapy sessions that fit in with your life and work commitments, and online therapy that allows you to recover from the comfort of your own home.

Depression is a mental illness, not a sign of weakness. You can make a full and lasting recovery. Get the support you need today by contacting us and speaking to our highly trained mental health professionals about the difficulties you’ve been experiencing.

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