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If you have been doing some research on depression you will probably have come across a fairly standard list of ‘depressive symptoms’.  What is meant though, by ‘changes in sleep pattern’ or ‘mood swings’?  Here we try to flesh out some of those first signs that depression is taking a grip by using some of our members’ personal lists of ‘first signs of depression’.

Changes in sleep pattern

This seems to be one of the most common symptoms and is mentioned by nearly everybody.  It can vary: some people have no problems falling asleep but wake continually in the night of early morning.  Others suffer insomnia and cannot sleep for more than a few hours a night or have nights when they do not sleep at all.  At the other end of the scale depression can cause people to sleep way more than they normally would, continually napping during the day as well as sleeping 10+ hours a night.  Others mention yo-yoing from one extreme to another.

“I am exhausted, but I can’t sleep”

“I can only sleep 2-3 hours at a time”

“Sleeping is horrible, I typically wake up early in the morning and through the night”

“I sleep more and want to nap my life away”

Changes in eating pattern

Typically people mention either a total lack of interest in food or an obsession with it.  In some cases again yo-yoing from one to the other:

“I lose weight, no interest in eating”

“I have no desire to eat even when I know my body is hungry”

“I quit eating”

“I crave junk food”

“Eating chocolate”

“I eat loads, especially carbs”

“Not sure why, but I go from complete loss of appetite to non-stop eating”

“Either a loss of appetite or wanting to have something in my mouth at all times”

“Irregular eating (either gorging or going a day or two without eating)”

Feeling of continual tiredness/exhaustion/lack of focus

Another very common symptom – a debilitating lack of energy.

"Tired, like being hit by a truck”

“I just want to do nothing”

“I have a hard time doing anything, and then feel bad that I haven’t done anything”

“I sit and do nothing, a lot”

“I sit and stare at the wall … for hours on end”

“I can’t get out of bed in the morning”

“I get very lazy / can’t be bothered with anything”

“Everything is too hard to do”

Even the small daily chores become unscaleable mountains to be climbed: 

“Little things become a huge chore”

“Difficulty in juggling everyday things that usually are no problem to handle”

“My apt becomes disgustingly messy”

“I put off things – clean the apt less, haven’t shopped for food in weeks, put off bills, car maintenance, etc.  I am always a procrastinator but things are worse if depression is sinking in”

“Tired all the time.  Struggle just to take my daughter to school, a lot of times I just don’t.  Which is terrible for her to miss so much, but I just can’t do it…then guilty cos I can’t”

“I know I am becoming depressed when my fridge pongs and I find stuff I have bought 2-3 months ago rotting away, but it only seems like yesterday….”

“I never tidy up or make food”

“My laundry baskets are so big and overflowing I can’t get into the room”

“Lack of motivation to do things like vacuum or exercise”

“I stop washing / wearing clean clothes (eeeww, I know!)

“No energy … has led to days without taking a shower!”

“I shower less (usually starts with not washing my hair and goes from there)”

“Don’t bother to shower, get dressed, or put in my contacts unless I have to go to work”

“Paperwork piles up”

“I let all my houseplants die”

“My semi-tidy room becomes a godawful mess”

“Everything seems to be overwhelming – answering the phone/e-mail, paying bills, taking meds, feeding/caring for the dogs, working..”

Then along with this goes a frustrating lack of focus:

“I can’t concentrate for beans”

“I would prefer to nap than face what I should do, or how I feel”

“I guess it is like being in a weird limbo state”

“Listlessness – can’t stay awake or focus, but can’t sleep either”

“No interest in reading”

“I am bored by TV, disappointed by books and magazines.  Feel everything is mediocre”

“Watching just anything that just happens to be on TV”

“I know the situation is dire when I will watch whatever crappy movie I can find on TV, just to get through the day”

"Unable to make decisions”

“For some reason I have a sock issue.  Wow, written out, that looks insane.  I find I can put one sock on and then somehow I get lost.  So I end up sitting there for like 20 minutes staring into space with one sock on”

Confusion and forgetfulness are also issues for many:

“I can’t hold a train of thought, confusion, disorientation”

“I can’t seem to remember things”

“Can’t concentrate, headaches, ‘everything’ aches”

“Confused?  That’s also a major sign for me, confusion over the simplest of things”

“When I have bought about 8 tubs of cream cheese or 5 packets of ham or multiples of anything else, cos I can’t remember if I have bought it or not, and so buy even more….ditto the bathroom”

“Time goes quickly.  I miss dates and birthdays….I look at the calendar and wonder where the days have gone, but the days themselves are gone forever”

Changes in self-image

Depression can change your self-image in a negative way.  We feel guilty, lose confidence, find fault with ourselves:

“I feel self-loathing”

“Running commentary in my head, usually negative”

“Focusing on all things negative and having lots of regrets”

“Self blaming, everything that goes wrong is my fault”

“Always putting myself down”

“Lacking confidence in my work”

“I feel worthless”

“Don’t call my friends because I assume they don’t like me and will reject me, and because I don’t want to be a ‘burden’”

 “I feel everything is my fault and I am stupid, ugly and have no friends”

“I fear everyone is going to find out what a fraud I am”

“I always feel like I pissed someone off, even when I know I didn’t do anything”

“Nameless guilt and hopeless feelings of inadequacy”

“My very first warning sign is always when I start telling myself I don’t fit in anywhere, because my big mouth gets in the way, even when I work very hard at choosing my words”

“Rather than thinking I’m kind of fat/flabby but could improve and then maybe even look ok, I only think critical thoughts, not quite self hatred, but getting there”

“Niggling bad thoughts and convinced folks are better off without me”

“Always apologizing for everything – even things I didn’t do”

“I apologize for things, too.  I’ve even apologized to a wall I ran into!”

