Be Healthy Information

Spotting the Signs of Depression

Many people feel sad or unhappy from time to time. These feelings can be hard to deal with and may disrupt your daily routine for a short while. But often, little by little, you start to feel better and you return to your normal routine. Depression is different. 

What is depression? 

Depression is an illness marked by a deep feeling of sadness. This feeling is nearly constant. And it persists; it does not get better with time. In fact, it often gets worse as time goes by if it is not treated. Depression also is marked by a loss of interest in activities. 

Depression has a huge effect on a person’s daily life. It can get in the way of your ability to work, sleep, and care for your family and yourself. Even simple things like getting dressed or eating may seem out of reach.  

Common signs of depression 

The main sign of depression is the overwhelming feeling of sadness and despair. This is felt on most days, for at least two weeks. Signs and symptoms may also include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of interest
  • Deep loneliness
  • Helplessness
  • Guilt or shame

Someone suffering from depression may also have:  

  • Low self-esteem 
  • A change in appetite 
  • Weight gain or weight loss 
  • Trouble sleeping or a tendency to sleep too much 
  • Problems concentrating 
  • Short temper 
  • Agitation 
  • Issues with substance abuse 
  • Increased reckless behavior, and 
  • Thoughts of dying and suicide 
Signs of depression in older adults 
In older adults, signs of depression may differ slightly. Often, the signs may be more subtle. Mental and physical problems may stand out more than emotional ones. Some signs in older adults may include:  
• Aches and pains with no apparent cause 
• Memory problems 
• Confusion 
• Hopelessness 
• Drop in motivation and energy 
• Slowed speech and movement 
• Neglect of personal care and hygiene 
Many older adults who are depressed may have trouble admitting their feelings. They may not feel open to talking about them. They may mistakenly think their depression is just a normal part of aging. Or that it’s a weakness or character flaw. They may even deny what they’re feeling. Because of this, many may not seek help for their depression. 
Depression vs. dementia 
Depression and dementia have some of the same signs and symptoms. So, it may be easy to confuse the two. Memory problems. Slowed speech and movements. Lack of motivation. These are just some of the signs and symptoms common to both conditions. But there are ways to tell them apart. Here are how some of the signs differ. 
• Mental decline tends to happen quickly 
• Know the correct time, date, and place 
• Problems focusing 
• Normal language and motor skills (ability to make specific movements), though they may be slower 
• Aware of memory problems 
• Mental decline tends to happen slowly 
• Confused about the time, date, and place 
• Disoriented; may get lost in familiar locations 
• Problems with short-term memory 
• Impaired writing, speaking, and motor skills 
• Doesn’t recognize memory problems 

Risk factors for depression
Depression often starts in the late teens to mid-20s. But it can appear at any age. Both men and women can be affected. More women are diagnosed than men. This may be because women tend to seek treatment more often than men.  
The cause of depression is not quite clear yet. But many factors may play a role. These include the following: 
• Brain chemistry. Certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters likely play a role. When they are out of balance, it may lead to depression.   
• Brain structure. Changes to parts of the brain that play a role in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior may also be a factor. 
• Genes. Depression tends to run in families. So, it may be that there is a genetic element to depression. 
• Hormones. Changes in hormone levels may play a role. Postpartum depression is one type of depression that some women go through after giving birth. 
• Trauma. Depression can be triggered by a traumatic event, like abuse or the loss of a loved one. 
There are also factors that may raise your risk of depression. These include certain medicines, alcohol or substance use disorder, and serious illnesses, like cancer or heart disease. 

Risk factors for older adults
Older adults in particular may face major life changes in later years that can raise the risk for depression. New or ongoing health problems. The death of loved ones. Social isolation. Retirement. A loss of purpose or meaning in life. Loneliness. These and other changes can increase the likelihood of depression. Other causes of depression in later years may include: 
• Financial stressors 
• Loss of mobility and independence 
• Changes in mental health such as anxiety or memory loss 
• Fear of death or dying 
• Dealing with chronic and severe pain 
• Caregiver stress 

Getting help 
Do you think you may have depression? The best thing to do is talk with someone. You may want to talk with your doctor or a therapist or counselor. Or you might choose to reach out to a good friend, family member, or spiritual leader at first. No matter what, don’t keep these feelings bottled up inside. 

View Credits
Primary Author: Nora Byrne, MA
Clinical Reviewer: Lisa Pagani, RN, BSN, CCM, CCP
Final Review and Approval by Lisa Pagani, RN, BSN, CCM, CCP
--> Date of Annual Review:03/09/2023
Healthyroads' Editorial Staff follow a quality assurance process to help promote each article’s accuracy:
  • A health expert provides input on topic.
  • Scientific evidence from widely accepted health texts, peer-reviewed journals, and other reliable sources is consulted.
  • Final article is reviewed and approved by a health professional.
View References