When Is It Depression? 5 Red Flags

By Therese J. Borchard, Senior Editor at HealthCentral

Of the 7 percent of U.S. adults that experience major depressive disorder each year, only a third seek or receive treatment. Confusion still exists between what is passing sadness or anxiety and clinical depression. How do you know the difference? When is it time to get help? The following signs should help you distinguish between them. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), you should seek help if these symptoms have been present for a period of two weeks or longer.

1. Unexplained aches and pains

Depression has clearly physical manifestations. In a study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 69 percent of persons who met the criteria for depression consulted a doctor for aches and pains. Mood disorders can show up in surprising symptoms — like bloating, backaches, or joint pain.

2. An inability to concentrate

We all have moments where we forget our best friend’s name or put our car keys in the fridge. We may have days where we experience brain fog or are scatterbrained. However, depression involves an inability to concentrate that impairs work performance. You might make more mistakes or have difficulty making decisions.

3. Disruptions in sleep habits

One of the primary symptoms of depression is sleep disturbance. Some people will sleep too much and some too little. Sleep disorders don’t in themselves cause depression, but insomnia, irregular sleep, or oversleeping all play a role in mood fluctuations.

4. Changes in appetite and eating

Some people binge on donuts, ice cream, and everything else they can shove into their mouths to relieve the pain of their depression. Other folks stare at their dinner plate with absolutely no appetite or interest in food. Either way, a significant change in appetite and weight (more than 5 percent of body weight in a month) can be a sign of depression.

5. Irritability, agitation, and moodiness

Not everyone who snaps at you is depressed, but another red flag of depression is heightened irritability, agitation, and moodiness. Little things set you off – like a loud conversation next to you on the bus, or an itchy tag on your sweater. That anger can surface as thoughts of self-harm or the desire to harm someone else. If you are experiencing some of those feelings, get immediate help.

Although these are common red flags, it’s important to keep in mind that depression manifests itself differently in each person, and with varying intensity and duration of episodes.

Taking a mental health screening at is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, are real, common and treatable. And recovery is possible.Check out the other symptoms listed in 10 Signs It’s Time to Get Help For Depression. And always remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness

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