Learn how to recognise depression symptoms

14 November 2022 dot 7-minute read
Feature Mental health Feel Well Healthy Mind Mental Disorders Depression
People with high-functioning depression can mislead family and friends into thinking everything is all right. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Sadness is a common emotion. It can feel like hurt or despair when you lose someone. It turns to anguish when a relationship fails. But sometimes sadness can feel so overwhelming and intense that you start to wonder whether it's a symptom of depression.
The difference between sadness and depression is that everyone has felt the former. Sadness passes, and eventually you move on with your life. However, when you're depressed, those feelings of hopelessness linger. It doesn't need a cause or trigger and requires the counsel of a trained mental health professional. 

Five depression symptoms you can look out for

If you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks and find that they disrupt your daily life, seek the counsel of a mental health professional.
  • You're easily irritated or angry all the time: you feel restless, lose your temper constantly and have angry outbursts over little things. 
  • You have lost interest in doing things: you struggle to get up in the morning. You withdraw from activities or events that normally give you pleasure, including sex. 
  • You think, move and speak more slowly: your speech is inundated with increased pauses, and you have trouble articulating yourself. You have poor eye contact and a flat expression. Your posture is slumped, whether sitting or standing.  
  • You feel worthless or guilty persistently: you think everyone is better than you. Subsequently, you feel inadequate and angry at yourself for being a failure.
  • You feel drained of energy: any movement results in fatigue or leads to body aches. It is difficult for you to concentrate. 

Self- questionnaire 

One way to find out if you are exhibiting depression symptoms is to do this self-administered test called the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire-9). Recommended by mental health organisations, the questionnaire asks you to grade your emotional and physical state on a scale of "most of the days", "half of the days", "some of the days", or "not at all" in the last two weeks. Here's a sample of the questions:
  1. How often have you had trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much?
  2. How often have you had a poor appetite, or do you overeat?
  3. How often have you felt bad about yourself or like you've let down your loved ones?
  4. Have these feelings or behaviours impacted your life at work, home, or school?
  5. Have you had thoughts of hurting yourself?
It is recommended that you discuss your answers with a psychologist or psychiatrist to get a correct diagnosis.

What does depression look like

Depression in men is often left untreated because of the stigma of mental illness. (Credit: Getty Images) 
These signs of depression are just some of the known 52 different symptoms of depression, based on a 2016 research paper published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The image of depression is not simply a person crying in bed all day. It looks different for every age and gender.
Men and women with high-functioning depression may appear to be thriving, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They pride themselves on their resilience and hide that they can barely get out of bed.
New mothers may experience postpartum "baby blues" – sadness, worry, fear – because of the hormonal and physical changes they experience after giving birth. When these emotions intensify for more than a month, they may indicate postpartum depression, which can occur anytime during pregnancy or two years after giving birth.
Men typically express anger or aggression rather than tearful outbursts. Their alcohol consumption may also increase, and they tend to engage in risky behaviour. 
However, research published in Frontiers journal found that these are traditional and severe symptoms of male depression. Men may experience mild to moderate symptoms and often do not report it because of social expectations. As a result, researchers suspect depression is under-diagnosed and under-treated in men.

What causes depression

Depression has no single cause, and there are many possible risk factors. Causes of depression can be related to stressful life events, from separation to the death of a loved one. A systematic review of 40 observational studies also shows a strong link between financial stress and depression. Women depressed during pregnancy risk going through this mental disorder again postpartum.
People who have low self-esteem, are pessimistic or overwhelmed by stress and have experienced or been exposed to neglect or abuse may be vulnerable to depression.
It can also run in the family. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that if one identical twin is diagnosed with depression, the other twin's risk of the illness is at 70 per cent.
Scientists are also studying the role of brain chemical imbalance in depression. But as Harvard Medical School emphasises, "It is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high." Instead, millions of complex chemical reactions may be involved to lead to depression.

Treatment for depression

Social support can help ease the distressing emotions of a person with depression and be a morale booster during treatment. (Credit: Getty Images) 
Depression does not have to be a debilitating, lifelong condition. According to APA, about 80 to 90 per cent of people with mental disorders respond well to treatment.
The type of treatment will depend on your doctor's evaluation, which may include a physical exam and blood tests to rule out medical conditions, questions about your medical and family histories and the status of your work and home environments. Be open and honest with your answers because these will weigh heavily on your doctor's course of action.
A combination of medication, psychotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy may be the solution. Another science-backed natural supplement to treatment is exercise or any form of physical activity. 
One study in Taiwan reports that exercising three times a week for 15 minutes could significantly decrease the risk of depressive symptoms. Research conducted in Myanmar and Vietnam shows that people with less sedentary behaviour and high physical activity were at lower risk of having depression. 
Treatment can be a heavy financial burden and worrying about money can lead to anxiety or worsen symptoms for those with mental disorders. You can protect yourself from financial distress with a medical protection plan that gives you access to a network of mental health specialists. Choose medical cover with a wellness programme that prioritises physical and mental health. 
As vital as family and friends are as a support system, mental health issues deserve professional help. By recognising depression symptoms, you can identify the possibility of this condition and seek treatment for yourself or your loved ones.
The effect of one night of sleep deprivation on your overall wellbeing is significant. In this episode of AIA Voices, sleep and mental health experts Olivia Arezzolo, Kate Yan and Asher Low explain what happens when we get less than adequate sleep.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia to talk about life, health and wellness. A platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. Providing an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other. Designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
Journal of Affective Disorders. 2016. The 52 symptoms of major depression: Lack of content overlap among seven common depression scales. [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
The Jed Foundation. Understanding Sadness and Depressive Feelings. [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Screening for Depression. [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 2011. Psychomotor retardation in depression: Biological underpinnings, measurement, and treatment [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015. The role of self-blame and worthlessness in the psychopathology of major depressive disorder [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
World Health Organization. 2021. Depression [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
American Psychiatric Association. 2020. What Is Depression? [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
Plos One. 2022. Financial stress and depression in adults: A systematic review [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
National Alliance on Mental Illness. 2022. Life with High-Functioning Depression: Functional Does Not Always Mean Healthy [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
Harvard Health Publishing. 2022. Onset of depression more complex than a brain chemical imbalance [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
NHS. 2019. Causes - Clinical depression [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
Our Better World by the Singapore International Foundation. 2019. Mental health in Asia: The numbers [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019. High Sedentary Behaviour and Low Physical Activity are Associated with Anxiety and Depression in Myanmar and Vietnam. [online] [Accessed on 26 July 2022]
Journal of the American Medical Association (Psychiatry). 2013. The Experience of Symptoms of Depression in Men vs Women: Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. [online] [Accessed on 8 July 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.