Diagnosing depression

How to tell if you are depressed
Diagnosing depression involves a good medical examination, including a complete history of current and previous symptoms, questions about illnesses of other family members and about your mood, memory, and changes in relationships.

How to tell if someone else is depressed
It's not always easy telling if a friend, relative, or coworker is depressed. After all, you can't very well see inside another person's head. But there usually are warning signs that you can notice. Here's what to look for:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities -- for example, a friend who doesn't want to bother with a favorite hobby or a spouse who has lost interest in sex
  • Changes in appetite -- eating less or more than usual
  • Gaining or losing weight (when not on a diet)
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or oversleeping
  • Having difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • Comments about committing suicide. These should be taken very, very seriously. Urge this person to get medical help immediately.


We tend to think of childhood as being a happy, stress-free time of life, but it isn't like that at all for many children. While children may show the same signs of depression as adults, they also may react quite differently. Here are some other signs of depression that children and adolescents may show, depending on their age:


  • Don't eat well
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Grow less than expected for their age
  • Cry much more than is typical
  • Hurt themselves - for example, they bang their heads


  • Look very somber, almost like they're ill
  • Lack preschoolers' usually outgoing behavior
  • Are tearful, irritable
  • Make negative comments about themselves
  • Are withdrawn, apathetic
  • Throw tantrums (more so than usual for this age)
  • Lose skills that are normal for their age, e.g., revert to crawling
  • May be aggressive, reckless, or destructive

School-aged children

  • Get in trouble in school, stop doing their schoolwork
  • Don't get along with other kids, stop playing with their peers
  • Are aggressive
  • Run away
  • Abuse alcohol and/or drugs

The elderly

It may not be easy to tell if an older relative or friend has depression. While some seniors show the typical signs of depression, they're more likely to mention difficulty thinking or concentrating, or complain about physical or medical problems. Depression can also manifest itself as an unaccountable memory loss which the depressed person or his/her family and friends may mistake for dementia. They may even think that depression is a natural part of aging, and therefore not worth mentioning. But treatment is important, as untreated depression has been found to contribute to dementia in some older people.

The cause of depression in the elderly also tends to be different than for younger adults. At any age, physical disease or medications can contribute to or cause depression. But since both illness and the use of all sorts of medicines become more common as we age, older adults are more likely to develop depression related to these medical factors.


Untreated depression obviously hurts the depressed person and his or her family. Not so obvious is the damage it does to the economy by limiting productivity at the workplace. How? In several ways. People with depression, on average, spend more time in bed than do people who are ill with diabetes, arthritis, back injuries, lung diseases, or gastrointestinal diseases. Depressed people miss work due to their illness and they're much less productive when they come to work. And left untreated, depression can recur for the rest of one's life.

How can you tell if a coworker is depressed? He or she will show the classic symptoms such as a depressed mood or weight changes. But the depression will also influence his or her work performance. For example, look for:

  • Excessive absenteeism
  • Low productivity
  • Difficulty with follow-through
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism
  • Low morale
  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • Indecisiveness
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Frequent complaints about fatigue, aches, and pain
  • Frequent accidents

Depressed workers usually don't ask for help. They may not even realize that they are depressed and if they do know it they may not want to admit it at work out of a sense of shame or even fear that it will hurt their career. It's often necessary for the supervisor to approach the employee, find out if he or she may be depressed, and direct the employee to a health care provider for diagnosis and treatment.

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