How Signs of Depression Feel and Look

Medically reviewed by Geralyn Dexter, PhD

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects about 5% of adults worldwide, with women affected in greater numbers than men. Recognizing depression signs and symptoms helps ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment.

“Symptoms” and “signs” of depression have different meanings. Symptoms of depression are what you experience yourself and may include feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, apathy, difficulty concentrating, low self-worth, and more. In contrast, signs of depression are what you might observe in other people, such as neglecting activities that usually interest them, changes in appetite or sleep, or social withdrawal.

The way you experience depression can differ based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, and more.

In this article, learn more about major depressive disorder (MDD) and how to recognize signs someone is depressed.

How Do You Know If You Have the Signs of Depression?

Depression is much more than just "feeling sad." The symptoms and signs of depression can be emotional, psychological, physical, and social. You do not need an official depression diagnosis to seek or begin treatment.

How Depression Is Diagnosed

If someone you care for is expressing signs of depression or you notice symptoms of depression in yourself, talk to a healthcare provider to receive a diagnosis. To diagnose MDD, a mental health professional will do a mental status evaluation (MSE) and ask about historical and current symptoms. If you meet the MDD criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), you'll be diagnosed with depression and offered support and treatment options.


Emotional depression symptoms relate to your feelings and moods. People around you may not recognize them, but you may notice symptoms in yourself. People with depression may experience the following emotions and feelings:

  • Sadness

  • Hopelessness

  • Helplessness

  • Emptiness

  • Generally low mood

  • Guilt

  • Worthlessness

  • Low self-worth or self-esteem

  • Irritability

  • Frustration

  • Overwhelm

  • Anxiety

  • Worry


Psychological depression symptoms go beyond your feelings and encompass how your mind operates, how and what you think about, and more.

Some psychological symptoms of depression are:

  • Indecisiveness and struggling to make decisions

  • Lack of motivation

  • Lack of concentration

  • Difficulty remembering things

  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy

  • Lack of enjoyment in life

  • Pessimistic thoughts and outlook

  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Thoughts are not observable to outsiders. However, in some cases, you may be able to observe the behaviors related to these thoughts and identify them as possible signs of depression in others.


Depression may be a mental disorder, but it can also manifest physically. Physical symptoms and signs of depression include the following:

  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual)

  • Changes in weight (usually decreased but sometimes increased)

  • Constipation

  • Digestive symptoms that aren't explained by other conditions

  • Unexplained pains, headaches, cramps, and aches without a clear physical cause

  • Moving or speaking slower than normal

  • Lack of energy, feeling fatigued

  • Loss of sex drive

  • Changes in sleep pattern (such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up very early in the morning, or excessive sleeping)

  • Increased purposeless activity (such as pacing, handwringing, fidgeting, and being unable to sit still)

Friends, colleagues, or family members may observe physical signs of depression in others. If you are worried that someone you care about is depressed, learn how to recognize the physical signs of this condition.


Depression can also affect your social interactions and behaviors. Think about it this way: When you feel sad, guilty, or apathetic, you may be less likely to engage with your community or to want to do things that take up energy, especially things you no longer are interested in.

Some social symptoms of depression include:

  • Neglecting previously enjoyed hobbies or interests

  • Withdrawing from social activities

  • Avoiding communication with friends or family

  • Difficulties at work and struggling to keep up with responsibilities

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs

Isolation, loneliness, and social disconnectedness have a bidirectional relationship with depression. This means that being isolated can increase your risk of developing depression, but being depressed can also lead to isolating behaviors—it goes both ways.

Serious or Emergency Signs of Depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition that can become emergent.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, and people with major depressive disorder have an elevated risk of suicide.

Warning signs that someone with depression may be considering suicide, and should be taken seriously include:

  • Talking about or posting on social media about wanting to die or wishing they were dead

  • Talking about being a burden

  • Saying goodbyes

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, anger, or rage

  • Increasing isolation

  • Increasing substance use

  • Extreme mood swings, inclusive of euphoria or happiness

  • Searching for access to lethal means such as weapons or medications

  • Making and sharing plans for suicide

If you notice these signs in someone else, seek emergency help.

Seeking Help for Suicidal Thoughts

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call 911 immediately or call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Recognizing Signs of Depression in Others

There are different signs and symptoms of depression, but not all symptoms of depression are observable to others. Some people with depression mask their emotions and may appear happy from the outside while they are experiencing feelings of depression on the inside. This is called "smiling depression." That's one reason it's essential to recognize other signs of depression.

