Priory Group – a provider of mental health treatment in the UK – commissioned a survey of 2000 adults to find out people’s awareness of the different symptoms of depression*. The most recognized symptoms of depression were having a continuous low mood and feeling unmotivated while finding it difficult to make decisions and unexplained pain was amongst the lesser-known.

The below chart highlights people’s awareness of the different symptoms of depression:

Symptoms of depression

Percentage of people aware of symptoms

Continuous low mood or sadness

70%

Having no motivation or interest in things

68%

Feeling hopeless and helpless

68%

Feeling anxious or worried

66%

Feeling tearful

64%

Having low self-esteem 

63%

Not getting any enjoyment out of life

63%

Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

62%

Disturbed sleep

58%

Avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities

58%

Lack of energy

57%

Feeling irritable and intolerant of others 

53%

Neglecting your hobbies and interests

53%

Finding it difficult to make decisions

48%

Changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased) 

47%

Having difficulties in your home, work or family life

44%

Low sex drive (loss of libido)

42%

Feeling guilt-ridden

37%

Moving or speaking more slowly than usual 

26%

Unexplained aches and pains

20%

Changes to your menstrual cycle

14%

Constipation

10%

None of the above/Don’t know

5%

 

The lesser-known symptoms of depression were found to be the following:

 

The least known symptoms of depression

1

Constipation

2

Changes to your menstrual cycle

3

Unexplained aches and pains

4

Moving or speaking more slowly than usual 

5

Feeling guilt-ridden

6

Low sex drive (loss of libido)

7

Having difficulties in your home, work or family life

8

Changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased) 

9

Finding it difficult to make decisions

 

The survey results suggest that many people are unaware of the different ways that depression can manifest. Dr. Syed Omair Ahmed, a consultant psychiatrist who supports people with depression at Priory Hospital Woodbourne, explains: “All individuals are different. When someone has depression, their different biological, psychological and social makeup affects the symptoms that they experience.”

Dr. Ahmed emphasizes the importance of understanding all the potential symptoms of depression: “When a person is aware of the different symptoms of depression, it puts them in a better position to access treatment faster. When depression is left untreated, a person’s symptoms can worsen and significant health issues can arise.

“Common physical health issues include malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. A lack of mobility caused by depression can also cause blood clots to form on the lungs or in the legs. A person may also start to use alcohol or drugs to self-manage symptoms, which can lead to further problems.”

Examining the lesser-known symptoms of depression

Dr. Ahmed has looked closely at the lesser-known symptoms of depression and the reasons why they can occur to help increase people’s awareness:

Finding it difficult to make decisions

Depression can cause certain areas of the brain to decrease in volume and can also disrupt normal ‘electrical connections’. This causes a person’s focus and concentration to diminish, making it difficult for them to make decisions. Depression also leads to sleep disruption and lethargy. This lack of energy can affect a person’s decision-making abilities.

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Changes in appetite or weight

Depression can cause changes in our metabolic systems, leading to an increased or decreased appetite. When a person has lower energy levels, they may also be less motivated to prepare food. Conversely, some people may ‘comfort’ eat as a coping mechanism.

Having difficulties in your home, work, or family life

The loss of sleep caused by depression can result in a person becoming irritable, which can impact on those they are close to. A person may also withdraw from others, which can affect relationships. Problems with focus and concentration may also cause work performance to decline, and lead to a demotion or job loss. If a person resorts to self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, this can again exacerbate difficulties at home, work, or within the family

Low sex drive 

People with depression can experience a loss of desire and can experience delayed orgasm. A person’s sexual arousal depends on their ability to experience pleasure. If this is missing due to depression, this will lower their sex drive. Low energy levels and low self-esteem will also contribute to this picture

Feeling guilt-ridden

People with depression can struggle to achieve perspective on negative life events. This can make them feel wholly responsible for themselves, making them feel guilty.

Moving or speaking more slowly than usual

The slowing of both thought processes and physical movements is a well-established symptom of severe depression. Partly due to decreased energy levels, it is also known that certain chemical and structural changes in the brain can cause this

Unexplained aches and pains

People with depression often present with various body ailments including pain. While quite often there will be no underlying physical cause, the pain and distress is very real. In depression, as emotions are not processed properly, people tend to focus on any physical symptoms they experience rather than underlying emotional problems

Changes to your menstrual cycle

During a depressive phase, a hormone called cortisol rises. This sends messages to the brain and the reproductive system, delaying or ceasing ovulation, leading to a delayed or absent period

Constipation

If a person’s appetite is adversely affected, and their dietary intake is quite poor, they will lack essential nutrients and fibre. This can lead to bowel disturbances including constipation. Low fluid intake can also worsen constipation. Low serotonin levels in depression have also been shown to slow gut movements.

Conclusion

For people who are concerned that they may be experiencing symptoms of depression, Dr. Ahmed encourages them to seek help: “Talk to your close friends or family. They can be an invaluable source of support.

“Also, speak to your GP or a psychiatrist, who will be able to help you receive a diagnosis and appropriate treatment. This may include psychological therapy, medication, or a referral to specialist mental health services. For additional support, there are mental health charities and organizations that provide people with access to support lines and support groups.”

*The online survey was conducted by Atomik Research on behalf of Priory Group, among 2000 respondents from the UK. The research fieldwork took place on 9th – 14th April 2020. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.

Who is the author?

Dr Syed Omair Ahmed is a consultant psychiatrist working at Priory Hospital Woodbourne and Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham. He specializes in General Adult Psychiatry, in particular, mood disorders, anxiety, and psychoses. Dr. Ahmed has received Clinical Excellence Awards in recognition of his services within Psychiatry. 

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Guest Writer

This post has been curated by a Longevity Live editor for the website.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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