How Do You Know Whether You’re Depressed?

There are countless situations that can occur in one’s life that can trigger feelings of grief, despair, anger, resignation, and other such unpleasant and even depressed feelings. Thus, depression can be a normal response to adversity and loss. There are two key distinctions between what can be considered a “normal” depression and one that requires active intervention: how bad things get, and for how long. When the experience of depression is so powerful that it warps your view of yourself and your life in negative ways, leading you to make bad and even self-destructive decisions, then your depression is no longer “normal.”

There is no specific, reliable medical or psychological test for diagnosing depression, like a blood test or brain scan. Instead, there are different signs and symptoms that mental health professionals generally agree upon as evidence of depression. There are pencil-and-paper tests many clinicians use to diagnose depression, and these can be useful. More often clinicians simply ask about the presence and degree of severity of these signs and symptoms in an interview. A clinical interview is still widely considered the most reliable means of determining whether someone is depressed simply because of how much symptoms can vary from person to person.


There are two especially important questions clinicians ask in order to make the diagnosis. A “yes” answer to either or both of these questions suggest a person is either already depressed or may be at risk for becoming depressed. The two questions are:

  1. Have you been feeling down, depressed, sad or blue for the last month or more?
  2. Have you lost interest in or stopped getting pleasure from the things that normally interest you or give you pleasure?


If your answer is yes to either or both of the above questions, I hope you will take the important step of talking to a health care professional as soon as possible to better determine whether depression might be present.


Signs and symptoms of depression can be grouped according to what dimension of experience they most tend to affect, as in the following list.

No one symptom or group of symptoms defines depression, though, which is why each person’s experience of depression is a little different.

This is a general list describing the range of symptoms people might experience. It is by no means a complete list.

  1. Physical Symptoms
    • Sleep disturbance (sleeping too little or too much)
    • Sexual dysfunction or ongoing lack of sex drive
    • Lack of energy, fatigue
    • Appetite disturbance (eating too much or too little)
  2. Emotional Symptoms
    • Feeling sad most of the time
    • Feeling overwhelmed and helpless to cope well
    • Feeling hopeless anything can get better
    • Anxious, fearful about routine life experiences
    • Loss of capacity to experience pleasure
    • Guilt feelings that are either inappropriate or excessive
  3. Social Symptoms
    • Isolation – Withdrawal from people and social situations
    • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed social activities
    • Irritability, frequently “snapping” at people for no good reason
  4. Cognitive Symptoms
    • Concentration problems
    • Memory problems
    • Thoughts of death or suicide
    • Indecisiveness, rumination
    • Negative thinking across diverse situations
  5. Behavioral symptoms
    • Avoidant behavior
    • Self-destructive behavior
    • Alcohol and drug abuse

As you can see, the symptoms of depression can vary quite a bit from one person to another. The bottom line, though, is how you feel about yourself and the quality of your life. If you’re generally dissatisfied with your life, maybe it is (and maybe it isn’t) depression. But waiting for things to improve by themselves is rarely the best option.

Taking positive action makes better sense if you want to feel good. It’s important to face life directly and skillfully rather than passively withdraw into depression.

These website pages address the mood disorder known as major depressive disorder, or major depression, in general terms. It is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and/or treatment by a qualified mental health professional for any individual. It provides visitors to the site with an expert’s informed perspectives in order to help guide a sensible recovery from the burden of depression.