The term “depression” often gets thrown around in its many forms with a less than serious connotation. Maybe you've said you were “depressed” when your favorite show ended, or when you got to the end of a pint of Ben and Jerry's, or perhaps it was “depressing” when your phone died that one time. But the truth is depression isn't an adjective; it's a serious condition, one that affects every part of a person battling it, from their mental to physical state of being. And what's worse is it often develops in stages, so it can be hard to identify red flags of depression and decipher whether yourself or a family member is emerging toward mental illness, or just going through a rough time.
I was depressed during my sophomore year of college, and those who weren't living with my sporadic lash-outs and lethargic ways never knew. But for the people who took the time to look close enough, the signs were all there. Oftentimes we brush off our big sister's bad mood as a phase, or feelings of exhaustion as a sign of stress, or even PMS.
The truth is, these are all potential pieces to an even bigger puzzle, and if we pay attention, we could offer our friends or ourselves the necessary professional help. Here are six red flags of depression that, although they may be violently waving in our faces, often go unnoticed.
1. Social Withdrawal
Linda Lewaniak, senior director of Integrated Services at Eating Recovery Center Insight, tells Elite Daily that when someone who is already quiet and shy becomes even more quiet and withdrawn from social situations, chances are there's more to the story than they're letting on.
It could just mean they're feeling even more introverted than usual, but it never hurts to sit down with them in a setting where they feel comfortable and let them know that you're there to support them should they need help.
2. Being Overly Social
Extremes of any kind are always questionable in some sense, so while being too antisocial could be a red flag, being overtly social could also be a tell-tale sign that a loved one could be struggling with depression.
Dr. Francisco Cruz, lead psychiatrist at Ketamine Health Centers, tells Elite Daily that "bubbly" behavior and "being inordinately energetic and happy in social scenarios" can be an overlooked red flag of depression because someone who's fully aware of their mental illness may try to mask their struggle in front of others by over-exerting themselves, and playing the role of how they want to be perceived.
If you're constantly exhausted, even after a consistent sleep schedule that meets the recommended six to eight hours, it may be time to self-access the situation. Are you physically tired, or is your mental health taking a toll on your body?
Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor at large and licensed psychotherapist, tells Elite Daily,
Oftentimes we miss signs of depression in ourselves and our loved ones, partly because they can sometimes be subtle. For example, sometimes they are feeling like they just want to stay home more, or sometimes they can have other explanations, such as fatigue, which we could write off as stress-related or just exhaustion. If you feel like it could be an indicator of depressive symptoms, then it's worth further investigation, or even being evaluated by a professional.
4. Change In Appetite
Circling back to the idea of extremes, some people turn to food as a coping mechanism, even, and sometimes especially, when they feel numb to emotions. And remember, a change in appetite can translate to eating more food than usual, or it can mean a total loss of appetite.
Unfortunately, this is a red flag that can be particularly hard to spot if you don't spend a lot of time with this person. Depression and disordered eating is a toxic combination, and the two commonly go hand-in-hand. According to Lewaniak, depression can lead to anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder.
5. Physical Pain
Patricia Allen, executive director of Medical Services for Summit Behavioral Health, says it's not uncommon for those who are depressed to experience bodily aches and pains, headaches, and back pain with no other foreseeable physical cause.
She tells Elite Daily, while it's easy to pick up the phone and ask a doctor for help when dealing with physical pain, it can be "nearly impossible" for some people to ask for help with emotional pain. This can ultimately delay treatment for the mental illness, which increases the risk of the condition becoming worse as time goes on.
6. Sudden Lack Of Interest
Let's say you love to exercise. You're a regular at the gym, so much so that every employee knows you by name, and no one even asks for your membership card when you come through the door. But one day, you decide you'd rather take a day off and watch a few (or 15) episodes of your favorite show on Netflix. This turns into an entire weekend of staying indoors, which turns into a week, a month, and so on.
When you or a loved one becomes depressed, one of the biggest red flags is a loss of interest in the activities that you would normally find enjoyable. Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, executive director at Maryland House Detox, Delphi Behavioral Health, tells Elite Daily it's important not to give into this lethargic, dismissive behavior.
Activities like staying in bed, over- or under-eating, and social isolation all increase depressive symptoms. It may be uncomfortable to avoid doing these things, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the prolonged and deepening depression.
If you or someone you love is battling depression, remember that you are not alone with these struggles. Help is always available in one form or another, and you deserve nothing but the best, most supportive treatment possible.