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11 Little-Known Signs of Depression

Not all depressions look alike.  Some people experience anger, motivation problems, and feeling numb. Dr. Ellen Hendriksen explains the 11 less common “blue flags” for this serious condition.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
August 14, 2013

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Depression isn’t just ramped-up sadness. Instead, depression is a complex condition with both classic and less frequent symptoms.  It also manifests differently from one person to another.  Let’s take a peek at two individuals, Norman and Arielle, to illustrate the 11 lesser-known signs of depression.

Norman is a 40-year-old married man with a young son.  A few months ago, Norman got a nice promotion, but since then has felt increasingly overwhelmed.  His temper flares faster and hotter than usual and it’s increasingly difficult to control his anger around his boss and coworkers.  He can’t focus.  He stares at his computer screen but has to re-read emails and memos two or three times before he catches on; he berates himself for being slow and stupid. 

Once home, Norman opens a beer, but “just one” quickly turns into 3 or 4, which is unusual for him.  Little things set off his temper, like running out of shampoo or his 5-year-old accidentally overturning a bowl of pasta.  He often wakes up in the middle of the night and lies in the dark, wanting to cry, but the tears won’t come.

What are the signs of Norman’s depression that might fly under the radar?

Depression Sign #1: Anger and Irritability

Depression doesn’t always mean sadness and tears.  Men in particular may experience depressed mood as irritability, crankiness, grouchiness, or anger.  Individuals with irritable depression react to the same hassles that aggravate all of us, but their reaction is out of proportion to the trigger, more intense, and lasts longer. 

Depression Sign #2: Changes in Sleeping Patterns

Sleep problems can run the gamut, from having a hard time falling asleep, to broken and restless sleep, or, like Norman, waking up hours before the alarm.  On the flip side, it could mean sleeping too much, like going back to bed after a partner leaves for work or the kids go to school.

Depression Sign #3: Forgetfulness and Trouble Concentrating

Problems with memory and focus often go hand in frustrated hand.  Forgetting appointments, being chronically late, and having trouble focusing on normally simple things like making a grocery list or composing an email are signals.  Having to read paragraphs over and over, zoning out during a conversation, or staring at the TV but not following the plot are also telltale signs.

Depression Sign #4: Beating Yourself Up

“A screensaver of negativity,” is how one patient like Norman described his depression to me.  His default mindset, when not distracted, was a spiral of pessimistic, negative thoughts.  Contrary to his usual confident self, when depressed, Norman doubted his abilities, second-guessed his past decisions, and thought things would never get better.  Seeing oneself, the world, and the future through gray-colored glasses is a stealthy symptom that often develops unnoticed.

Depression Sign #5: Drinking or Drugs

“Drowning your sorrows” is a dubious, though worldwide, remedy for a breakup, setback, or other disappointment.  But alcohol and drugs, for both men and women, can be the chicken or the egg of depression: depressed individuals are more likely to abuse substances, and excessive alcohol or drug use may feed a developing depression.  Alcohol, ironically, is a depressant, so while it offers a short-term boost, alcohol and depression only compound one another.  Watch for an uptick in drinking or drug use as a flag for possible depression.

Depression Sign #6: Feeling Numb

Norman wants to cry, but can’t.  Feeling numb or muted is a covert sign of depression.  Other manifestations may include not being able to feel affectionate or loving towards a partner, child, or grandchild, or being unable to grieve a loss.

Now let’s meet Arielle, a 68-year-old widowed grandmother...

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