Symptoms of depression: physical, psychological, postpartum

We can say that depression is one of the greatest evils of today. In addition to affecting a significant portion of the population, estimates are that in the future, the disease will become increasingly common.

This can be proven through data from the World Health Organization, WHO, which, in 2017, in its global report on the disease, found that the number of cases of depression increased by 18% between the years 2005 and 2015.

These figures represent approximately 322 million people worldwide, the majority of whom are women. In Brazil, approximately 5% of the population, or 11.5 million people, have to live with this disease.

The numbers are frightening. However, although there is no known cure for depression, it has treatment. For this reason, it is very important to be aware of the symptoms, because the sooner the patient begins treatment, the greater his chances of recovery.

Seeking to meet the demand in a more scientific way, we will list below the main symptoms of depression, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5 as a parameter for making the list.

How to know if it is depression?

According to the DSM-5, in order for a patient to be considered or not with the disease, it is necessary that they present at least 5 of the main symptoms (listed below) , and the presence of depressed mood or loss of interest is mandatory. and pleasure .

With that, the symptoms can be divided between physical and emotional (psychological). Understand:

Physical symptoms of depression

Physical symptoms are those that are felt by the body, such as:

Fatigue

It is not uncommon for the depressed patient to feel tired most of the day. This state in which it appears that the person does not even have the strength to get out of bed is known as fatigue .

With fatigue, some other symptoms may be present, such as the appearance of pain in different parts of the body. The back, neck and even the limbs (arms and legs) can be sore, which prevents the patient from even feeling like getting out of bed.

It seems that the lack of energy paralyzes the person, who in time does not want to go out, not even to see friends or eat their favorite food. In extreme cases, the patient does not have basic hygiene care, such as bathing or brushing teeth.

Weight loss or gain

This symptom usually varies from person to person. Some have weight loss, while others have weight gain.

According to the DSM-5, for this symptom to be considered relevant in the diagnosis, it is necessary that there is a change of at least 5% of the body weight within a period equal to or less than 1 month, without the patient being on a diet.

Weight changes can happen by increasing or decreasing appetite. In other words: the patient feels more hungry and eats more, or feels less hungry and does not eat properly.

Sleep changes

It is very common for depressed people to experience sleep changes that, like weight changes, vary from patient to patient.

While some are unable to sleep, that is, they have terminal insomnia (when the person falls asleep, but wakes up in the morning and can no longer sleep), others sleep for a long period of time, a symptom known as hypersomnia .

These changes in sleep are very harmful to health and can aggravate the symptoms of depressive symptoms, as sleep is extremely important in regulating various functions of our body, as well as maintaining mood.

It is not for nothing that many people wake up grumpy after waking up early having slept late the day before.

The complete sleep cycle, from 6 to 8 hours – but which can vary from person to person -, helps in the regulation of insulin, prevents the risks of osteoporosis , improves mood and memory, in addition to helping to prevent the symptoms of depression .

But this goes for sleeping within the standards, that is, neither more nor less. Both excess and lack can have bad consequences for the body.

Psychomotor agitation or retardation

According to DSM-5, in severe cases of depression, it is common for the patient to experience psychomotor agitation or psychomotor retardation almost every day.

In the case of psychomotor retardation, the patient appears to be dejected and unresponsive or has slower responses to external stimuli. Thought and speech seem to slow down and it is common for the patient to sit or lie for long periods of time, even without doing anything.

In the case of agitation, on the contrary, he is energetic, but not in a positive sense, as he seems stressed, anxious and apprehensive. It is common to walk from side to side due to nervousness, biting nails, having difficulty standing still or finding a comfortable position.

In extreme cases, psychomotor agitation occurs when the patient has a series of involuntary and purposeless movements. In psychomotor retardation, on the other hand, the patient, often as much as he wants, has difficulty in performing simple movements, such as raising his arms or closing his hands.

This excess and decreased movement are the result of mental tension and anxiety caused by depression.

These symptoms can have more serious consequences, such as tearing or chewing the skin around the nails or a pencil (in the case of psychomotor agitation), in addition to leaving the patient prostrate in bed (in the case of psychomotor retardation).

Psychological symptoms of depression

Psychological symptoms are those that most affect the patient’s emotional state. Understand:

Depressed mood

According to DSM-5, this symptom occurs when the patient has ” depressed mood most of the day, almost every day” . In the beginning, the patient may deny feeling sad, however, after some time, it is possible to notice the presence of this feeling through the person’s attitudes.

However, the essential feature is that this depressed mood, coupled with disinterest, will extend over a period of more than two weeks.

This more depressed mood may or may not have a specific cause, such as the loss of a family member or the end of a relationship.

