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Depression: Recognising the Subtle Signs

Over the past few years, the perception of depression in Irish society has improved dramatically. However, it’s still somewhat of a taboo and misunderstood illness.

Although, depression is defined as a state of low mood, the reality of this disorder is a little more complex. It manifests itself in a number of different, subtle ways that can affect people both mentally and physically.

Sadly, due to some of these signs being lesser-known, people often dismiss them, as they may not be aware that they are experiencing depression. Or they stay silent and hide their symptoms as they feel ashamed.

However, with 1 in 5 Irish people experiencing depression in their lifetime, it’s important to be aware of these subtle signs. In order to understand your own feelings, or make you aware of a loved one’s struggle so that you can offer help, here are the subtle signs of depression that you may not know about.

Sleeping too much… Or too little

One of the most frequently reported signs of depression is problems with sleep. People may find it a struggle to get to sleep, or have insomnia when feeling depressed. This battle to nod off is usually linked to dwelling on unpleasant thoughts while lying in bed. Others find themselves frequently waking up during the night or rousing early and unable to doze off again.

On the other hand, 15% of people with depression oversleep. This can be down to depression affecting brain function and impacting the biological clock. Although this symptom alone might not mean depression, it’s best to talk to a doctor if you are struggling with sleep – depressed or not.

Struggling with food

Just like sleep, depression and food can go both ways, as people can consume too much or limit what they are eating altogether.

Food is often used as a crutch, with people overeating in an attempt to lift their mood. In particular, soothing foods like carbohydrates and sugar are craved as they increase levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that elevates mood.

Equally reported is the feeling of not wanting to eat or having no desire for food. For some, they unintentionally lose weight at this time as stress and nausea brought on by depression can upset the stomach or make you lose your appetite. However, not eating can make things worse, increasing irritability and even worsening depression.

Aches and pains without a physical reason

This is due to the two sharing some of the same biological pathways and neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that act as messengers travelling between nerves.

Physical pain with depression is remarkably prevalent as it’s been found that people with depression are four times more likely to have intense neck or lower back pain than those who weren’t depressed.

A struggle to focus

When your mind is elsewhere, it’s only natural to feel distracted, therefore it’s understandable that many depressed people say they struggle to focus. Sufferers report their brain feeling fuzzy when giving or receiving direction or that they are easily distracted from the task at hand. And although the reason for a lack of focus isn’t fully known, it can be a frustrating symptom to deal with.

Loss of interest in hobbies or activities

Feelings of apathy and disinterest towards activities that previously brought joy are a widespread sign of depression too. Many even find themselves not wanting to socialise with friends or go to work, as these activities become draining or are perceived as a waste of time. This sign is known as anhedonia and is thought to be trauma-induced or as a result of how depression impacts brain chemicals.

Substance Abuse

When it comes to alcohol and drugs, there’s a strong link to mental health. In fact, nearly one-third of people with clinical depression have issues with alcohol. However, this is a chicken or egg situation as it’s often questioned – does alcohol cause depression or are people with depression more likely to drink?

Overall, it’s thought that both are possible. Many people turn to alcohol to drown out unwanted thoughts when depressed. Alcohol is a depressant though as it alters your brain chemistry and in turn, impacts emotions. This also means the more you drink, the more it can negatively impact your mental health.

Feeling irritable

Becoming easily annoyed, frustrated, and overly irritable is a frequently reported sign of depression. This is due to an emotional reaction to the feelings of hopelessness about your current situation.

Anger and irritability are a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored as research shows that these symptoms could be an indicator of a more severe form of depression.

It’s important to remember that each of these symptoms alone doesn’t necessarily point to depression. But if you recognise these signs in yourself then talk to someone – a doctor or friend – and get the help you need. If you recognise them in someone you know, let them know you are there to help them move forward in a more positive way.

If you would like to speak to someone about depression, here are some resources that can offer help: