People who live with depression experience a range of symptoms. However, the way depression manifests itself can look different from person to person.

If you asked 100 people, “What does depression feel like?” you would likely get a wide range of different answers. One person might say, “it’s like drowning, except everyone around you is breathing,” while someone else would say: “Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. Being numb to emotions, being numb to life.” Symptoms of depression vary from person to person, though there are some common experiences that many living with depression have. It can be helpful for those who have a loved one with depression to learn what it feels like to be depressed to provide the proper support and understanding.

  • Everything seems hopeless. Unfortunately, depression and hopelessness often co-occur. Depending on the severity of one’s depression, the level of hopelessness can vary. Lack of hope can be a significant risk factor if someone is also struggling with thoughts of suicide.
  • Self-loathing. Self-loathing and depression can be closely connected for many. This feeling tends to exacerbate depressive symptoms since it decreases one’s ability to have self-compassion.
  • Anger or irritability. Irritability, anger, and depression can stem from a variety of factors. In some cases, the impact of low serotonin production and other hormones can negatively affect mood and cause increased anger levels. Anger and irritability are common factors in relationship issues for those with depression.
  • Lack of self-esteem. Depression and low self-esteem are very commonly associated. It can be challenging for those with low self-esteem and depression to work through negative self-talk and start to view themselves with compassion and care.
  • Constant fatigue. Fatigue is sometimes not given much thought in relation to depression, but in reality, depression and fatigue often co-exist. Often, people experience exhaustion and depression simultaneously but don’t link the two conditions or even realize that fatigue is a symptom. Fatigue should be explored with a doctor to determine if there is another underlying cause.
  • Changes in appetite. For some, depression impacts eating patterns. Depression and loss of appetite, as well as depression and weight gain, may be symptoms of a behavioral health condition. Food and depression, and even different food choices as a result of being depressed are common.
  • Aches and pains. Depression can result in physical pain. Depression and body aches are often connected, particularly depression and back pain. Depression pain can be confusing for those who are unaware of the connection since it seems as if the pain stems from something unrelated to depression. Medications such as SSRIs and amitriptyline that are often prescribed for depression also regulate pain perception within the brain, which can be helpful for those who struggle with both issues.
  • Digestive problems. Stomach aches and depression are not an unusual mix. Often people with depression and digestive problems are first seen by their doctor about digestive issues before the depression itself is even detected. The link between digestive issues and depression brings to light the multiple ways that the mind and body influence one another. Changes in eating patterns and exercise can also be part of depression’s impact on digestion.
  • No joy in life. Persistent lack of joy is nearly universal in those who experience depression. The disconnection from the ability to experience joy can make it difficult to keep up with daily tasks and responsibilities, which may result in greater isolation.
  • Concentration problems. Often, those with depression struggle focusing. Difficulty with concentration can become a significant barrier to accomplishing tasks. The impact of hormonal changes in the brain impedes one’s ability to focus, make decisions and attend to the tasks of daily living.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. Depression and loss of interest are commonly associated. The limited ability to access joy and lack of energy often contribute to loss of interest in usually enjoyed activities.
  • Numbness. Sometimes, depression can manifest in a lack of feeling. Depression numbness is often a troublesome symptom for those afflicted, as it can make people feel as if they are completely disconnected from themselves and the outside world. When someone has depression and feels nothing, the risk of impulsive behaviors can increase in an effort to try to connect to any emotion or physical sensation.
  • Trouble sleeping. Depression and sleep issues can manifest in several different ways. Sometimes, people with depression experience sleep deprivation or insomnia, while others may struggle with hypersomnia or oversleeping. Lack of proper sleep is associated with 73% of adolescents who report being unhappy.

Depression Feels Different to Everyone

There are common symptoms that many people with depression experience, but in reality, depression is different for everyone. For those struggling with the condition, depression often impacts every aspect of life, including health, relationships, energy levels and ability to attend to daily tasks. The best way to support someone with depression is to be a nonjudgmental, empathic presence in their life. Ask how you can help. Be patient.

How to Explain Depression to Someone

People who struggle with depression may find it important to try and help loved ones understand their experiences with the condition. Explaining depression to someone can be difficult. However, perhaps knowing how to explain depression is less important than simply being open about having it. Friends and family can offer support only if they are aware of what is going on. Support is a crucial part of recovery from depression.

If you or a loved one is experiencing depression and substance use disorderreach out to The Recovery Village today to learn about treatment options that are available. 

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Amatenstein, Sherry, LCSW.  “Quotes About Depression and What Depression Feels Like.”, March 20, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.

Nall, Rachel. “Fatigue and Depression: Are They Connected?”, July 5, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2019.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Depression and Pain.” June 2009. Accessed July 12, 2019.

World Health Organization. “Depression: let’s talk.” Accessed July 12, 2019. “How Depression Affects Your Sleep.” Accessed July 12, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.