10 Signs It's Time to Get Help for Depression

by Therese Borchard Health Writer & Patient Advocate

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 7 percent of adults in the U.S will experience major depressive disorder in any given year. How do you know if what you are experiencing is passing sadness or clinical depression? The following symptoms can serve as a guide. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), you should seek help if these symptoms have been present for a period of two weeks or longer.

Calendar, never ending concept


Feelings of frustration, sadness, and regret are fairly common. They contribute to the kaleidoscope of human emotions. However, unrelenting hopelessness, the absence of incentive to move forward, and the inability to see anything beyond the pain are hallmark signs of depression.

Woman distracted by outside at work

An inability to concentrate

We all have moments where we forget our best friend’s name or put our car keys in the fridge. We may have days where we experience brain fog or are scatterbrained. However, depression involves a lack of concentration and a difficulty making decisions that affect work performance and other responsibilities. You might make more mistakes at work or start calling in sick.

Man with aches and pains

Unexplained aches and pains

For decades, we have known that depression is not just a mental disorder. It clearly has physical manifestations. In a study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 69 percent of persons who met the criteria for depression consulted a doctor for aches and pains. Mood disorders can show up in surprising symptoms — like bloating, backaches, or joint pain. Have unexplained aches and pains? Consider depression.

Apathy for the sports he use to love.

Apathy concerning the things you liked to do

Maybe you are a person who loves movies, music, and dancing. But this past month or so, you have no interest in these activities. Even when you force yourself to engage in your favorite activities and hobbies, they don’t give you pleasure like they used to. This kind of apathy to things that once brought you joy is a red flag for depression.

Drinking while depressed.

Alcohol or drug abuse

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, also have a substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those struggling with substance problems also have an anxiety or mood disorder. If you relieve your anxiety or depression with alcohol or any kind of drug, it’s time to get help.

young lady trying to sleep.

Changes in sleep habits

One of the primary symptoms of depression is sleep disturbance. Some people will sleep too much and some too little. Sleep disorders don’t in themselves cause depression, but insomnia, irregular sleep, or oversleeping all play a role in mood fluctuations. Pay close attention to your sleep habits and seek help if sleep interruptions don’t improve.

Woman sad not eating.

Changes in appetite and eating

Some people binge on donuts, ice-cream, and everything else they can shove into their mouths to relieve the pain of their depression. Other folks stare at their dinner plate with absolutely no appetite or interest in food. Either way, a significant change in appetite and weight (more than 5 percent of body weight in a month) can signal depression.

Co-workers yelling at each other.

Irritability, agitation, and moodiness

Not everyone who snaps at you is depressed, but another red flag of depression is heightened irritability, agitation, and moodiness. Little things set you off – like a loud conversation next to you on the bus, or an itchy tag on your sweater. Sigmund Freud once referred to depression as anger turned inward. That anger can surface as thoughts of self-harm or the desire to harm someone else. If that’s you, get immediate help.

woman in living room feeling worthless.

Feelings of worthlessness and guilt

Inappropriate guilt or self-reproach often accompanies depression. Feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness — repetitive thoughts like “I’m not good enough” — can sometimes trigger a spiral of negative emotions that worsens mood and, at worst, can lead to self-harm.

Suicide word cloud

Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm

Seek immediate help if you are self-harming in any way, like cutting yourself, or if you have persistent thoughts of suicide or death. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed to disclose those thoughts to someone, actions are not as far from thoughts as you think. Keeping them a secret is risking devastating results.

Therese Borchard
Meet Our Writer
Therese Borchard

Therese Borchard has written for a variety of websites, including CNN, The Huffington Post, Everyday Health, and Psych Central, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. Founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue on Facebook. Therese advocates on behalf of those who live with depression and other mood disorders. You can find her at thereseborchard.com.