by Mark Bello

Many people believe that depression is easily identifiable, manifesting itself as persistent sadness that doesn’t go away. They make assumptions about how someone struggling with depression will look and behave.

While depression affects a person’s mood, it goes beyond feeling sad or “down in the dumps.” It can last months, years, or—more often than not—a lifetime. From a lack of will to physical pain, depression often drains one’s energy, motivation, and concentration, even in performing normal, daily activities. Additionally, it can affect one’s thinking, interfering with the ability to overcome even the smallest hurdles in life.

Depression expresses itself in various ways—sometimes obvious, while other times the signs are so subtle that someone personally affected by depression will not even realize it. Sufferers will not only fail to recognize symptoms for what they really are, but develop ways of coping with their problems and hiding their illness from others. Often times, they will think something else is wrong. As a result, many people go undiagnosed.

How can you tell if you are depressed? It seems like a silly question, but a surprising number of people fail to spot the signs. Due to a lack of awareness of what depression consists of or an aversion to admitting a mental or emotional illness, they see themselves as suffering from stress, fatigue, being overworked, or even a physical disease. The signs are ignored—from the dramatic and obvious to the subtle and the secret.

Here are 15 things people don’t realize they are doing because of depression:

  1. You just want to stay in bed. Despite getting plenty of sleep, you still wake up tired or fatigued. On the other hand, you may suffer from insomnia and forgetfulness.
  2. You associate your afternoon slump with the need for copious amounts of coffee.
  3. You confuse depression with sadness. For example, you attribute your thoughts and feelings to a major problem or life crisis such as a job loss or the death of a loved one.
  4. You try to convince yourself you are fine and put on a facade everywhere you go. While you make your life look perfect on the outside, you are sad internally.
  5. You have difficulty communicating your emotions.
  6. You harbor negative energy inside; the only way to release it is to lash out at others. You tend to lose your temper easily and conflicts quickly escalate into fights.
  7. You have mood swings without cause. You cry for no apparent reason. You could be happy one minute and crying the next. You may overreact to insignificant sadness and ignore major bad news.
  8. You stop socializing and pull away from friends and family or from activities you once enjoyed.
  9. You feel worthless and unloved and may be considering harming yourself or ending your life.
  10. You have trouble concentrating on tasks; whether it  be schoolwork, a job, or simply staying focused  during conversations.
  11. You engage in behaviors that signal “masked depression” to forget your problems. You may drink alcohol or look to food for comfort. You may lose the majority of your appetite as a subconscious need to control something.
  12. You assume your mood is contributing to chronic pain or a medical condition or illness. However, some conditions such as hypothyroidism, cancer, and hepatitis can cause depression. Nutritional deficiencies and some medications are culprits, as well.
  13. You choose to forego feeling altogether. You have a hard time responding to affection and concern from others.
  14. You work harder, not smarter. The classic example is trying to exercise your way to happiness: If you already log a few hours a week at the gym, spending another 30 more minutes every day may briefly lift your spirits.
  15. You are experiencing a marked slowing down of your motor responses such as eye-hand coordination. It manifests as a slowing of coordination, speech, and impaired articulation.

Depression is an illness—a chemical imbalance in the brain that takes more than a “band aid approach” to fix. Symptoms vary from person to person. If you have at least five of the signs listed above, that last for more than two weeks and are not clearly caused by a medical disorder, drug use, or the death of a loved one, you may be suffering from depression. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible, otherwise you risk heading into a spiral from which you may have a hard time recovering. More importantly, know that depression is highly treatable.