Highs & Lows

The founder of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), explains how to spot the signs that a loved one might be struggling with the disease.
Photo by Morgan Maassen

By Audrey Gruss

Last October, the World Health Organization announced that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. This means that, every day, millions of people can’t get to work because they can’t function. In the US alone, more than 20 million adults struggle with depression annually, and their lost work days cost society $23 billion in productivity each year. Whether we ourselves suffer, or have a parent, spouse, child, friend or co-worker who does, we all need to become familiar with the signs of depression, because—when left untreated—depression is the leading cause of suicide.

There are 10 signs—expressed either through mood shifts, physical symptoms or sudden lifestyle changes—that can indicate depression if they are present nearly every day for at least two weeks. The mood warning signs include prolonged sadness and bursts of unexpected crying, being anxious or irritable, a sustained loss in the ability to feel interest or pleasure, and a sense of feeling either hopeless or helpless. Physical and lifestyle manifestations include a loss of appetite or weight gain, sleeping too much or too little, becoming low-energy and frequently fatigued, having body aches or pains with no clear causes, having difficulty concentrating, and talking of increased thoughts of suicide.

Men also express symptoms of depression via behavior changes like acting out sexually, excessive gambling or drinking and increased belligerence. Experts believe that when these symptoms are taken into account, just as many men suffer from depression as women.

If you notice any of these symptoms in someone close to you, talk to them gently without judgment. Tell them you’ve noticed behaviors that seem out of character. Offer to accompany them to an internist or psychiatrist.

Despite its prevalence, depression is still misunderstood, underfunded and under-researched. I started the Hope for Depression Research Foundation 11 years ago to accelerate discovery. Today, our Depression Task Force of top brain scientists is conducting the most advanced depression research in the country, including developing clinical trials for a new category of medication that the field has been seeking for more than 30 years. 

Whether you suffer from depression or not, there are three recommendations that every health professional will tell you are key to maintaining mental and physical well-being: Make sure you get enough sleep, eat properly and exercise.