A woman sitting on a couch, looking off to the side

Recognizing Signs of Depression

9 Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

That is a question almost everyone asks themselves at some point. While asking the question is easy, knowing the answer can be incredibly challenging because everyone's moods are constantly changing. Part of the human experience is having days when you feel on top of the world and other days when you feel like you can’t do anything properly. Constant stability is never an option for you. But what happens when the bad days begin more frequent and the good days seem few and far between? If you are unsure, we help you determine the signs and symptoms of depression, but make sure to talk to your doctor if you are worried about your mood changes.

How Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression Diagnosed?

Some people might not think that depression in adults is very common, but depression can effect anyone, regardless of their age.

Mental health professionals work to distinguish expected changes from clinically-relevant depressive symptoms by investigating a range of thoughts, feelings and behaviors you have. These extend beyond simply feeling depressed. This process is guided by a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The following is a recap of the nine signs and symptoms of depression put in easy to understand terminology. Any symptoms are cause for concern, but having five or more means that you likely fit the criteria for a depressive disorder.

Low Mood

Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness not triggered by anything noteworthy – or the reaction you feel is out of proportion to the trigger – is a sign of depression. If you recently experienced a trauma, death, break up or another major event, your low mood is expected and would not meet the definition of depression.

Low mood looks different depending on age and gender. Teenagers and men are more likely to express low mood as anger and aggression, for example.

Loss of Interest

Are you less interested in activities that you used to enjoy? Do things you previously loved to do now seem unappealing? This can make nothing seem worthwhile, which translates to you spending your days and nights hanging out on the couch staring at the TV or endlessly scrolling through updates your phone.

When nothing seems exciting anymore, especially activities and hobbies you used to enjoy, it can be a sign of depression.

Unexpected Weight Loss

Have you been shedding pounds without trying? The DSM considers significant weight loss to be losing 5% or more of your total weight in the space of one month. If you have noticed a weight change that is unexplained, your first stop should be your primary care physician. If this yields no answers, the change could be related to depression and mental health treatment will be the assistance you need.

Major Sleep Changes

Have you been sleeping too much or too little? Everyone's sleep habits are different, but look for changes in your typical patterns. If you usually sleep for eight hours, and are now snoozing for 12, take note. Likewise, if you previously slept for nine hours each night and now you’re only getting four, this could be a sign of depression.

Sleep is overlooked far too often but is extremely important to track. Poor sleep can be caused by depression, and not getting enough rest can make depression even worse.

Change in Your Movements

Have you noticed that you’re moving faster or slower? A lesser-known symptom of depression is motor agitation (feeling restless, fidgety and moving quickly) or psychomotor retardation (feeling like you are moving in slow motion). Tracking changes in your movements is difficult so consult with a friend or family member to give you their feedback.

This is not a very common symptom that people complain about. However, it is important to track if you begin to notice it.

Having Low Energy

Do you lack energy almost every day? Do you struggle to get out of bed or off the couch even when you have a lot of things to do?

Look around. If there is a mountain of laundry, a pile of unpaid bills and your sink is overflowing with dirty dishes, your low energy could be related to depression.

Feeling Guilt, Worthlessness and Shame

Do you feel worthless or guilty most days? Are you beating yourself up over things that happened long ago or feel like no one cares about you? Shame, or feeling bad about who you are as a person fits in here, too.

Low self-esteem is the logical conclusion of these unwanted feelings, and people with low self-esteem typically experience bouts of depression.

Poor Attention

Do you have a decreased ability to be decisive, think clearly and maintain concentration? While this symptom may seem more like a product of ADHD than depression, people with depression are distracted by their own negative thinking. This difference illustrates the need to look at the full picture when assessing mental health symptoms; similar symptoms can lead to very different diagnoses.

Thoughts of Death and Suicide

At some point, many people will think about suicide, including how they would do it or what life would be like if they weren’t around. If you think about your death or plan to commit suicide, seek help from a medical professional and/or therapist. They have the experience needed to assess your symptoms.

If you are in a crisis situation, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.