In children and adolescents, depressed mood can present itself as irritability instead of sadness and, as previously stated, the patient must have at least four more symptoms combined with this.

In such cases, it is common for the patient to manifest the symptom through a sad face, droopy and dull eyes and a curved posture. In addition, crying crises, pessimism, lack of self-care and decreased self – esteem are frequent.

It may be that this depressive mood is coupled with high degrees of anxiety, which can appear with other symptoms such as tremors and excessive sweating.

The patient usually complains of feeling empty. The world turns gray, black and white and nothing else seems to be interesting, which leads us to the second symptom on the list.

Apathy or disinterest

It is very common for depressive patients to begin to lose interest in daily activities and even in things they used to like. As many accounts usually show, it is as if the father failed to see the sparkle in his children’s eyes.

The DSM-5 characterizes this symptom as “decreased interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day, almost every day” .

Nothing else is funny for the patient with depression. A sunny day no longer has the same appeal and is tedious. In such cases, staying in bed seems more interesting than having to get up and enjoy a sunny day in the park.

Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

When the symptoms of depression appear, it is common for the patient to end up having “addicted” thoughts. Self-indulgent and self-deprecating thoughts appear consistently and out of the individual’s control.

As a result, it is common for people to complain about being useless and feel remorse and guilt over it. In more serious cases, such thoughts may even be delusional, that is, they do not represent reality.

It may be that an extremely talented artist, for example, fails to see the value that he and his art have, or that a mother or father feels worthless, even performing motherhood and fatherhood as best they can.

Decreased concentration

Depressive patients have difficulty concentrating, either with lack or excess sleep. According to DSM-5, this symptom is characterized by “decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecision” .

Like the other symptoms, it must be recurrent and present almost every day and can be easily observed by the patient himself or by others around him. The person with depression finds it difficult to choose a pizza flavor, for example, even having one that is his favorite.

This symptom can be very confused with apathy and disinterest and, in fact, the two are, in a way, related.

Recurring thoughts of death

By thoughts of death we do not refer only to suicidal thoughts or the fear of dying. In fact, the depressive patient thinks about his own death in different ways, whether they are accidental or not.

An hour passes in the patient’s mind being struck by lightning, or hit by a bus. At another time, you may have suicidal ideation, even if there is no specific plan for committing the act.

The fact is that thoughts of death combined with depressed mood and lack of interest are the most characteristic signs of a depressive disorder. At the signal of any behavior like these, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Depression in pregnancy

Depression affects about 10% to 20% of pregnant women and, in some of these cases, the use of medication may be necessary. There is no antidepressant that is completely safe for the baby, but in severe cases, it is essential that the mother and the doctor assess the risk-benefit of the treatment.

The symptoms of depression in pregnancy are the same as those of normal depression and that is why they should not be ignored.

By not eating properly, for example, the pregnant woman can affect the health of the fetus. On the other hand, changes in sleep can affect pregnancy, not to mention recurring thoughts of death, which can cause a tragedy.

Baby blues

After childbirth, a series of drastic changes in hormone production occur. This can result in postpartum depression, in which the woman is inundated by feelings of intense melancholy, coupled with excessive irritability, frequent crying, feelings of helplessness, decreased energy, sexual interest and others.

These are, again, symptoms very similar to those of normal depression.

It is worth remembering that there is nothing wrong with postpartum depression. In fact, it is even relatively common. According to a study by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, approximately 1 in 4 women suffer from the symptoms of postpartum depression.

However, with proper treatment, these mothers can return to normal and even normal mood and even necessary for this moment in life. That is, the picture may be fleeting.

Major depression or dysthymia: what’s the difference?

It is important to distinguish between major depression and dysthymia . Although very similar, the two things are different.

Major depression, or Major Depression Disorder (MDD) , differs from dysthymia, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder , in the duration of symptoms.

They are the same in both cases, with the difference that, in dysthymia, the symptoms are persistent and usually remain for more than 2 years and the patient cannot stay more than 2 months without showing any symptoms.

In addition, in dysthymia, the person does not always appear to be sad, that is, the depressive and “normal” states alternate.

For this reason, dysthymia is considered a form of chronic mild or moderate depression, while major depression is considered acute, that is, it presents symptoms with greater intensity.

That is why major depression is considered more severe than dysthymia. In major depression, ideations and the risk of suicide are generally greater.


The symptoms of depression are varied and, normally, it is necessary that at least 5 of them appear together for the doctor to make a correct diagnosis of the disease, since other diseases, such as hypothyroidism , for example, can cause similar symptoms.

If you have these symptoms, do not hesitate to see a psychiatrist and avoid self-medication as much as possible. Share this text so that more people know about the symptoms of the disease and can be prevented!

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