“The ‘self talk’ consists almost entirely of “I suck”.  When I am more ok, I can almost be amused by my weaknesses, although I’ll be irritated sometime I don’t do better.  When I am down, I just think I suck as a person”

“Helpless, hopeless, worthless, guilty, hate myself”

This can also go further, leading to paranoid thoughts:

“Thinking people hate me”

“Sometimes I feel as if my friends really hate me but are putting on an act for some reason”

“Intense fear that everyone is judging everything I do”

“Very insecure, think everyone KNOWS I am a nut”

“Paranoid.  Everyone is looking at me, everyone is judging me.  Even here at BtB I often feel that everyone just tolerates me because they don’t want to appear mean in front of the other members”


Hardly surprising, when they feel so bad about themselves, that depressed people typically isolate themselves and gradually cut off their social connections.  This not only applies to friends, but also to close family and partners. Often those who they are closest to are pushed away:

“Wanting to be alone” (note: this is mentioned countless times by people)

“Avoidance is always the first sign for me.  I cant answer the phone, get the mail, check my e-mail, come here (BtB),….nothing”

“Not picking up the phone”

“Can’t answer the door, phone, e-mails”

“I don’t talk to anyone (usually respond with one word answers)”

“Stop talking more than one word answers, drives my parents crazy”

“I disassociate/ withdraw from everyone”

“Act irritated to make people leave me alone”

“I wait in bed till I hear everyone leave the house”

“Overwhelming desire just to crawl into a hole”

“I never wanna see anyone when I walk the dog”

It can become difficult to get out of the door:

“Hiding indoors, wanting to be alone”

“Very hard to leave my apt just to check the mail”

“It always starts with something small, like a trip to the grocery store is absolutely unbearable”

“I try not to make any noise so that my roommates can’t tell that I am home all the time”

“Isolate, don’t leave the house, tell people to go away, don’t do anything to interact with people in real life”

….but as well as pushing people away, there is also ambivalence:

“Just wanting to be left alone – but want someone to show me they care”

“Don’t want to be around people, or am scared NOT to be around people”

“Not wanting to talk to anyone, but being upset that no-one wants to talk to me. (Looking at empty e-mail box but not sending anything…)”

“Scared to be alone, and then don’t want to be around anyone”

“I want to be alone, but I want my friends to try and see me at the same time”

“Don’t leave my house for days…weeks…”

Mood alterations

Depressed individuals typically feel sadness or despair.  They find they've lost their ability to feel pleasure, and they're no longer interested in things they normally enjoy:

“Inability to enjoy things / inability to feel better even under circumstances where I should”

“Everything is a chore, I don’t enjoy anything any more”

“Lose interest in things I actually like or love to do”

“I become overwhelmingly sad about anything”

I become emotionally blank (seems like nothing will make me cry)”

Sometimes I just go numb”

They often cry a lot

“I become overly sensitive”

“I can’t stop crying, but it isn’t sobbing, just silent tears”

“Crying over nothing…I just start crying for no apparent reason”

“Inability to control tears.  Not necessarily out of control sobbing, but if my feelings get hurt, I can’t stop the tears from falling.  I hate this symptom a lot”

“Crying and sometimes screaming or wailing.  Crying in my sleep or awakening in tears”

Some depressed people may be more irritable or tense than sad:

“A hair trigger temper”

“I get angry or sad with much less provocation than usual”

“Too much noise makes me feel like I should be in the loony bin”

“Irritable – I want to smack my poor husband upside the head just for breathing too loud!”

Finally, that anxious feeling…. Many people mention feeling anxious and worried, suffering from panic attacks:

“Most overriding one is I get really scared, not of anything specific, just a feeling”

“You know when you were a kid and you knew you were gong to get into trouble, and you have that feeling.  I have that feeling all the time”

Physical symptoms

Finally, physical symptoms were also listed by many:

“I read an article once that tinnitus can be a first sign of depression……..Before my last (depressive) episode I would lie awake at night it was so bad” (several references made by several people to tinnitus)

“Physical sensations of intense weight, pressure or pain”

“Feeling physically cold”

“In extremis – sweating a lot”

“Get headaches, nausea, stomach aches, and sore muscles/joints”

“Chest pains”

“Feel like I am suffocating.  It’s like being at a high altitude with thin oxygen”





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Revised: 04/23/05.

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