A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Depression: Not just sadness

Woman sitting on couch with her head leaning back - Depression in adults

It’s possible to be depressed without feeling sad. Irritability, worry and guilt also are signs of depression.

Sadness, negative feelings, body aches and sleep problems can start after an event like the loss of a loved one or an illness, or can creep up over time with no known cause.

“If the symptoms are ongoing or starting to interfere with relationships, work or school, it’s time to consider they may signal depression and not be part of a passing event,” said Patricia Ellis, Ph.D., a Marshfield Clinic psychologist.

A range of symptoms

A person who has experienced depression or lived with someone who was depressed may recognize the symptoms sooner than someone who hasn’t, Ellis said.

Common signs of depression include:

  • Prolonged sadness or grief
  • Unexplained crying
  • Irritability, agitation or anger
  • Worry or anxiety
  • Pessimism or negative feelings
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Guilt about things you have no control over
  • Thoughts of suicide or not wanting to be around
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Sleep problems

People experience depression differently. You may not have every symptom on the list, and you may not have symptoms all the time. It’s possible to be depressed without feeling sad all the time.

If you’ve been having symptoms for a while, don’t wait for them to go away, even if you can connect the symptoms to a certain event. Untreated depression can get worse over time.

No one-size-fits-all treatment

Depression is treated differently for each person. Seeking help doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to take medication for life.

“Many providers start with the minimal amount of treatment needed and recommend other interventions as necessary,” Ellis said.

Some people can manage symptoms without medication through talk therapy and coping techniques. Others need medication or even inpatient hospital treatment for more severe symptoms.

Treatment won’t change your mood right away, but you should talk to your health care provider if you don’t notice any changes after a few weeks. Your provider can help you find something that works.

Support loved ones with depression

“The best thing you can do to help loved ones with depression is to let them know you’re concerned and want them to get the help they need,” Ellis said.

Offer to take them to appointments and encourage them to continue seeking help, but realize you can’t fix it for them.

“Take care of yourself in the process,” Ellis said. “Depression affects loved ones as well as people experiencing symptoms. Some family members find support groups helpful.”

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