How to Detect Depression in a Loved One

Sleep disorders are very common in people with depression. Very suddenly they can’t sleep due to insomnia, when they used to be able to sleep for hours and hours.
How to Detect Depression in a Loved One

Last update: 18 January, 2019

People suffering with depression can hide their feelings very well and put up a front in certain situations. They don’t let other people know their true emotions. That’s why it’s very important to know how to detect depression.

In this article, we’ll offer some tips to help detect depression in a loved one.

Typical signs of depression

Detect depression

How to tell the difference between sadness and depression

While some depressed people are easy to identify because they tend to be sad, apathetic, or “sombre,” there are also other people who can hide this emotion with a mask they’ve made for themselves.

They may even be friendly and outgoing, but ultimately, their depression is stopping them from enjoying life. Pay attention to the following signs that can alert you to this situation:

1. They’re able to lie about being happy

If you look at a photograph of a person laughing we’re able to tell if the smile is genuine or not. How? Looking at their eyes.

If they’re half-closed, it’s likely that it’s a true smile. On the other hand, if the smile is only in the mouth, it’s possible that they’re lying.

Pay attention to this next time you talk to the person who you sense may be depressed.

2. They have a lack of motivation to do things

They have a lack of motivation to do things

For example, if before they liked to work out, listen to music, visit museums, travel, or just go out with friends and now they look for excuses to stay at home, this might possibly be a sign of “hidden” depression.

A sociable person who rejects invitations to parties, dinners, or events is perhaps not going through a good time. If this situation continues, perhaps you could help them and get them some professional help.

Keep in mind, however, that not everyone is an extroverted, sociable person, so it’s important to know your loved one well in order to determine if this is a risk or not. 

3. Abnormal eating habits

There’s a strong link between food and emotions. When we’re depressed or sad, we often eat more than we need to.

Some people have anxiety attacks early in the morning and eat everything they find in the fridge.

If you see that someone eats all the time and maybe doesn’t realise the amount of food they’re putting on their plate or is perhaps gaining weight very quickly, they might be trying to escape depression through food.

4. They make pessimistic comments

Aside from jokes or passing comments, pay attention to the habitual things that your loved one say.

Depression makes us see things in a different way and we tend to view the ‘glass half empty in each situation.

Just having a bad day can make us a bit pessimistic, but it’s found very often in depressed people.

If your loved one is constantly expecting something bad to happen, or that nothing will turn out as expected, then it’s because psychologically they’re not in a good place.

5. Always expecting the worst

As well as being pessimistic, a person with depression can be “fatalistic”. This means that they always think about accidents, problems, or emergencies.

For example, if they travel they might make a comment about the plane crashing, or they may express that someone they’ve just met is lying to them.

This is because they just cannot engage with happiness. They feel that if they’re too happy about something, it will turn out badly.

6. Continuous mood swings

Continuous mood swings

They might move from tears to laughter, from anger to joy, or euphoria to calm in a matter of minutes.

This is not because of their ability to be a “chameleon” and adapt to the situation, but because internally there is a disruption that can’t be controlled.

Volatile emotions are common in depressed people and they might always be in a bad mood, or change their mood in the blink of an eye.

They can also appear more hostile or irritable and blame it on their environment or the people who surround them because they never take responsibility for themselves.

7. Not sleeping enough

Insomnia, nightmares, and other sleep disturbances are very common in depressed people. They might be able to spend the whole weekend sleeping and then for the next few days not be able to get a wink of sleep.

Maybe they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get to sleep or they need a nap in the middle of the day.

8. They can’t concentrate

Depression is characterised (amongst other things) by negative thoughts that leave no space for any other thought.

When the mind is full of ideas of any kind we can’t concentrate, pay attention, or remember information.

This causes reduced productivity or performance either at work, in studies or just in everyday life.

Maybe you’re talking to them and you realise that they’re not listening to you, they lose track of the conversation and ask you something that you’ve already said, or perhaps they need more time than usual to do a task.

Other warning signs of depression are:

  • Feeling guilty for everything that happens.
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, drugs, and similar substances.
  • Talking often about death.
  • Neglecting their personal care or household cleaning.

  • Young, I. T., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., Seay, K., Ilapakurti, M., & Zisook, S. (2012). Suicide bereavement and complicated grief. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
  • Inagaki, T. K., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). Neural correlates of giving support to a loved one. Psychosomatic Medicine.
  • Boelen, P. A., Reijntjes, A., & Smid, G. E. (2015). Concurrent and prospective associations of intolerance of uncertainty with symptoms of prolonged grief, posttraumatic stress, and depression after bereavement. Journal of Anxiety Disorders.