Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common Symptoms

There are many symptoms associated with depression, and some will vary depending on the individual. However, some of the most common symptoms are listed below. If you have several of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have depression.

  • persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • irritability, restlessness or having trouble sitting still
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, including sex
  • decreased energy or fatigue
  • moving or talking more slowly
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • eating more or less than usual, usually with unplanned weight gain or loss
  • feeling like life is not worth living
  • thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
  • aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
  • frequent crying

Is it Depression or Something Else?

The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications or conditions can cause symptoms similar to depression. A doctor can rule out these factors by doing a complete physical exam, interview, and lab tests.

If these other factors can be ruled out, the doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. Some doctors called geriatric psychiatrists and clinical geropsychologists are specially trained to treat depression and other mental illnesses in older adults.

The doctor or mental health professional will ask about the history of your symptoms, such as when they started, how long they have lasted, their severity, whether they have occurred before, and if so, whether they were treated and how. He or she will then diagnose the depression and work with you to choose the most appropriate treatment.

Making an Appointment

If you need to make an appointment, here are some things you could say during the first call: “I haven’t been myself lately, and I’d like to talk to the provider about it,” or “I think I might have depression, and I’d like some help.”

Talking to Your Doctor

How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important parts of getting good health care. But talking to your doctor isn’t always easy. It takes time and effort on your part as well as your doctor’s.

To prepare for your appointment, make a list of

  • any symptoms you’ve had, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes
  • all medications, vitamins, or other supplements that you’re taking, including how much and how often
  • questions to ask your health provider.

Finding the Right Provider

If your doctor does not refer you to a mental health professional or you feel your concerns were not adequately addressed, call or visit the website for your health insurance provider, Medicare , or Medicaid. You can also try searching in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

If you don’t have a primary doctor or are not at ease with the one you currently see, now may be the time to find a new doctor. Whether you just moved to a new city, changed insurance providers, or had a bad experience with your doctor or medical staff, it is worthwhile to spend time finding a doctor you can trust.

For a list of helpful resources, visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).