The Warning Signs of Depression

chart of warning signs of depression
The above graphic was adapted for US conditions, the original comes from UK based
It is available  on a dark blue background (as seen above) or on a white background.

Students Against Depression: A website by students for students

One in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in our lifetime. One in 10 will experience depression or anxiety with depression in any one year. This statistic holds true for students and young people. Depression is one of the biggest dangers facing young people today – suicide is the biggest killer of young men under 35 in the UK.

The  website offers advice, information, guidance and resources to those affected by low mood, depression and suicidal thinking. Alongside clinically-validated information and resources it presents the experiences, strategies and advice of students themselves. Students, after all,  are the best placed to speak to their peers about how depression can be overcome.

Know the Warning Signs of Depression

  • Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism,
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and helplessness,
  • Thoughts of death or suicide,
  • Restlessness,
  • Irregular sleep,
  • Decreased energy,
  • Changes in mood,
  • Insomnia,
  • Difficulty making decisions,
  • Appetite and weight loss,
  • Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood,
  • Tearfulness.


The iconography of despair

Being UK based, the original graphic uses European warning roadsigns as an iconography of  the symptoms of depression.  Because this image is so striking, we translated the iconography to reflect North American roadsigns in order to help spread the message of  Students Against Depression to a broader audience.  In reflecting upon the challenges of dealing with depression, the message goes much deeper than the chosen iconographic representation; whilst we may speak similar or even different languages and use different symbolic representations, the underlying concepts are the same, the core problems are the same. All people suffering from depression, students and young people in particular, need to know that help is at hand.
You are not alone.


Resources for U.S. Students

The following Q&A section comes from the National Institute of Mental Health website


Q. If I think I may have depression, where can I get help?

A. Most colleges provide mental health services through counseling centers, student health centers, or both.1 Check out your college website for information.

  • Counseling centers offer students free or very low-cost mental health services. Some counseling centers provide short-term or long-term counseling or psychotherapy, also called talk therapy. These centers may also refer you to mental health care providers in the community for additional services.
  • Student health centers provide basic health care services to students at little or no cost. A doctor or health care provider may be able to diagnose and treat depression or refer you to other mental health services.

If your college does not provide all of the mental health care you need, your insurance may cover additional mental health services. Many college students have insurance through their colleges, parents, or employers.
1 If you are insured, contact your insurance company to find out about your mental health care coverage.

Q. How can I help myself if I am depressed?

A. If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. But it is important to realize that these feelings are part of the illness. Treatment can help you feel better.

To help yourself feel better:

  • Try to see a professional as soon as possible—research shows that getting treatment sooner rather than later can relieve symptoms quicker and reduce the length of time treatment is needed
  • Give treatment a fair chance—attend sessions and follow your doctor’s or therapist’s advice, including advice about specific exercises or “homework” to try between appointments
  • Break up large tasks into small ones, and do what you can as you can; try not to do too many things at once
  • Spend time with other people and talk to a friend or relative about your feelings
  • Do not make important decisions until you feel better; talk about decisions with others whom you trust and who know you well
  • Engage in mild physical activity or exercise
  • Participate in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually with treatment
  • Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.

Q. How can I help a friend who is depressed?

A. If you suspect a friend may have depression, you can help him or her get diagnosed and treated. You may need to help your friend find a doctor, mental health care provider, or mental health services on your college campus. If your friend seems unable or unwilling to seek help, offer to go with him or her, and tell your friend that his or her health and safety are important to you.

You can also:

  • Offer support, understanding, patience, and encouragement
  • Talk to your friend and listen carefully
  • Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your friend’s therapist or doctor
  • Invite your friend out for walks, outings, and other activities. If they refuse keep trying, but don’t push
  • Ensure that your friend gets to doctor’s appointments and encourage him or her to report any concerns about medications to their health care professional
  • Remind your friend that with time and professional treatment, the depression will lift

Q. What if I or someone I know is in crisis?

A. If you are thinking about harming yourself or having thoughts of suicide, or if you know someone who is, seek help right away

  • Call your doctor or mental health care provider
  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help, or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things
  • Call your campus suicide or crisis hotline
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889) to talk to a trained counselor
  • Call your college counseling center or student health services
  • If you are in crisis, make sure you are not left alone
  • If someone else is in crisis, make sure he or she is not left alone.



What is depression?

