Updated 16 September 2014

Depression: do you know the signs?

One of the most important things you can do for someone who is depressed is to make sure they get the help they need. Here's what you need to know.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of well-being in which every individual realises their potential, copes with the life stress, works productively and contributes to their community.

But not all of us are created to deal well with seemingly easy aspects of everyday life that may include, but are not limited to:

 - Bereavement for the loss of a loved one
 - Relationship and work problems
 - Having just had a baby (postnatal depression)
 - Unemployment and financial woes
 - Accepting your own or a loved one’s sexuality
 - Crime

Anxiety and depression have become the most common mental health problems, both globally and in South Africa. And while the two may seem like opposites, they often go together and more than half of people diagnosed with depression also have anxiety.

But are you able to spot the signs when depression and anxiety take hold?


It is typically characterised by low self-esteem, low mood and loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. When someone is depressed they will display on or more of the following symptoms:

 - Irritability or anxiety
 - Shifts in appetite and weight (too much or too little)
 - Sleep disorders, whether too much or too little
 - Constant fatigue and loss of energy
 - Physical symptoms that may include gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, headaches etc.
 - Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, sadness or low of self-worth
 - Difficulty thinking, memory loss, poor concentration, difficulty making decisions
 - Thoughts of death or suicide


It is considered a normal reaction to stress, and it can serve as a prompt to deal with difficult situations. However, when it becomes excessive, it may fall under the classification of an anxiety disorder.

When someone is anxious they will display on or more of the following symptoms:

 - Fatigue and headaches
 - Muscle tension and muscle aches
 - Difficulty swallowing
 - Trembling and twitching
 - Irritability
 - Sweating and hot flashes

Once you have identified one or more of the symptoms, you can help by:

Being Supportive
 Your support is invaluable, but the affected person must be willing to get better.


You can do this by talking to the affected person about how they’re feeling.

Showing Empathy

Try to understand and share the other person’s feelings and experiences.

Promote a healthy lifestyle

You can help them cook healthy meals or encourage them to exercise and get out.

Really listening

Most depressed people just want someone to listen to them.

Educating yourself

Visit the clinic, doctor or counselor with the person and read more about their illness.

Being accommodating

Don’t exclude the affected person from important matters or discussions.

Measuring your expectations

Don’t expect the person to just "snap out of it".

One of the key roles you can play in the health of someone who is depressed or suffers from anxiety is to make sure they get the help they need. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one and need help, speak to a trained counsellor.

(Photo of depressed woman from Shutterstock)


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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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