Despite how common depression is—according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression affects more than 15 million Americans—it can be difficult to spot the key depression symptoms in a partner, even though they’re probably the person you’re closest to.
“People expect the signs of depression to be really obvious; they think, ‘If my partner is going to work every day and not weeping constantly, he or she is probably fine,'” says Rebecca Parrish, MA, LMFT, a marriage, and family therapist.
But that’s not always the case, because there are more subtle symptoms of depression that can easily go unnoticed.
Loss of interest
Sometimes this loss of pleasure – also known as anhedonia – may not be complete. So your loved one may gravitate only to those things that are easily enjoyed and require the least amount of effort, such as playing video-games, sitting in front of the TV or surfing the Web. This readily leads to thoughts or comments such as “You have plenty of time and interest for surfing the Web, but not when it comes to spending quality time with me.” Engaging with another person and meeting that person’s needs require more effort than surfing the Web and therefore may be an early sign of depression.
This may take the form of trouble falling asleep or waking up during the night or the early hours of the morning. You may find your loved one in another room, trying to while away the time. This may disrupt your own sleep and may feel like abandonment, leading you to say things like, “Not only isn’t he/she available to me during the day but even at night.” Again, it’s important not to take the symptom personally, but recognize it for what it is.
Too little or too much – with corresponding weight changes in the expected direction. A loved one (for example) can readily become angry with his/her partner and blame them for eating too much and gaining weight, misinterpreting the symptom as a sign that they no longer care as much about their intimate life and is, therefore “letting themselves go.”
Anger and irritability
A depressed person struggles to get through the day. Ordinary obstacles and challenges become more difficult and can lead to frustration and the feelings that go along with that. This is another tell-tale sign of depression that is easy to take personally.
Expressing negative thoughts
You might feel enthusiastic about something and your loved one might come back with a “downer” of a response, such as “I don’t think that will amount to anything,” or “What does it matter? It makes no difference.” Such negative thoughts are a cardinal symptom of depression, yet sometimes they feel almost calculated to throw a dampener on things. The depressed person is not trying to make life difficult for others even though that is often the effect of depressive thoughts and utterances.
These may take a passive form such as, “I don’t care if I live or die” or a more active form, such as “Sometimes I feel like driving the car off the road.” Always take such statements very seriously. There is a common myth that if a person is really suicidal, they don’t tell others about it; they do it. By this erroneous logic, if the person is telling you about it, you might mistakenly conclude that they won’t actually do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are such statements key elements of depression (which warrants treatment in its own right), but they suggest that such treatment is urgent.
Loss of confidence in oneself
Depressed people feel poorly about themselves and their future. If your friend or loved one is usually more self-confident and optimistic and this then changes suspect depression.
If you detect one or more of these signs in a friend or loved one, you may want to look up a more comprehensive list of symptoms for major depression in the standard manual for psychiatric conditions, the DSM-IV. Once you suspect depression, do encourage your friend or loved one to seek consultation and treatment with a qualified person, not only for his or her sake but for yours. Sometimes it can also be helpful and comforting for you to offer to accompany the person to the consultation.