How to identify the first symptoms of depression

Catching the symptoms early can save lives.

This article discusses depression and suicide which may be triggering for some readers.

Depression. It is a term that can be thrown around loosely, and is often conflated with sadness. But sadness is often temporary and has a cause, depression is a mental health condition. The latter can make us lose feelings of pleasure and interest in everyday activities, sometimes for a long period of time; it can also come about for no reason, says Tracey Horton – a leading expert on mental health.

Around one in five Australians will experience depression in their lifetime, as per Family Talks Clinic. For those aged 12 to 25, it is the most commonly experienced mental health challenge. There are different causes of depression, according to Tracey, which fall into two categories: biological and situational. Biological causes include a genetic predisposition to depression, a cease of dopamine production in the brain, and changes in hormones. Situational causes include trauma, long-term stress, and social isolation.

Depression has a detrimental effect on our minds and bodies. It hinders our resilience, fosters regular sadness, makes us miss out on opportunities, and reinforces negative self talk, as per Tracey. It also affects our sleep patterns, diet, energy levels, and weight. Noticing the first symptoms of depression in yourself, or a friend or family member, can be tricky – but it is vital to seeking quick and necessary help.  

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What are the first symptoms of depression?

The earliest symptoms of depression can be very subtle, according to Tracey. They include:

  • A subtle change in regular moods – increased noticeable sadness.
  • Loss of interest in day-to-day activities.
  • A sense of overwhelm when thinking of doing anything new.
  • Everything starts to feel hopeless – which can lead one to give up trying.

And when trying to determine if a loved one is depressed, look for:

  • Signs of fatigue.
  • Loss of interest in things they normally love.
  • Fewer social interactions.
  • Poor sleeping.
  • Poor diet.
  • Poor communication. 
  • Argumentative for short bursts, followed by withdrawal.

How do I stop depression symptoms from progressing?

Ideally, we want to get on top of any depressive feelings before they progress. Determining the root of your depression is the first step, says Tracey.

“If you can see any of the signs in your life, especially if you see a combination of them, then see your local GP who can help you and refer you to a psychologist if necessary,” says Tracey. “You will need support, often a change of diet or lifestyle and sometimes medication.”

While it can be scary to reach out, seeking treatment for depression early is the best thing you can do for your mental health. “Untreated depression leads to other illnesses, loss of quality of life and sometimes a choice by the sufferer to end their life early,” says Tracey.

Two women sitting in armchairs and talking. Woman psychologist talking to patient woman. Coach giving hands to smiling woman. Therapist's gestures. Female talking in coworking office.

How can I help someone with depression?

While it’s important to check in on our own mental health, it’s also important to check in with our loved ones. Not only should we keep an eye out for signs of depression, we should also know how to help them if we do notice the symptoms.

“If you see the signs, have a conversation,” says Tracey, sharing these tips:

  • Kindly let them know that you have seen the changes.
  • Help them find a coach or counsellor.
  • Offer to go with them to appointments.
  • Stay close.
  • Make small, regular check-ins.
  • Facilitate medical help if extreme.

If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.

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