What Does Depression Feel Like? (2023)

Sadness is something we all experience from time to time. For some, this feeling is temporary and goes away on its own. But for others, this persistent feeling of emptiness, unhappiness, and hopelessness becomes a regular part of their day.

If your mood has changed over the last few weeks and engaging in routine daily tasks is getting more difficult, you may have depression, and you're not alone.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. According to data from 2017, it is estimated that 17.3 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had a least one major depressive episode in the past year.

Depression, a mood disorder that can cause mild to severe symptoms, can affect how you feel, think, and manage daily activities.

Best Online Help for Depression

What Depression May Feel Like

Many people believe that depression needs to be debilitating and cause significant problems in their life in order to seek help. What they don’t realize is that some of the more subtle signs of this disorder are often the first indication that something is going on.Here are some examples of how depression may feel to you.

  • Depression feels like there is no pleasure or joy in life. According to Anjani Amladi, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, it’s so much more than being sad. According to Amladi, “depression robs people of things they once loved, and for many people, they feel like nothing will bring them joy again.”
  • Concentration and focus become much more difficult, which makes any kind of decision-making challenging. Amladi says that sometimes people describe this as being in a fog as they are unable to think clearly or follow what is happening around them.
  • For many with depression, it feels like there is no way out. Everything feels hopeless like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Amladi says this can lead to a feeling of failure and worthlessness. In more serious cases, it can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Depression also has a significant impact on sleep. This often manifests as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, frequent nighttime awakening, or feeling tired upon waking despite getting an adequate number of hours of sleep. “This can lead to a feeling of exhaustion and low energy which can prevent people from even being able to get out of bed, or perform daily activities like showering, eating and brushing their teeth,” Amladi says.
  • Sometimes depression can be physically painful. Amladi says it is not unusual for people with depression to feel body aches, headaches, muscle tension, and even nausea.

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact theNational Suicide Prevention Lifelineat988for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see ourNational Helpline Database.

How It Feels According to People With Depression

Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist, and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, says the most common question asked in her practice is: "How does depression feel?"

“Some people ask me this question for comfort and to ensure that they are not alone with their experience, while others feel so confused by their tumultuous feelings that they struggle to clearly identify their inner experience,” she says.

With that in mind, here are some of the responses Magavi hears in her sessions:

(Video) What does Depression feel like?

  • "Depression feels like a weight on my chest, which brings me down everywhere I go."
  • "Depression is receiving praise at work but still feeling worthless."
  • "Depression is the loneliness I feel when I see other couples and families laughing and enjoying their lives."
  • "Depression is feeling like I am a failure as a person, family member, and friend."
  • "Depression is when I cannot take care of my children because I cannot take care of myself."
  • "Depression is not brushing my hair and teeth because I simply cannot move."
  • "Depression is smiling when others laugh, hiding behind the fabricated mask, and wishing I could just disappear."
  • "Depression is my life and shadow, which haunts me every day."

Christian Sismone, someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety her entire life, says it’s important to provide a non-clinicalperspective. She shares these examples:

  • “Depression makes my mind feel like a turtle running in chunky peanut butter.” Sismone says this is most evident when she is not able to have clear thoughts.
  • “Depression feels like I'm suffocating in my emotions, and at times I feel as though I can breathe, but only through a straw.” Being someonewho attempted to end their life 10 years ago, Sismone says the complicated emotion of depression can feel too great.
  • “Depression can feel like an old friend that doesn't quite fit, but you know the ins and outs.” For Sismone, learning how to work with depression instead of running away from it, helped her move forward.

7 Facts You Should Know About Depression

What Are the Different Types of Depression?

Since depression is such a complex disorder, it can be difficult to define and diagnose with just one set of generalized criteria. Because of this, other categories define different types of depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the two most common forms of depression are major or clinical depression and persistent depressive disorder.

Major depression is the most commonly diagnosed form of depression characterized as having symptoms of depression most of the day, nearly every day for at least two weeks that interferes with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life.

Persistent depressive disorder dysthymia is diagnosed after a person has symptoms of depression that last for at least two years.

Other forms of depression include:

  • Perinatal or prepartum depression, which occurs during pregnancy.
  • Postpartum depression, which after pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which features depressive episodes that come and go with the seasons.
  • Psychotic depression, which co-occurs with one other form of psychosis.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD), which is a severe extension of premenstrual syndrome.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depressive symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in actives you used to enjoy
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and pessimism (expecting only bad things to occur)
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Increase in aches and pains, headaches, digestive problems
  • Lack of self-care (not bathing, grooming, etc)
  • Withdraw from social activities
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

Tips for Friends and Family

If you have a friend or loved one dealing with depression, you might be wondering if there are things you should look or listen for. The good news, according to Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation360, is you don’t need to have a great understanding of what depression feels like to you, just try to be curious about what depression feels like for them.

His advice? Try to understand it enough so that you stay aware of the symptoms and look for the little things that indicate your loved one is doing well or that they are struggling.

“What’s most important is that we are trying to care for them and when we are aware of their struggle, we can check on them and ask what we can do to help,” Gilliland says.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares an exercise that can help you feel better when you feel depressed.

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What Does Depression Feel Like? (1)

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A Word From Verywell

Depression is a serious mental health issue. Although symptoms can look different depending on the severity, it’s not uncommon to experience many of the feelings described above.

That said, if you’re experiencing more than a few symptoms of depression or are worried that your symptoms are worsening, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your doctor or mental health expert.

How to Identify Your Emotions When You’re Depressed

2 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

(Video) What It Feels Like To Have Depression | Body Language

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Depression Basics.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Major Depression.

