What Does Depression Feel Like?
Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/02/2021
Depression is a serious mental illness that affects more than 19 million teens and adults in the United States.
While it’s normal to occasionally feel sad, depression can cause feelings of hopelessness and distress to take over your life. These feelings can change the way you think, feel and live your life on a daily basis.
If you’re feeling sad, helpless or hopeless, it’s often difficult to tell whether you’re depressed or simply going through a bad mood.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t familiar with the specific feelings that depression can cause, meaning nearly 60 percent of people with depression don’t seek out professional help.
Below, we’ve explained what depression feels like, as well as the common symptoms you may experience if you’re depressed. We’ve also explained how depression can occur in a variety of different types.
Finally, we’ve explained how depression can affect your life as a man, as well as the treatment options that are available if you’re feeling depressed and need to seek help.
What Is Depression?
Depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is a common mood disorder that can affect the way you think, feel and go about your day-to-day life.
It’s common and completely normal to experience feelings of sadness. Most of the time, these feelings are temporary and fade away over time.
Depression can cause lasting, persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness that don’t get better on their own. If these feelings are present for most of the day and last for two weeks or longer, they’re usually viewed as symptoms of depression.
Common Symptoms & Feelings of Depression
Depression can feel different from person to person. You may experience a range of symptoms that last for weeks, months or years. It’s common for these symptoms to interfere with your life, affecting everything from your relationships and career to your everyday function.
The precise symptoms of depression can vary from person to person. If you’re depressed, you may notice several of the following symptoms:
Feelings of sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. When you’re depressed, you may have a persistent sad mood that doesn’t improve. You may feel as if your life won’t or can’t ever get better, no matter what you do.
Fatigue and lack of energy. You may feel fatigued, both physically and mentally. Your body might feel heavy or drained of energy, making it more difficult or time-consuming to do everyday tasks and activities.
Irritability and anger. You might find that you have a short temper and a low tolerance level for things that irritate you. Other people and their behavior may get on your nerves easily, even when it normally wouldn’t offend or bother you.
Lack of interest in food. You may lose your appetite, making you feel less interested in eating than normal. Food that used to be appealing and tasty might no longer give you the same pleasurable feelings.
Overeating. Alternatively, you may have an increased appetite and eat more food than you did previously. You may gain weight, often by a significant amount over the course of several months.
Reduced interest in daily life. Things that used to excite or interest you, such as your social life, sports, hobbies and other activities, might no longer feel interesting or cause any emotional reaction. No matter what you spend your time on, you may find it difficult to experience pleasure and excitement.
Feelings of restlessness. You may feel restless and find it difficult to sit still, even for a relatively short period of time. Small, simple tasks may take you longer to complete than they normally would.
Self-criticism and self-loathing. You may feel overly negative about yourself and give yourself severe criticism for your thoughts and actions, even when you’re done nothing wrong. Overall, your opinion of yourself may be dominated by feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.
Difficulty falling asleep. You may find that it’s difficult for you to fall asleep, or that you wake up frequently during the night. You may have persistent, recurring insomnia that affects your life and is difficult to control.
Oversleeping. When you do fall asleep, you may find that it’s difficult for you to wake up at a normal time. You may habitually oversleep and feel tired, even during the middle of the day.
Physical pains and aches. Sometimes, depression may cause you to feel physical pain in certain parts of your body. You may notice back pain, sore muscles and other forms of pain without any obvious explanation.
Digestive problems. You may experience digestive issues and stomach aches, even if you’re not physically sick. These may not improve even with active treatment.
Reckless and/or escapist behavior. You may begin to engage in reckless, escapist or compulsive behavior. Many people with depression also face difficulties with illegal drug use, alcohol abuse and gambling.
Types of Depression
Contrary to popular belief, depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all mood disorder. Instead, medical professionals recognize several distinct types of depression, each of which may cause you to feel slightly different:
Major depressive disorder (MDD). This type of depression involves a persistent low or depressed mood and other depressive symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, eat, concentrate and enjoy your life. MDD is a common form of depression. On average, around five percent to 17 percent of people will experience major depressive disorder at some point in life.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD, or dysthymia). This form of depression is less severe than major depressive disorder, but causes persistent symptoms that usually last for a long period of time. If you have persistent depression disorder, you may have less severe feelings and other depression symptoms that last for two years or longer.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This type of depression often occurs during winter, when natural sunlight is limited. It’s more common in the northern regions of the United States, where winters are longer and harsher with less natural light. If you have seasonal affective disorder, you may feel depressed, helpless and unhappy during winter but normal during other times of the year.
Psychotic depression. This form of depression involves severe symptoms associated with delusions or hallucinations. You may develop false beliefs about yourself or your life, or hear or see things that aren’t real.
Minor depression. As its name suggests, minor depression causes similar symptoms to major depressive disorder, albeit less severe or long-lasting.
Bipolar disorder. Although bipolar disorder technically isn’t a type of depression, it can cause similar symptoms. If you have bipolar disorder, you may experience short periods in which your mood is extremely low, similar to that of a person with depression.
Understanding Depression as a Man
As a man, it’s easy to write off feelings of sadness, hopelessness and other potential symptoms of depression as nothing more than a bad mood.
It’s also common to hide your emotions when you’re feeling down and keep your feelings to yourself when you’re around other people.
Because of this, many men affected by depression don’t recognize their symptoms or seek help and treatment.
In fact, it’s common for many depressed men to only seek treatment when they experience physical symptoms such as aches, pains or digestive issues.
This is a common mistake. Far from only being a bad mood, the feelings caused by depression are real symptoms of a serious but treatable mood disorder.
It’s important to be aware that if you’re depressed, you may not experience all of the symptoms and feelings listed above. Instead, you may only notice a few symptoms that come and go over time or fluctuate in severity and intensity.
Whether you only have one symptom of depression or numerous similar, related symptoms and feelings, it’s important to take the situation seriously.
Depression is treatable. Seeking help, whether from a professional or a loved one, is a first step towards treating your depression and making progress towards an eventual recovery. Take your symptoms seriously and don’t be afraid to seek help if you feel depressed.
Treatments for Depression
Several methods are used to treat depression, including medications such as antidepressants, several forms of therapy and changes to your lifestyle.
Medications for Depression
Depression is typically treated using antidepressants. These medications adjust the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain, improving your mood and making some symptoms of depression less severe.
Several different types of antidepressants are used to treat depression. Popular types include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
Our complete list of antidepressants lists medications used to treat depression, how they work and their potential side effects.
Depression is often treatable through psychotherapy. Several different types of therapy are used to treat depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and others.
In combination with medication and/or therapy, making certain changes to your lifestyle can help to reduce the severity of depression and help you recover.
Lifestyle changes that can help with depression treatment include remaining active and ensuring you get regular physical exercise, setting goals for yourself, spending time with your friends and family and setting realistic expectations for your recovery.
How to Seek Help if You’re Feeling Depressed
Depression is a serious mood disorder that can worsen if ignored. If you’re experiencing one or several of the symptoms of depression, it’s important that you seek out medical help.
The best way to seek help is to talk to a medical professional. If you have a regular primary care provider, try reaching out to them to discuss treatment options.
You can also contact a mental health professional directly. Using our platform, you can talk to a licensed psychiatry provider online to learn more about your options and, if appropriate, receive a prescription for medication to treat your depression.
Finally, if you don’t feel comfortable seeking help on your own, try reaching out to a close friend or family member. They can help you connect with an expert to get the support and assistance you need to treat your depression and make real, measurable progress towards recovery.