Symptoms of depression in others

I’ve written a lot about how to deal with depression if you’re the one suffering, but there’s one topic that I realized I haven’t touched on a ton: How can you recognize when someone you know or love is depressed? That can be a challenge: The symptoms may be subtle, or they may be screamingly obvious. But recognizing that someone is suffering is the first step towards getting them the help that they may need.

So, what are the signs of depression in someone else? There’s the obvious: They seem down. They express negative emotions or feelings about themselves. But spotting depression isn’t always that easy, sadly. Here’s a few thoughts on how you can keep an eye out for when someone is down:

  • Lack of energy: The person you know or love just doesn’t seem to want to do anything anymore.
  • Social withdrawal: They don’t want to spend time with their friends, go to work or do anything other than lie in bed/stay at home and watch TV.
  • Changes in appetite: This can go either way – someone suddenly stops eating or is eating all the time.
  • Tired and/or lacking energy: Okay, yeah, we’re all busy and constantly sleepy, but if someone is complaining to you about wanting to do nothing but sleep – or not being able to get any sleep – that’s a problem.
  • Reckless behavior: People with depression will often do anything to escape their own heads. This may involve behavior which unnecessarily puts them in some sort of risk. That may involve increased use of alcohol or drugs or other dangerous activities.
  • Attention problems: People with depression may have a hard time focusing on work or school. If you see your friend having a bigger problem than usual paying attention, that may be a sign that they are in trouble.

Two additional things about the symptoms noted above. First, there has to be a baseline. Someone may seem like they are withdrawing from the world when the truth is that they are just a homebody – you have to have something to judge their behavior against, and it has to represent a change from the norm.

Second, these changes can be subtle. People with depression are often good – too good – at hiding their symptoms (trust me). This is for a variety of reasons – they don’t want to be a burden, they think it’s just “all in their head,” etc. As a friend or a loved one, this can make your life difficult, but it requires you to keep an eye out for behavior. This is particularly important when someone you know has been depressed in the past, or is likely to slip into a depressive spell again. My poor wife has a series of symptoms which she is constantly on the lookout for, and if you have someone you love who has suffered, you know exactly what I am talking about.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments! Anything I missed here? Please let us know in the comments below!

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