What Does Depression Feel Like?

Adebolanle Ade, MSW, RBT
November 8, 2021

Depression is a serious condition that may impact nearly every aspect of the day-to-day life of a sufferer. It can cause the individual to experience severe hopelessness and sadness for months at a time. Contrary to popular belief, depression is about more than just feeling unhappy, it can be a devastating condition that must be addressed with the guidance a professional. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) provides the following criteria for diagnosing depression:[1]

depressed woman laying in bed

  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Lack of pleasure in life
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

While depression can be experienced differently by different people, the majority of individuals with severe depression will experience five or more of these symptoms, including lack of interest and depressed mood for up to 2 weeks, to be clinically diagnosed with the illness. Some people might experience many of these symptoms, others might only experience a few.

Moderate vs. Severe Depression

While the name might suggest that one is less serious than the other, any form of depression should never be taken lightly, but rather be addressed at an early stage. Sometimes, depression in individuals might start out with mild symptoms and progress over time from moderate to severe.[2]

Moderate depression typically includes symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of energy
  • Anxiety

Mild to moderate depression is more intense than feeling “blue” or just being “unhappy.” Persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia is another term used to refer to milder form of depression.

A major difference between moderate and severe depression is that severe depression tends to be noticeable to others. The condition is very debilitating, making it difficult to perform one’s regular activities. Severe depression can cause the individual to become less present at work, neglect daily chores and self-care, and even contemplate or attempt suicide. It can feel like the individual is carrying around heavy sadness all day. This form of depression is a disabling, dangerous and excruciating illness.

Daily Struggles When Living With Depression

While many think depression is something that will just go away on its own over time, it is quite the opposite for most people. Depression is a constant feeling that affects day-to-day functioning for the person living with it, and it does not simply go away on its own. Depression can impact every area of life; eating and sleeping habits, work and school performance, romantic relationships, and health. Individuals with depression also commonly struggle with substance abuse and addiction.[3]

Impact on Relationships

A person that is suffering from depression might struggle to maintain a healthy romantic relationship. Communication between the partners is often strained, creating distance between the couple. There is also research suggesting that those in a relationship with a depressed partner are more likely to experience depressive symptoms themselves.[4]

Depression and Physical Health

Depression can manifest with physical symptoms. People with depression may experience appetite changes which can cause weight loss or weight gain that is significant.[5] Excessive weight gain can in turn be associated with diabetes and other heart diseases, while excessive weight loss can be harmful to the heart and cause fatigue. People with depression may also experience chronic pain that is unexplained by other diagnoses.[6]

Individuals with depression who already have other chronic illnesses might find that their condition worsens. Depression may cause them to struggle with their treatment plan for their chronic illness. They might miss doctor’s appointments and have a general disinterest in maintaining their wellness.

Effect on Social Interactions

People with depression are more likely to notice negative cues in social settings. They generally find social settings to be difficult and are more sensitive to negative social interactions.[7]

While social anxiety and depression are two distinct disorders, they can co-occur, creating a unique challenge. According to researchers, 70% of individuals that are diagnosed with both disorders, exhibit symptoms of social anxiety first, which then leads to depression.[8]

Depression’s Impact on Careers

As functional adults, individuals with depression must stay on top of their responsibilities at work. When someone is depressed, it is hard to be productive at anything. Severe depression is often incompatible with a job that demands focus, attention and consistent attendance, resulting in job loss.[9] While many people try to push through their workdays, they can feel miserable and their job might suffer.

Getting Help

It is important for friends and family members of those struggling with depression to educate themselves on this condition. Partners who know about the symptoms, causes and treatments of depression are better able to help and support their loved ones. They are better at externalizing the problem, detaching the condition from the person, so they are able to address the condition as the problem rather than the individual sufferer.

If a loved one is unaware of support and resources that are available to help them, it is important for their friends and family to step in and encourage them to seek treatment.

Depression does not go away on its own like the common cold, but it is highly treatable. While it may seem like a hopeless situation to the sufferer, the first step one needs to take to mitigate the obstacles presented by this condition, is to seek an official diagnosis. Only a medical or mental health professional can make this diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Depressive Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  2. N. (2010). Depression in Adults with a Chronic Physical Health Problem (National Clinical Practice Guideline) (1st ed.). RCPscyh Publications.
  3. Quello, S. B., Brady, K. T., & Sonne, S. C. (2005). Mood disorders and substance use disorder: a complex comorbidityScience & practice perspectives3(1), 13–21. https://doi.org/10.1151/spp053113
  4. Sharabi, L. L., Delaney, A. L., & Knobloch, L. K. (2015). In their own words: How clinical depression affects romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33(4), 421–448. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407515578820
  5. Weissenburger, J., John Rush, A., Giles, D. E., & Stunkard, A. J. (1986). Weight change in depression. Psychiatry Research, 17(4), 275–283. https://doi.org/10.1016/0165-1781(86)90075-2
  6. Sheng, J., Liu, S., Wang, Y., Cui, R., & Zhang, X. (2017). The Link between Depression and Chronic Pain: Neural Mechanisms in the BrainNeural plasticity2017, 9724371. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/9724371
  7. Steger, M. F., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Depression and Everyday Social Activity, Belonging, and Well-BeingJournal of counseling psychology56(2), 289–300. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015416
  8. Wong, J., Morrison, A. S., Heimberg, R. G., Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Implicit associations in social anxiety disorder: the effects of comorbid depressionJournal of anxiety disorders28(6), 537–546. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.05.008
  9. Whooley, M. A., Kiefe, C. I., Chesney, M. A., Markovitz, J. H., Matthews, K., & Hulley, S. B. (2002). Depressive Symptoms, Unemployment, and Loss of Income. Archives of Internal Medicine162(22), 2614. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.162.22.2614
Adebolanle Ade, MSW, RBT

Adebolanle Ade is a Mental Health Social Worker and Registered Behavioral Technician. She has many years of experience writing and advocating for mental health awareness.