What Does Depression Feel Like? (2)

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on mental health, fitness, nutrition, and parenting.

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What way does depression make you feel? ›

Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness. Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters. Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports. Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much.

What are the 5 levels of depression? ›

Types of major depression include melancholia, psychotic and antenatal or postnatal. You may be diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe depression. Your mental health professional may diagnose you with depression if these symptoms: happen most days.

How do u describe depression? ›

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.

What are the top three signs of depression? ›

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression: Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood. Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism. Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness.

What depressed people usually do? ›

People with depression will often sleep for what seems like or may literally be days. Sleep at times can be impossible while other times could be the only thing left that the person can do. When a person is depressed they are dealing with a state of helplessness that will rock their world.

What does a breakdown feel like? ›

feel overwhelmed — unable to concentrate or make decisions. be moody — feeling low or depression; feeling burnt out; emotional outbursts of uncontrollable anger, fear, helplessness or crying. feel depersonalised — not feeling like themselves or feeling detached from situations.

What is last stage of depression? ›

Depression creates a sensation of isolation as if you are lost in the wilderness with no direction. The final stage is acceptance, which means you have finally made peace with the reality of your mental illness.

What is the peak of depression? ›

In their lifetime, 20% to 25% of women, and 7% to 12% of men will have a major depressive episode. The peak period of development is between the ages of 25 and 44 years. Onset of major depressive episodes or MDD often occurs to people in their mid-20s, and less often to those over 65.

What is the 1st stage of depression? ›

Stage 1: Origin

Common origins include the death of a loved one, divorce or relationship changes, family issues, addiction, illness, or other physical or emotional disorders. This is a time when the brain starts to change, becoming more susceptible to depression and sadness.

What are the 4 main causes of depression? ›

Smoking, obesity, eating an unhealthy diet, and a lack of physical activity are all behaviors that cause depression, according to results of one UCLA study. The risk of depression due to these risk factors varies with age.

What depression does to the brain? ›

According to an fMRI study, decreased brain activity in the hippocampus was reported82 in depressive patients. Reduced gray matter volume and reduced functional activity in the hippocampus would lead to negative emotion and the inability of cognitive processing in depressive patients.

What anxiety feels like? ›

feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax. having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst. feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down. feeling like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you.

When does depression become concerning? ›

Watch for mood changes that last longer than a few weeks; problems at school, home or with friends; unusual levels of irritability and lashing out; feelings of worthlessness, anger and extreme sensitivity; sleeping or eating too much; avoiding friends and others; a loss of interest in activities; or self-harm behaviors ...

When does depression most commonly appear? ›

As the data shows, on average, people experienced the symptoms of depression 5 years before they were diagnosed. When measured on the basis of symptoms, the median age of onset was 26. When measured on the basis of a diagnosis, the median age of onset was later, at 31 years old.

What do depressed people usually say? ›

A person with depression may have thoughts such as:
  • 'I'm a failure. '
  • 'It's my fault. '
  • 'Nothing good ever happens to me. '
  • 'I'm worthless. '
  • 'There is nothing good in my life. '
  • 'Things will never change. '
  • 'Life's not worth living. '
  • 'People would be better off without me. '

Who mostly gets depression? ›

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. Depression can occur at any age. Some mood changes and depressed feelings occur with normal hormonal changes.

Who has depression the most? ›

Major depressive disorder

Episodes of major depression were more common among: women (9.6 percent, compared to 6 percent in men) people between the ages of 18 and 25 (15.2 percent) people who describe themselves as being of two or more races or ethnicities (13.7 percent)

How do you know if you are shutting down emotionally? ›

Symptoms of emotional detachment

People who are emotionally detached or removed may experience symptoms such as: difficulty creating or maintaining personal relationships. a lack of attention, or appearing preoccupied when around others. difficulty being loving or affectionate with a family member.

Should I admit myself to a mental hospital? ›

If you're experiencing severe depression symptoms, having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or your current treatment just isn't helping, you may consider checking yourself into a hospital. Although this can be a frightening thought, you may find it less intimidating if you know what to expect from the process.

What is considered a mental breakdown? ›

A nervous breakdown (also called a mental breakdown) is a term that describes a period of extreme mental or emotional stress. The stress is so great that the person is unable to perform normal day-to-day activities. The term “nervous breakdown” isn't a clinical one.

What will happen if depression is not treated? ›

Untreated clinical depression is a serious problem. Untreated depression increases the chance of risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol addiction. It also can ruin relationships, cause problems at work, and make it difficult to overcome serious illnesses.

Is depression a lifetime thing? ›

Major depressive disorder isn't something that eventually “passes.” While most people feel sad at times in their lives, major depression is when a person is in a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.

What type of depression is permanent? ›

Persistent depressive disorder is a continuous, long-term form of depression. You may feel sad and empty, lose interest in daily activities and have trouble getting things done. You may also have low self-esteem, feel like a failure and feel hopeless.

What happens in your mind when you're depressed? ›

Depression causes the hippocampus to raise its cortisol levels, impeding the development of neurons in your brain. The shrinkage of brain circuits is closely connected to the reduction of the affected part's function. While other cerebral areas shrink due to high levels of cortisol, the amygdala enlarges.

What are five effects of the depression? ›

Some of the physical effects include erratic sleep habits, loss of appetite (or increased appetite with atypical depression), constant fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, and back pain. It's easy to dismiss these symptoms as stemming from another condition, but they are often because of depression.

What happens to my body when Im depressed? ›

Physical symptoms are common in major depression and may lead to chronic pain and complicate treatment. Symptoms associated with depression include joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, psychomotor activity changes, and appetite changes.


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