Depression in Friends – How to Detect It

January 14, 2020
Often described as the epidemic of the 21st century, you can find depression in friends and other people close to you. So, it's useful to know the warning signs that can give you clues about the presence of this disorder in those you love.

Could you detect depression in friends? According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s a common condition worldwide. In fact, it affects more than 300 million people and, by 2020, will be the leading cause of illness in developed countries.

Given its prevalence in the world, it isn’t strange for depression to be so close to us. It’s the second most common cause of death among young adults, so it’s important to be familiar with its characteristics. This isn’t only to take care of yourself, but also to be able to detect it in your friends and acquaintances.

Yes, there are effective treatments for mood disorders but the truth is most people don’t seek or receive attention. Whether it’s due to stigmatization, prejudices, ignorance of symptoms, or lack of professionals suitable for the problem, depression is seldom diagnosed, if at all.

On many occasions, people with depression don’t know they have a problem and therefore don’t believe they need help despite their discomfort. So, the general public must be aware of what depression is, together with its warning signs.

This can help people with depression to be understood and helped in a much faster and, therefore, effective way. Lending a hand, offering help, having patience, and not attributing certain behavior to the “wickedness” of the affected person, are measures you can only take if you recognize this problem in a person.

Depression – an uneven problem

Before illustrating how to detect depression in a friend, partner, or family member, you must remember that there’s not one single type of depression, but many. So, today’s article is about a major depressive disorder or major depressive episodes.

Thus, keep in mind there are other mood disorders such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder or persistent depressive disorder. We’ll discuss those in a different article.

Keys to detecting depression in friends

Below are a series of symptoms or characteristics that may be present in a person who might be afflicted by depression. Some of these symptoms may appear to a greater or lesser extent depending on the person, be it centrally or secondarily.

Overgeneralized, vague and diffuse memories

It’s very typical for a person with depression to have an altered autobiographical memory. When we evoke an event, we do so either specifically (time and place) or in an overgeneralized way (vague and diffuse).

This is common in ASDs, ACTs, and PTSD and it’s also very typical of depression disorders. With this type of memory, these people generalize more and tend to distort the content of their memories.

Read also: 5 Risk Factors that Can Lead to Depression

Everything bad happens to you

A sad woman.

People with depression tend to blame themselves for everything bad that happens to them. In addition, they think that negative things will stay forever.

Negative events have internal, stable and global causes. This means that everything that happens is the fault of the person with depression, according to them. In addition, they tend to think that everything bad that happens is there to stay.

This is because they also think that good things only happen to others and if it happens to them then it’s only temporary and won’t last. If you notice these types of causal attributions then it’ll be right to suspect depression. However, keep in mind that they may also appear in autism spectrum disorders.

Dysphoric and unpleasant symptoms

Depression in friends can also manifest itself through dysphoric symptoms, which can be the most notable. Also, dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria, and therefore refers to an emotional mismatch that results in annoying or unpleasant emotions.

Dysphoric symptoms don’t only appear in depression but also in schizophrenia, body dysmorphic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorders. Dysphoria may appear as a consequence of the disorder itself. You can see it in the type of feelings characterized by sadness or crying.

These people are quite sad, sorry-looking and down. In addition, many people with depression suffer from anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy what they do, even though it gave them pleasure in the past.

Your friend might be depressed if they don’t seem to enjoy an activity such as walking, dining, or drinking at a restaurant.

The dysphoric symptoms also pertain to fatigue because they are quite persistent. So, depressed people might be constantly tired. In addition, they experience apathy instead of pleasure for many activities: sexual, social, adventure, and so on.

Somatic symptoms – the body gives you clues

A depressed woman.

In addition to psychological symptoms, people with depression may have associated physical symptoms. Thus, it’s important to evaluate them because they may have an organic cause.

Despite the absence of identifiable physical origins, people with this disorder suffer physical conditions as a result of their psychological problems. Therefore, you must be alert if your friend begins to suffer symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Weight loss
  • Tachycardia

These manifestations can be key to determining that something isn’t quite right. However, you must make sure that such discomforts don’t have a clear organic origin.

Depression in friends – behavioral excesses and communication

People with depression sometimes “sin” by default or excess. In the case of the latter, you can detect depression in a friend if they verbalize excessive complaints about a multitude of problems: money, work, friends, family, etc. They constantly complain, regardless of the subject.

In this case, you may suspect they’re suffering from depression, as long as you can’t attribute those complaints or discontent to a frivolous search for attention or to their desire to stir things up.

With a depressed person, there’s usually friction. This is because they’re not aware of their condition and think they’re just bad, weak, and passive. They think they merely like to nag and complain. But this is totally wrong and can be very dangerous and stigmatizing. So, this behavior is motivated by:

  • Protection and risk factors
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Negative Attributional Style
  • Emotional saturation
  • Terrible feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Among their behavioral excesses, there are also feelings of guilt and wrongdoing to others together with crying and indecision.

You may also be interested: Diet for Depression: Food that cheers you up

Depression in friends – behavioral deficits

Depression in friends.

As a friend or relative, you must observe if someone close to you has difficulties in performing any of their daily activities. This is because it’s a good key to detect depression.

Detecting behavioral deficits is usually more complicated than excesses since no there are no patterns. However, if you knew the previous personality type of a person you suspect of having depression you might be able to realize what’s missing.

People with depression usually have minimal social participation and also an inability to carry out their daily routine. It’s very hard for them to do their work, chores, and any other daily activities. Therefore, there is also slovenliness and a lack of cleanliness in general.

Similarly, there’s a psychomotor slowdown. These people usually have slow, reduced, and monotonous speech. Finally, as a behavioral deficit characteristic of depression, there’s an absence of joy.

All these symptoms can alert you to a possible depression in a friend. It doesn’t mean that all people who experience apathy at some point are depressed. It doesn’t mean either that all the above-mentioned symptoms appear in all people with depression.

However, if you suspect something’s going on with someone close to you then look at their behavior and assess whether it can be depression or not.

Of course, only a professional can make a diagnosis but your observations can be useful to motivate them to seek therapy and begin treatment before the problem worsens.

  • Goldberg D. The detection and treatment of depression in the physically ill. World Psychiatry. 2010;9(1):16–20.
  • Gilbody SM, Whitty PM, Grimshaw JM, Thomas RE. Improving the detection and management of depression in primary care. Qual Saf Health Care. 2003;12(2):149–155. doi:10.1136/qhc.12.2.149
  • Kessler D, Bennewith O, Lewis G, Sharp D. Detection of depression and anxiety in primary care: follow up study. BMJ. 2002;325(7371):1016–1017. doi:10.1136/bmj.325.7371.1016
  • Ng CW, How CH, Ng YP. Major depression in primary care: making the diagnosis. Singapore Med J. 2016;57(11):591–597. doi:10.11622/smedj.2016174
  • Recognizing and Treating the Physical Symptoms of Depression in Primary Care. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;6(4):168–177.