Health A-Z

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Symptoms

A depressed person may gain or lose weight, eat more or less than usual, have difficulty concentrating, and have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual. He or she may feel tired and have no energy for work or play. Small burdens or obstacles may appear impossible to manage. The person can appear slowed down or agitated and restless. The symptoms can be quite noticeable to others.

A particularly painful symptom of this illness is an unshakable feeling of worthlessness and guilt. The person may feel guilty about a specific life experience or may feel general guilt not related to anything in particular.

If pain and self-criticism become great enough, they can lead to feelings of hopelessness, self-destructive behavior, or thoughts of death and suicide. The vast majority of people who suffer severe depression do not attempt or commit suicide, but they are more likely to do so than people who are not depressed.

The thoughts of people with major depression are often colored by their dark mood. For example, pessimistic ideas may be out of proportion with the reality of the situation. Sometimes, the depressed thinking is distorted enough to be called "psychotic;" that is, the person has great difficulty recognizing reality. Sometimes, depressed people develop delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (false perceptions).

Symptoms of major depression include:

  • Distinctly depressed or irritable mood

  • Loss of interest or pleasure

  • Decreased or increased weight or appetite

  • Increased or decreased sleep

  • Appearing slowed or agitated

  • Fatigue and loss of energy

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Poor concentration or indecisiveness

  • Thoughts of death, suicide attempts or plans

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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