How Many Signs of Depression Are There?

According to the DSM-5, you must have at least five of the eight listed symptoms to be diagnosed with depression. Of these symptoms, at least one must be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure.

If you are worried that someone you care about has depression, learn about the recognizable signs, particularly those listed in the "physical" and "social" symptoms sections above.

Examples that your loved one may have depression include:

  • Your spouse is suddenly coming to bed very late, waking up very early, or oversleeping through their alarm.

  • Your child is suddenly eating a lot less or a lot more than usual.

  • Your sibling seems to have lost a lot of weight recently, but they haven't started a new workout plan or diet.

  • Your friend isn't answering your texts or phone calls and seems to be avoiding getting together.

  • Your child complains of aches, pains, constipation, and other digestive problems that have no apparent physical cause.

  • Your partner seems to have lost their sex drive and no longer seems interested in sex.

  • Your parent seems to have lost motivation to go to their favorite gym class or practice their favorite hobby.

  • Your child is struggling to concentrate on school work, participate in dinnertime conversation, and stop practicing their favorite musical instrument.

  • Your friend seems apathetic or indecisive about what to do when you hang out when they're usually very opinionated.

If you notice any signs of depression in someone else, gently bring the subject up; they may benefit from your assistance in acknowledging their situation and seeking professional help.

Signs of Depression in Females

Depression is more common in females than males. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is about 50% more common in women than men and affects more than 10% of women who are pregnant or have recently given birth.

One factor making depression more common among women is the hormonal fluctuations that women go through. Pregnancy, childbirth, the menstrual cycle, and menopause cause significant hormonal and bodily shifts contributing to depression.

Types of depression unique to women include:

Women experience emotional, psychological, physical, and social symptoms of depression, which may vary from person to person. One additional, important depression sign to look for in postpartum women is disinterest in caring for their new baby.

Related: Understanding the Signs of Depression in Women

Signs of Depression in Males

Depression can present differently in men than women. Notably, some of the symptoms that men frequently experience are not included in the diagnostic criteria for depression, which may contribute to an underdiagnosis of the condition among men.

According to one study that used a nationally representative sample of 9,282 surveys, men experience the following symptoms at a higher rate than women:

  • Anger attacks and aggression

  • Substance overuse or misuse

  • Risk-taking behavior

One reason that men may present differently with depression is that feelings of sadness, tearfulness, and loneliness traditionally are not considered as fitting within the social norms of masculinity. Men may be socialized from an early age to mask these symptoms with more "masculine" alternatives of aggression and risk-taking.

Related: Understanding the Signs of Depression in Men

Depression in Gender Nonconforming Individuals

While there are apparent differences in depression between men and women, it's important to acknowledge the broad spectrum of gender and how this relates to depression. Gender nonconforming individuals are affected by depression at significantly higher rates than their cisgender peers and are more likely to experience self-harm or suicidal behaviors.

One reason for this disparity is what's considered minority stress—the stress, pressure, lack of social support, and social and institutional barriers experienced by those in stigmatized social groups.

Signs of Depression in Children and Teens

Depression, on average, first occurs during the late teens to mid-20s. However, a person of any age can have depression. This includes children and tweens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.4% of children (age 3–17) had received a diagnosis of depression in their lifetime, and 15.1% of adolescents (age 12–17) had experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.

Depression can look different among children and teens than it does in adults. Some signs of depression to watch out for among young people are:

  • Children: Refusing to go to school, weight loss or being underweight, irritability and clinginess, and physical pain and aches

  • Teens: Avoiding social settings or interaction with peers, drug and alcohol use, poor performance in school, extreme mood swings, anger, and sensitivity

Related: Is Depression Genetic?

Getting Treatment When You Have Signs of Depression

If you are expressing signs of depression, consult a licensed mental health provider about a diagnosis. This is important because some psychological, neurological, and physical conditions can cause symptoms similar to depression.

Treatment for depression can include:

  • Prescription medications

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

  • Psychodynamic therapy

  • Counseling

  • Lifestyle changes

  • Stress and relaxation techniques

  • Regular exercise

  • Support groups

Even without an official diagnosis of depression, many people also benefit from the treatments for mild to moderate depression.

Related: How Depression Is Treated


Depression is a common but serious mental health condition that affects approximately 5% of adults worldwide. However, depression can present differently among men, women, and gender nonconforming individuals. It can also affect children, teens, older adults, and people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures. It's essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and seek support, resources, and treatment from a healthcare provider.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.