With over 175 million people all over the world reported to be suffering from depression, it’s no wonder it’s come to be known by many as the “common cold” of mental illness. It’s become the number one most prevalent psychiatric condition in the world and was even recently cited by the World Health Organization (2019) as the leading cause of disability worldwide.
In spite of how rampant and widespread depression has become, however, many people still remain ignorant to its true nature. Most people don’t even know that there are over five major kinds of depressive disorders: disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, post-partum depression, seasonal affective disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and major depressive disorder.
Major Depressive Disorder (or MDD) is perhaps the most severe of all. For a person to be diagnosed with MDD, there must be the presence of at least 1 depressive episode for 14 days or more. There should also be at least 5 of the 8 symptoms present, and the condition must cause significant distress and impairment to the person afflicted.
With that said, if you’d like to know more about Major Depressive Disorder, here are 8 telltale signs that can help you identify it:
1. Depressed Mood
A depressed mood for most of the day, for a period of at least 2 weeks is listed as one of the most essential criteria for a person to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. This is called a “depressive episode”, and it can be triggered (usually by the death or loss of a loved one) or untriggered (happening for seemingly no reason at all). So if you feel uncharacteristically sad, hopeless, or empty and just not in the mood to do anything at all for weeks, take it as a clear sign that you might be suffering from a mood disorder.
2. Inability to Feel Pleasure
Anhedonia is defined as the inability to feel pleasure, and it’s one of the core characteristics of Major Depressive Disorder. When you have MDD, not only are you depressed most of the time, but you also become inconsolable. The things that you used to love no longer bring you any joy, and you find it hard to feel happy about anything anymore. You could win a million dollars, meet your soulmate, get married, or land your dream job, and it wouldn’t matter. You’d still feel bleak, hopeless, and empty.
3. Weight Loss/Weight Gain
It’s more common for patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder to have a reduced appetite and lose weight. However, there is a specific subtype of MDD called “MDD with atypical features” wherein the person will start overeating and gain weight instead. Either way, MDD is known to disrupt your normal eating patterns and may lead you to adapt unhealthy eating habits (like binge eating or self-starvation).
Aside from your weight and appetite, having Major Depressive Disorder can also affect your sleeping patterns as well. Insomnia is what happens when you routinely get little to no sleep (usually only 1-3 hours every night), despite having the time and desire to do so, and it can be seen in a lot of MDD patients. Hypersomnia, on the other hand, is sleeping more than 10 hours every night but still feeling tired and unrested when you wake up. It’s one of the signs of “MDD with atypical features”.
5. Over Fatigue/Loss of Energy
Do you feel exhausted all the time despite doing almost nothing every day? Does it take a lot of your energy to do simple things like get out of bed, brush your teeth, or say hello to someone? This kind of over fatigue and low energy is characteristic of those afflicted with Major Depressive Disorder. Patients with MDD and other types of depression typically have no motivation to do anything, and constantly feel tired for no reason at all. They’ll usually resign themselves to staying in bed all day and simply staring at the ceiling.
6. Feelings of Worthlessness and Guilt
Another way you can tell if you might have Major Depressive Disorder is if you have recently started struggling to overcome overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and guilt. Has your self-esteem dramatically gone down all of a sudden? Do you feel guilt eating you up inside over the tiniest mistakes you make or things that aren’t even in your control? If opening up to a friend about it or channeling it into a creative outlet (like journaling, writing, and painting) don’t help, it might be time to consult with a professional and see if there’s something more serious behind it.
7. Difficulty Thinking/Concentrating
Difficulty thinking and concentrating is commonly seen in those suffering from Major Depressive Disorder. It’s likely a consequence of having low energy and little motivation to do anything. Studies found that patients with MDD have poorer memory, become less focused and attentive, and have difficulty making decisions on their own. They struggle to finish simple tasks because their depression zaps away so much of their mental and emotional energy.
8. Recurrent Suicidal Ideation
Last, but definitely not the least, recurrent thoughts about suicide are a very serious and very critical sign of Major Depressive Disorder. If you or someone you know is entertaining thoughts about committing suicide, it’s important that you take it very seriously. Depression can feel so overwhelmingly painful, isolating, and dark that some people think there’s no other way out than to commit suicide, but know that things will get better. With patience, dedication, support, and professional help, recovery can be achieved. Reach out to a mental healthcare professional now and get the help you need to get better.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th Ed. Washington, DC, USA: APA Publishing.
- National Alliance Against Mental Illness (2018). Mental Health by The Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
- World Health Organization (2019). An Overview of Depression. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
- National Institute of Mental Health Information (2018). Depression: Signs, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml