What Depression Feels Like to a Sufferer

Adebolanle Ade, MSW, RBT
May 13, 2020

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 long-lasting and life changing feelings of severe hopelessness and sadness. Contrary to popular belief, depression is not simply the common feelings of unhappiness and misery, it is often more complicated than that. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) provides criteria for diagnosing depression. It includes the following signs describing what depression may feel like to the sufferer:

Depression Sufferer

  • 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 to Severe Depression – How are They Different?

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

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, self-care, even idealize and or attempt suicidal thoughts. It can feel like the individual is carrying around heavy sadness all day. This form of depression is disabling, dangerous, and an excruciating illness.

Daily Struggles of Individuals with Depression

While a lot of people think depression is something that will just go away on its own overtime, it is quite the opposite for most individuals. Depression is a constant feeling that affects day to day functioning of the person living with it; it does not just go away on its own. Depression can impact every area of your life. How you eat, sleep, work, school, relationship, health, and focus. Individuals with depression may also have co-morbid disorders like drug abuse among other addictions.

Depression and Relationships

A person that is suffering from depression might struggle to maintain a healthy relationship. This individual is often irritable, tired, and or lacking interest in what was usually motivates them to preserve the altruistic nature with their partners. According Uzma Rehman in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, people who have severe disorder tend to have a higher level of distress in relationships, most feel that their marriages are less satisfactory, and become unusually upset when problems develop in their relationships. A partner might be so overwhelmed with his or her symptoms of depression that finding the energy to even make a good conversation in the relationship is impossible. This applies to all relationships including but not limited to friends and family members.

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. 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.

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.

Depression and Social Interactions

People with depression are more likely to pay attention to negative cues in social settings. They attribute this negativity to themselves, making it less likely to feel a sense of belonging. Social settings and interactions tend to be difficult for individuals with depression.

While social anxiety and depression are two (common) disorders, they can co-occur, creating a unique challenge. According to researchers, 70 percent of individuals that are diagnosed with both disorders, exhibit symptoms of social anxiety first, which then leads to depression.

Depression and Career

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 and attention from nine to five. While many people try to push through their workdays, they can feel miserable and their job might suffer.

How Loved Ones Can Help

It is important for friends and families to educate with depression. Partners who know about the symptoms, causes, criteria, 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 educate 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 professional can make this diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.

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.