Depression can be subtle, but there are usually giveaway signs of this condition. Whether you notice it almost instantaneously or you find it slowly affecting yourself or a loved one over time, depression can change someone’s behavior until that person is almost unrecognizable.
It’s just in a person’s head, either. The chemical changes in a person’s brain during a period of depression can affect the whole body. If you notice any of these signs, reaching out to a professional can help. And if you’re looking for immediate help, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers a free, confidential national phone helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA’s helpline number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Depressed patients may notice changes in appetite. Some people who are depressed experience a loss of appetite, which is usually caused by a combination of a loss of interest in food and fatigue. This cause rapid weight loss.
Other people may seek emotional eating by finding comfort in food. Depressed people may look to escape negative thoughts by focusing on the stimuli of eating food, which is usually junk food. Some may even engage in binge eating.
Binge eating could cause uncomfortable bloating or diarrhea, and not eating enough result in nutritional deficiencies that can affect the gut. Yet mental health can independently affect the gut. According to researchers from Harvard Health, depression can affect movement and contractions in the gastrointestinal tract. This can make an inflamed digestive system worse or make the depressed person more susceptible to infection.
Worries caused by depressive thoughts could keep a person awake all night. On the flip side, lethargy or a lack of motivation to leave bed might cause a person to spend most of the day sleeping. A review published in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience says people with depression often experience nonrestorative sleep, meaning they may feel exhausted even if they get a full eight hours of sleep.
Poor sleep can cause fatigue, but even healthy sleepers may experience low energy during a period of depression. The same review separates fatigue into three categories: physical (low energy, weakness, and sluggishness), cognitive (decreased concentration and slower thinking), and emotional (apathy, boredom, and lack of motivation). Moving slower, taking longer to do tasks than normal, or responding slower in conversations could indicate depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions could be signs of depression. When a person is depressed, the brain releases excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. Long-term exposure to these levels can slow the production of new neurons, causing the hippocampus to shrink. As a result, the brain may blur or alter memories.
Aches and pains
Unexplained aches throughout the body, headaches, stomachaches, or cramps without a clear physical cause may relate to depression, says the NIMH. While there isn’t always a clear causal reason for these, some researchers suggest a decreased pain tolerance may make aches more noticeable.
Researchers associate tension headaches with depression. Tension headaches are a type of head pain with mild throbbing, especially around the eyebrows.
This article is for informative purposes only. Please reach out to a medical professional if you have any symptoms.