We all go through “emotional rough patches” in life. Sometimes it’s a full depressive episode and sometimes its’ not. We usually distinguish one from the other by the length of time the emotional state lasts. People with depression usually feel:

  • lack of energy,
  • sadness – many times for no reason,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • apathy,
  • they sometimes stop participating in daily self-care like showers, eating, exercising,
  • they often sleep too much,
  • there can be thoughts of suicide,
  • avoid social situations they would normally attend,
  • lack of appetite, or over-eating (some people “stuff” their emotions, some people starve them),
  • physical pain that has no physical origin,
  • easily angered or irritable,
  • lack of sexual desire,
  • feelings of low self-worth

I think many people can relate to having felt some cluster of those symptoms at different times in their lives. There are both biological and situational causes for depression. Situational or “environmental” causes for depressive symptoms can be things like: relationship or job stress, financial pressures, feeling stuck when you want to make changes.
Whether due to biology or environmental factors, if the symptoms are left untreated, they can get worse over time and it can feel overwhelming to try to overcome them.

 Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer.
-Dorothy Rowe

What does depression feel like?

When depression hits, it can feel like nothing matters anymore. You might feel like you don’t want to get out of bed, you might lose your appetite (or conversely, you may begin to overeat) and you may feel like you are “faking” your emotional engagement with others. Depressive episodes can last a few days to a few months. More severe cases of depression, especially recurrent and without any obvious environmental trigger may be helped with medication management in addition to talk therapy.


Who gets depression?

There’s been a long-standing statistic that 1 in 4 women  and 1 in 5 men go through a depressive episode at least one time in their lives. That doesn’t sound all too different and it’s not, but depression can present itself differently between men and women.

How is it depression treated?

Depression can be treated in many ways. Talk therapy is one of the most effective strategies for treating depression.
Focusing in on what the triggers (or predictors) are and how you react to them is usually where we will get started in our work together.
We utilize strategies that pull from several known effective theories for treating depression. Depression is usually helped through building or strengthening coping skills, expanding our support network  and emotional work that leads to behavioral changes.
We use Cognitive behavioral therapy, Strategic interventions, Mindfulness practices and Solution-Focused perspectives to help you move towards an emotional place of well-being. We can help you learn ways to retrain your brain to combat your depressive or negative thoughts and get moving towards the life you want to live.
We recognize that people have a wide range of opinions as to whether or not to also seek anti-depressant medication treatment in addition to their talk therapy. We are focused on helping you best help your depression in a way that is in line with your beliefs. If that includes medication management, we can coordinate care with your psychiatrist and/or help facilitate a referral.


What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a physiological reaction to stressors in our environment.  
Certain stressors or traumas can result in an anxiety- based condition in a person who may have other factors influencing the occurrence, such as family genetics or consistent environmental stressors. 
Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways (see what does anxiety feel like?).
Research has demonstrated that severe or long-lasting stress can change the way nerve cells in the brain transmit information from one region of the brain to another, triggering one of several “anxiety disorders”.  People with certain anxiety disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may  suffer changes in certain brain structures that control memories linked with strong emotions.
Anxiety disorders can run in families, which means that a person can inherit it from either one or both parents.

man with anxiety

What does anxiety feel like? 

Anxiety can manifest itself differently depending on the condition. 

  • Panic Attacks (Anxiety Attacks):  A person can experience rapid heart beat, sweating, chest pains, nervousness, upset stomach, shaking hands, panic-stricken thoughts.


  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): A person with GAD may be thought of as “high strung” and have a hard time “shutting off their thoughts”.  They may experience a general feeling of malaise or dread. It is more worry-based than a person with depression and not  as immediate as a Panic Attack and the thoughts are not usually as obsessive as the person who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):  OCD actually has several presentations.  It can look like the stereotypical “checking” type of behavior (i.e. having to check that the stove is off 5 times before leaving the house or turning light switches off 5 times before leaving). It can also be occurring in the person who has pretty consistent “ruminating thoughts” – they can’t turn their mind off and the thoughts are repetitive and relentless.  It can also present itself in ways that leave a person isolated from others (germ phobic, fearful of trusting others in clinically significantly, anxiety-driven ways).


  • Hoarding:  This condition is marked by an obsession with holding on to items- this can range from obsessive collecting to the point where there is nothing other than the collected items int eh home, to be ing unable to part with items that had sentimental value at some point in time (i.e. clothes from a certain time in one’s life, or invitations or birthday cards that are cluttering storage space).  However, hoarding becomes a problem when the person becomes unable to part with things such as garbage, random papers, food, newspapers or other possessions to the point in which their home or property becomes over-loaded, often causing health or fire hazards. 
    Hoarding is a condition that usually needs the assistance of a professional trained in  interventions specifically for this behavior.


  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): refer to PTSD section.

 Who gets anxiety?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.,
  • Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population.
    (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
    • More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

What is the treatment for anxiety?

Treatment fort anxiety ranges from traditional psychotherapy (talk therapy), behavior therapy, medications, or a combination thereof.  Certain anxiety disorders can have quick responses to therapy, while others may be more difficult to treat.  Panic attacks can be treated with behavioral interventions interspersed with talk therapy.  If you think you may be dealing with OCD or Hoarding Disorder, please seek out a therapist who has special training in treating these disorders.