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What Are the Warning Signs of Depression?

Everyone experiences times of sadness, grief or just down-in-the-dumps blues. These times are very natural and can be brought on by any number of factors, from a sudden and/or traumatic experience such as a death of a loved one, a divorce or a loss of employment, to changes in the seasons, to hormonal fluctuations.

But how do you know when someone’s behavior might begin to fall outside the range of a “normal” reaction to a negative event or experience and might indicate the development of a more serious condition? How can you tell if you or someone you care about might be suffering from depression?

Common Symptoms of Depression

There is no foolproof formula that can tell you how to spot depression. However, what generally differentiates clinical depression from the temporary feelings of sadness or depression that naturally follow negative events and experiences is its duration and severity. Depression can be considered an illness when it lasts for weeks and interferes with a person’s normal everyday functioning, significantly altering the way they think and/or act.

Did You Know?

…that you may have depression and not even know it? Some experts estimate that the number of diagnosed cases of depression represents as little as half the number of people who actually suffer from some form of the illness. Reasons that depression often goes undiagnosed include an individual’s failure to recognize their symptoms or mistakenly viewing them as personal weaknesses.

There are also a number of other symptoms that depressed people often share, although these vary by the type of depression and by the individual. These symptoms can include:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Violent mood swings
  • Significant changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns (eating/sleeping much more or less than usual — may be accompanied by significant weight gain or loss)
  • Lethargy, lack of energy and lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Mental fogginess; difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Noticeable withdrawal from social interaction

Depression and Nutrition: Chocolate

Chocolate contains a naturally occurring substance that has been shown to elevate endorphin levels, and a 2010 study showed that people who suffer from depression tend to eat more chocolate than people who don’t. While the study’s results suggest there may indeed be a valid connection between chocolate and emotional health, experts agree that more testing is needed to determine exactly what that connection is or how it might possibly be applied to the understanding or treatment of depression.

Offering Support

If someone you know is exhibiting depression warning signs, or has been diagnosed with depression, don’t be afraid to try to talk to them about it. Be conscientious of your wording and tone to avoid sounding accusatory or patronizing — trying to “cheer them up” or otherwise convince them to change their current outlook or behavior is not productive and only shows a lack of understanding of their condition. Emphasize that you care about them and that their well-being is very important to you. Let them know you are a willing listener if they want to talk, but be patient if they are not receptive to the invitation.

When Depression Signs Might Mean More

Sometimes, someone’s depression symptoms are severe enough to cause you to suspect that they might try to harm themselves. Expressing feelings that their life or circumstances are unbearable, or a belief that those circumstances will never improve and that they have no escape, could indicate that a severely depressed person is suicidal. If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts or feelings of suicide, it is crucial to seek out professional support from a doctor, therapist, suicide-prevention hotline or crisis center.

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