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Young women wondering if she has the signs and symptoms of depression.

October 11, 2021 • read

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Depression signs and symptoms — how to recognize depression

Depression can sometimes feel like the elephant in the room. When you feel depressed, it can be hard to focus on anything else. Talking about such a personal experience with others can be intimidating. But you should know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re not feeling like yourself. 

One in four Canadians have had depression serious enough to need treatment at least once in their lives. Depression, clinically known as major depressive disorder, is a common mood disorder. It can cause you to feel sad for prolonged periods, or have a loss of interest in the things you usually enjoy. Depression is treatable, but it should still be taken seriously. Without treatment, symptoms of depression can get worse.

Sadness and depression are different

Depression isn’t the same as simply being sad. We all feel down from time to time. When we feel sad, it’s often connected to something that’s happened in our lives, like the death of a loved one. That sadness is very real, but it lessens over time.  

Clinical depression is an illness. Symptoms like negative mood and hopelessness are long lasting when you’re depressed. Feelings of depression aren’t always attached to a life event. It’s possible to feel depressed for no obvious reason. 

Depression symptoms

Depression symptoms are wide-ranging. There are both emotional and physical symptoms of depression. Signs of major depressive disorder (MDD) include: 

  • Feeling deeply sad or close to tears every day
  • Decreased interest in your day-to-day activities
  • Deriving no pleasure from things you usually enjoy
  • Weight loss or weight gain due to changes in your appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Foggy or slowed thinking
  • Feeling as if people don’t like you
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty controlling emotions, leading to outbursts
  • Insomnia or trouble staying asleep
  • Sleeping too much
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Digestive and bowel issues

It’s important to act on signs of depression early. Getting proper treatment can help you get back to being yourself. Symptoms of depression fall under three categories: mild, moderate, and severe.

Mild depression

People with mild depression experience symptoms a few days a week. In some cases they return on and off for several years. The symptoms are bothersome, but they don’t get in the way of your daily life. It’s possible to go undiagnosed when you have mild depression because the symptoms mimic so many other illnesses. Exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, and a nutritious diet are recommended to help improve your mood.

Moderate depression

For people with moderate depression, symptoms start to interfere with responsibilities at home, work, or in your social life. Medication and therapy are two common interventions. It’s important to speak to a psychiatrist or family doctor about which medication is best for you. Avoid self-medicating through the use of drugs or alcohol. Doing so could make you feel worse in the long run.

Severe — major depression

When someone has severe depression, they’re unable to live a normal life because of their symptoms. All aspects of life are affected by the illness. People with severe depression are more likely to have thoughts about self-harm or suicide. If you or someone you know is feeling this way, it’s an emergency. Contact an emergency suicide phone line if you feel that anyone is in danger.

Depression warning signs

Because of stigma, many people feel nervous to admit they’re depressed. Likewise, it’s tough to bring it up when you start noticing a friend or family member acting out of character. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know could be suffering from depression, look for these characteristics:


When you’re feeling hopeless, questions like “What’s the point?” constantly run through your mind. You may also experience feelings of guilt that are out of proportion. It’s important to remember that these feelings are a part of having depression, and are not based in reality. If your feelings of hopelessness last for two weeks or more, it’s a strong indication of depression.


Restlessness is a symptom of depression and anxiety combined. It’s not uncommon for people to be living with both anxiety and depression at the same time. This particular warning sign of depression is noticeable to the people around you. It involves actions such as:

  • Wringing your hands
  • Pacing
  • Impulsive behavior, like gambling
  • Irritability and anger
  • Trouble sitting still
  • Excessive talking

Fixating on death

If you’re living with depression, you’re at a higher risk of attempting suicide. For friends and family of someone with depression, be aware that the following behaviours could be signs of suicidal thoughts:

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Saying that others would be better off without them
  • Risky behaviour like reckless driving or unprotected sex
  • Sudden calmness or improvement in mood after a period of feeling sad
  • Mood swings
  • Threatening to end their life
  • Making arrangements for a time when they’re not around

Being withdrawn

If you’re finding yourself avoiding the company of others, it’s possible you’re becoming withdrawn. In everyday life this looks like frequently missing work or opting out of social occasions that were once enjoyable for you.

Changes in appearance

When you’re living with depression, sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to take care of your appearance. As a result, you might find yourself bathing less or looking disheveled.

How to find help

Causes of depression are both genetic and environmental, which means there are solutions that start in both the body and the mind. Our healthcare professionals can help you get treatment if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. If you feel that you or someone else are in danger, call a friend, relative, or medical helpline to get compassionate support.

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