Did you know that, as of 2020, depression has become the leading cause of disability and most common mental illness worldwide? A recent survey reports that a startling 264 million people all over the globe suffer from depression, with many more left undiagnosed each year — the highest it’s ever been in over 50 years (World Health Organization, 2020).
In spite of its alarming prevalence, however, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the true cause and nature of depression. And making things more complicated is the fact that it affects people of all ages, genders, cultures, and economic backgrounds. Specific symptoms may also vary from case to case, making it look different for everybody. Some may try to hide their depression from those around them, while others may not even realize they have depression. So what can we do to make sure it isn’t overlooked?
While this article is by no means an invitation for you to self-diagnose or diagnose others (those are matters best left to professionals), knowing which signs to look out for can go a long way in helping someone in need and answering their silent cry for help. With that said, here are 8 surprising signs you won’t believe are depression:
Imagine someone who stays up all night keeping themselves busy because they find it hard to fall asleep, and on average, only get about 1-3 hours of rest every day. How would you describe a person like that? Some of you might say they’re probably just excited and have too much energy to go to sleep, or that they’re a night owl just being productive. But serious difficulty sleeping is actually already a warning sign that someone might already be suffering from depression, especially if it’s been going on for weeks now and is caused by difficulty managing one’s emotional distress and anxiety (American Psychological Association, 2013).
2. Social media addiction
Ever spent all day on your phone, poring over social media for hours and hours with nothing else to do? How did it make you feel? The answer is probably bored, restless, envious, unproductive, unengaged, and maybe even lonely, right? That’s because, according to research, the more excessively and compulsively we use social media, the more vulnerable we become to depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal ideation (Aalbers, et al., 2019).
3. Binge drinking
Another warning sign of depression that might surprise you is binge drinking, because we tend to associate it with parties, fun, and celebration. But pay close attention to the way this person has been acting lately: are they going out for drinks almost every night and coming home blackout drunk? Or drinking more than they usually do, for no particular reason? Do they only seem happy or relaxed when they’re drunk? And have a hard time staying sober for long. If so, chances are this person is probably drinking to forget something serious or trying to escape their own emotional pain. Be sure to check up on them, as nearly one-third of those diagnosed with depression turn to alcohol to help them cope (Driessen, et al., 2001).
4. Binge eating
The American Psychological Association (2013) lists a “disturbed eating and/or sleeping pattern” as a criteria for diagnosing major depression. But while people tend to think this means having no appetite and suddenly losing a lot of weight, the opposite can be true as well. Known as “atypical depression,” some people tend to overeat and gain a lot of weight when they’re depressed, most likely because they no longer care enough about themselves to look after their health and their appearance.
Similar to the last few points, when people become depressed, they tend to lose control, become uninhibited, and stop looking after themselves — and that could mean financially, too! Has your spending been really out of control lately, especially for someone as frugal and sensible as you used to be? Do you find yourself splurging on a lot of luxuries and compulsively buying things just to make yourself feel better? Watch out! There may be more to this problem than meets the eye (Glatt & Cook, 1987).
Perhaps most surprising of all is the reality that there are some people out there so good at hiding their depression, they’ve managed to convince everyone they’re fine — more than fine even, if all their accomplishments and productivity have anything to say about it! A phenomenon known as “high-functioning depression,” those who struggle with depression but work hard to conceal it will often do so by throwing themselves into their career or their academics. They work harder than they’ve ever done before because they’ve become obsessed with being the very best, thinking it will help them find meaning in their suffering (Andrews & Wilding, 2004).
7. Difficulty concentrating
The opposite of the last point, people who are depressed tend to become more absent-minded and forgetful. They have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time because their depression has made them too emotionally numb to be engaged, interested, or connected with anything anymore. Studies even show that depression and prolonged stress elevates our body’s cortisol levels, which in turn shrinks and damages the areas of the brain that govern memory, learning, and emotion regulation (Pandya, et al., 2012).
8. Unexplained physical symptoms
Last but definitely not the least, we have psychosomatic symptoms — sudden and unexplained physical symptoms, most likely brought about by depression. Headaches, stomach problems, muscle soreness or tension, chronic fatigue, and increased pain sensitivity tend to be most common (Trivedi, 2004). So if you’ve been experiencing any of these lately but can’t see any reason why, it might be a good time to check in with yourself and your mental health.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Were you surprised by these warning signs of depression that are often overlooked? If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or any other mental health concerns, seek help and reach out to a mental healthcare professional. Never lose hope that things will get better someday, that there’s a brighter tomorrow waiting for you at the end of the fight against depression — and you can take the first step towards it today.
- Aalbers, G., McNally, R. J., Heeren, A., De Wit, S., & Fried, E. I. (2019). Social media and depression symptoms: A network perspective. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(8), 1454.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. APA Publishing.
- Andrews, B., & Wilding, J. M. (2004). The relation of depression and anxiety to life‐stress and achievement in students. British journal of psychology, 95(4), 509-521.
- Driessen, M., Meier, S., Hill, A., Wetterling, T., Lange, W., & Junghanns, K. (2001). The course of anxiety, depression and drinking behaviours after completed detoxification in alcoholics with and without comorbid anxiety and depressive disorders. Alcohol and alcoholism, 36(3), 249-255.
- Glatt, M. M., & Cook, C. C. (1987). Pathological spending as a form of psychological dependence. British Journal of Addiction, 82(11), 1257-1258.
- Pandya, M., Altinay, M., Malone, D. A., & Anand, A. (2012). Where in the brain is depression?. Current psychiatry reports, 14(6), 634-642.
- Trivedi, M. H. (2004). The link between depression and physical symptoms. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(1), 12.
- World Health Organization (2020). Fact Sheet on Depression. Retrieved September 2021 from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression#:~:text=Depression%20is%20a%20common%20mental,affected%20by%20depression%20than%20men