Most of us would recognise classic signs of depression, with its overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
But what if you just started getting stomach aches or suddenly developed a short fuse?
Could you be depressed without knowing it?
“Depression doesn’t always look like debilitating sadness,” says Dr Richard Kravitz, an expert in identifying depression in primary-care settings.
“Patients are reluctant to consider depression as a cause of their symptoms – in part because they may equate it with weakness, but also in part because they simply don’t associate those symptoms with depression.”
Accurately identifying the problem is key, he adds, because the sooner you get treatment, the easier it will be to return your happy, healthy self.
Here are nine surprising signs of depression you don’t want to miss.
1. YOU’RE IN PAIN
Depression and pain share some of the same biological pathways and neurotransmitters.
About 75 per cent of people with depression suffer recurring or chronic pain, research shows.
In a Canadian study published in the journal Pain, people with depression were four times more likely to have intense or disabling neck or lower-back pain than those who were not depressed.
“When you’re in a negative state, you’re apt to tune into your body more carefully, and therefore feel any discomforts more acutely,” Kravitz explains.
You might also notice other signs of depression like stomachaches and headaches, or just experience greater sensitivity to pain in general.
A 2008 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that when people with depression anticipate pain, their brain activity indicates more emotion and less coping, so they’re less able to handle the hurt.
2. YOU'RE BUSTING OUT OF YOUR PANTS
Where did that extra roll come from?
Maybe from all the late-night ice cream you’ve been inhaling? Or from the takeaway dinners you’ve been eating because you don’t feel like shopping or cooking?
Although comfort food can raise levels of the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin, over time emotional eating can lead to weight gain and feelings of guilt and shame, plus it does nothing to treat the underlying causes of depression.
A new study in the journal Obesity confirms that high levels of stress and depression make it tough to drop kilos and stick to effective weight-loss strategies.
On the flip side, you might lose weight, as depression zaps appetite.
3. YOU HAVE A SHORT FUSE
If the slightest mishap sends you into a rage, or grouchy is your new normal, you may be depressed.
In a 2013 study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, 54 per cent of people with depression reported feeling hostile, grumpy, argumentative, foul-tempered or angry.
“Once you’re on the negative side of the house, you’re more accessible to the rooms where other negative moods hang out – irritability, frustration and anger,” says clinical psychiatrist Simon Rego.
“You’re not directly there, but it’s a short walk.”
4. YOU FEEL NOTHING
“Most of us have motivations that get us out of bed in the morning, whether it’s work, exercise, socialising or making breakfast,” says Rego. “But for people who are depressed, those pulls dry up.”
And things that used to make you laugh or smile now barely register.
This kind of zombie behaviour is a hallmark sign of depression, and it can make you seem distant, pushing away the people who would otherwise give you love and support.
5. YOUR HAPPY HOUR DRINK IS NOW THREE
If you’re having several glasses of alcohol every night, it’s probably more than a rough day at work.
Nearly one-third of people with depression also have an alcohol problem, research shows.
And though one drink can take the edge off, a second or third can amplify negative emotions and signs of depression – anger, aggressiveness and anxiety.
6. YOU’RE GLUED TO FACEBOOK
Or gambling or shopping – basically doing anything in excess, especially online.
Several studies confirm that people who go online compulsively and have more virtual social interactions than real ones may be depressed.
They may feel deprived of real human companionship and/or may be using the online world to escape from their thoughts and feelings.
While Internet addiction and depression are separate diagnoses, they often overlap.
“The quest for a short-term boost is a common coping mechanism,” says Rego.
7. YOUR HEAD IS IN THE CLOUDS
Daydreaming a lot lately?
Psychologists from Harvard University have shown that we’re happiest when our minds are firmly rooted in the present moment, and when our minds wander, it can make us wistful, anxious and unhappy.
While daydreaming can help find creative solutions to problems, more often than not it’s linked to depression and low mood.
8. YOU CAN’T MAKE UP YOUR MIND.
We make upwards of 70 conscious decisions every day, Columbia University research shows, and most of them are no-brainers.
Snooze or get up? Get dressed or stay in pajamas? Eat cereal or eggs?
“When we’re depressed, those cognitive processes take a big hit,” says Rego.
“Little things we normally don’t think twice about suddenly become weighty decisions.”
9. YOU’VE STOPPED COMBING YOUR HAIR
Even if your grooming routine was modest to begin with, it may disappear when you’re depressed.
In a 2014 survey of more than 10,000 people, 61 per cent who had poor oral health reported suffering depression.
And the more dental issues they had, the more severe the depression was.
“Its a spectrum,” says Rego. “Neglecting your physical wellbeing and appearance is only problematic when it crosses over into distress or dysfunction.”
Ultimately, not caring what you look like on the outside is a strong sign of problems happening on the inside.