Many people don’t know that depression manifests itself in non-verbal ways. Generally, depression is thought of as someone feeling “sad” or “down,” but depression is composed of many other symptoms that can be equally challenging for someone.
Here is a brief list of 10 important non-verbal signs of depression you should be aware of. These are important things to look out for if you have concerns that either yourself or a loved one might have depression.
1. Changes in body language and normal behavior. Usually, when someone has depression, their body movement slows down. Internally, this can feel like it is harder to perform activities, or that routine tasks take more effort than normal. As an observer, you might notice someone walking or moving more slowly. Additionally, depression can cause people to alter their routines. If you notice someone no longer engaging in a behavior they used to normally engage in (e.g. going for walks, doing art, reading, going to lunch) you might consider the shift as a possible sign of underlying depression.
2. Being withdrawn from conversation. Individuals with depression commonly withdraw from interactions with other people. It can be hard to work up the energy to carry on a conversation, or to engage in social norms when you are struggling with depression.
3. Increased sleep, or not sleeping enough. Depression has a major effect on sleep. Most often, depression causes individuals to sleep more than normal – often feeling tired and drowsy throughout the day even though they have gotten a full night’s sleep (or more). But depression can also cause people to have difficulty falling or staying asleep. The important thing to consider is whether or not your sleep patterns have shifted perceptively, and if this could be related to feelings of depression.
4. Changes in appetite, consumption, and body weight. Similar to the changes in sleep, depression can cause individuals to experience a change in their appetite, and, as a result, their body weight. Serotonin, long believed to be the major neurotransmitter involved in depression, is also responsible for appetite and sleep-wake patterns. So it’s no wonder that sleep and appetite are affected by depression. Take note of whether or not you feel an increase or a decrease of your appetite when compared to how you normally feel.
5. Not engaging in hobbies, leisure activities, or sex. A major component of depression is called “Anhedonia,” which is an inability feel pleasure. A person with anhedonia will not be able to enjoy activities that they had previously enjoyed. Because of this, someone may stop engaging in hobbies or other fun activities. Additionally, someone may notice a decrease in their sex-drive, and might not be able to enjoy sexual activities to the same degree that they used to.
6. Being unable to fulfill responsibilities or care for oneself. Because of the increased effort it takes for someone with depression to complete everyday tasks, it can be common for them to neglect responsibilities or to neglect taking care of themselves. What’s important here is to remember that the person with depression is suffering and struggling with a mental health issue that makes everyday living difficult. In other words, not completing tasks or taking care of themselves is usually borne out of internal pain, and not laziness or other similarly pejorative labels.
7. Engaging in self-harming behavior. Self-harming (e.g. cutting, burning) can be related to other disorders. But it is not uncommon for someone who is experiencing the intense sadness and guilt of depression to engage in self-harming activities. Sometimes these activities can be related to thoughts of suicide, which is important to consider. But that isn’t always the case. Often, self-harming can be an individual’s attempt to relieve pain, when they are not able find other ways of finding relief from their pain.
8. Increase use of substances. Depression can be a confusing and frustrating thing for people to experience – they might not know how they got depressed, and how they can get rid of it. Sometimes people will resort to using substances (e.g. drugs, alcohol) to cope with what they are going through. It’s common for people to label this as “self-medicating.” But this label fails to capture the desperation that a depressed individual has when they are looking to find relief from their feelings. Instead of labelling this behavior as “self-medicating,” I think it’s important to understand that, when someone doesn’t feel like they have a lot of tools, they will use whatever tools they can find in order to help themselves feel better. And sometimes, those tools take the form of drugs or alcohol.
9. Emotional outbursts, such as crying, anger, irritation. Although depression is mostly thought of as “sadness,” someone with depression can experience increased irritability, frustration, and anger. Additionally, because someone is going through a lot of pain due to the depression they are feeling, it’s not uncommon for people to have outbursts of their bottled-up emotions. These outpourings of feelings can be related to sadness, anger, and frustration. And sometimes, a person might not be aware of why they are having an outburst.
10. Writing “goodbye” letters, putting one’s affairs in order.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings are common in depressed individuals, especially in people with severe and chronic depression. Writing goodbye letters and putting one’s affairs in order could be a sign that someone is considering suicide. Often, people who are considering suicide won’t talk about these thoughts. But if someone is talking about suicide, it’s important to take this seriously. Someone might not talk directly about suicide, but could talk about “death and dying” in more general terms. This is still an important sign that someone could be considering suicide because of the pain they are feeling.
This is a short list of some of the non-verbal signs of depression. This list is not to be used as psychological advice. And these signs are not meant to be used to diagnose yourself or anyone else. Rather, this list is being published so that you can be aware of some of the signs related to depression, and can use this knowledge to possibly seek out help for yourself or for a loved one.