Depression Signs and Symptoms

Major depressive disorder, sometimes known as clinical depression, is a complex mood disorder that has emotional, psychological, social, and physical effects. In addition to feelings of sadness, depression can cause a loss of interest in activities, difficulties functioning in areas of life, sleep difficulties, physical problems, and other symptoms.

There are several types of depressive disorders, but "depression" usually refers to major depressive disorder (MDD).

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of depression and how they can be managed.

Woman on the couch looking at her phone

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Depression Symptoms

Depression is classified by severity:

  • Mild: Symptoms result in minor impairment of daily life
  • Moderate: More significant symptoms and impact on daily life
  • Severe: Substantial symptoms and marked interference with functioning.

Though depression is typically thought of as "feeling sad," it can cause symptoms in a number of areas.

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms of depression include:

  • Ongoing low mood, sadness, or "emptiness"
  • Feelings of hopelessness/helplessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling teary/crying easily/feeling like crying but can't
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Irritability
  • Anger and/or aggression
  • Pessimism
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Trouble with concentration, memory, and/or decision-making
  • General lack of enjoyment of life
  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Thoughts (or actions) of suicide or self-harm
  • Loss of touch with reality, such as hallucinations (sensory experiences that aren't real) and/or delusions (ideas or beliefs not based in reality)

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of depression can include:

  • Changes in movement, such as moving or speaking more slowly than usual, or restlessness/trouble keeping still
  • Changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased but can also be increased)
  • Aches, pains, digestive problems, headaches, or cramps without apparent reason and/or are not eased by treatment
  • Fatigue/lack of energy
  • Low sex drive
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Sleep difficulties, such as trouble falling asleep, waking very early in the morning, or oversleeping

Social/Behavioral Symptoms

Social/behavioral symptoms of depression include:

  • Avoiding social activities
  • Spending less time with family and friends
  • Problems in work or family life
  • Substance use
  • Risk-taking behaviors

Depression and Gender

Statistically, females are more likely to experience depression than males are. There are some reasons that may account for this discrepancy.

Females are more likely to report mild to moderate symptoms of depression, while males may be less likely to report symptoms. However, males have higher rates of completed suicide.

Depression may be affected by hormones in females, such as with menstrual cycle changes, pregnancy, and menopause (the differences in reports of depression between males and females diminish with age).

Males are more likely than females to report less traditional symptoms of depression that are often outside the diagnostic criteria for depression, such as anger, aggression, irritability, substance use, and risk-taking behaviors. This might cause missed diagnoses.

Males may be more likely to view seeking help as a sign of weakness or vulnerability and may be less likely to seek medical attention, particularly for mental health issues such as depression.

How to Get Help

If you have symptoms of depression, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional, particularly if:

  • Your symptoms occur every day for more than two weeks.
  • Your symptoms are not improving.
  • Your mood or other symptoms are affecting areas of your life such as work, relationships, or other interests.
  • You have thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call 911 immediately or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Can I Help Someone Else With Their Depression?

You can help a loved one with their depression by:

  • Encouraging and supporting them in getting help
  • Talking openly about depression and providing an environment in which your loved one feels safe and comfortable opening up to you
  • Keeping in contact with them, even with simple text messages
  • Not judging or being critical
  • Offering to help them with tasks but respecting their autonomy if they prefer to do things themselves
  • Making sure to take care of yourself too

Resources That Might Help Include:


To make a diagnosis of depression, a healthcare provider may:

  • Talk to you about your feelings, behaviors, and other symptoms
  • Discuss your medical and family histories, including mental health
  • Ask you about your day-to-day life
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Run blood tests to look for a physical reason for your symptoms, such as a thyroid problem
  • Make referrals to mental health professionals or other specialists if necessary
  • Use tools such as diagnostic questionnaires


Treatment for depression typically involves medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. If these treatments are not effective, treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be recommended.


Antidepressants affect the chemicals in the brain that control mood and other functions. The most common types of antidepressants prescribed include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Cipralex, Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)
  • Fetzima (levomilnacipran)
  • Pristiq (desvenlafaxine)

Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs)

Antidepressants take time to work (usually about two to four weeks to start seeing results, with full benefits often taking longer). Your healthcare provider can work with you to adjust doses or switch medications if needed to find what works best for you.

Never stop taking antidepressants without first talking to your healthcare provider about how to wean yourself off of them safely.


Types of evidence-based psychotherapy (talk therapy) that may help with depression include:

Psychotherapy sessions can be in individual or group settings. The number of sessions depends on the person and the severity of the depression, but improvement often results after 10–15 sessions.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT may be suggested if other treatments have not been effective or if the depression is severe and a rapid response is necessary.

ECT is typically an outpatient procedure in which a person receives a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while they are under general anesthesia.

ECT is not painful and is considered a safe and effective treatment for depression.

A course of ECT is typically two to three sessions a week for a total of six to 12 treatments.


Depression is a mood disorder that involves persistent feelings of sadness or low mood lasting at least two weeks as well as other psychological, physical, and social symptoms. It can also involve other psychological, physical, and social symptoms.

There are several types of depressive disorders, but depression usually refers to major depressive disorder.

Depression is typically treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both.

A Word From Verywell 

If you have been experiencing a low mood and/or other depression symptoms for two weeks or more or they are impacting your life, talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional. Treatments are available that can help you manage your symptoms and feel better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is depression?

    Approximately 21 million adults in the United States (8.4% of U.S. adults) experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

  • Can depression be prevented?

    Depression can't always be prevented, but prevention programs such as school-based programs that enhance positive coping, parent and child interventions for children with behavioral problems, and exercise programs may reduce the risk of depression.

  • Can depression go away?

    Depression is not considered curable, but it is treatable, with 80–90% of people eventually responding to treatment.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Psychiatric Association. What is depression?

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Depression.

  4. National Health Services. Overview - clinical depression.

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  6. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Depression.

  7. Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Is depression in men overlooked?

  8. Shi P, Yang A, Zhao Q, Chen Z, Ren X, Dai Q. A hypothesis of gender differences in self-reporting symptom of depression: implications to solve under-diagnosis and under-treatment of depression in males. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:589687. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.589687

  9. Office on Smoking and Health. Mental health conditions: depression and anxiety.

  10. Mind. How can friends and family help?

  11. Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA). Treatment & Management.

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  13. World Health Organization. Depression.

By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.