Early warning signs of depression

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Depression is a mental health condition that can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life and ability to function. Receiving treatment for depression can help to reduce this impact. It can be very useful to know how to spot the early warning signs of depression, so you can seek treatment as early as possible.

Warning signs of depression

Depressive disorders can present differently from person to person, but common early warning signs of depression include [1][2][3]:

Mood swings

You might have noticed some changes in your overall mood. This might include feeling more irritable than usual, becoming more regularly upset or tearful, or experiencing a lot of anxiety and worrying.


You might be choosing to attend fewer social activities and events than you would normally, or you might be feeling that you don’t want to meet with or speak to friends and family very much. Similarly, you might be choosing to spend a lot of time at home alone, when you would previously have spent time with others.

Change in sleep patterns

Sleep quality and quantity often change with emerging depression, but this can affect people differently. For example, you might be finding it very difficult to go to sleep or you might find you are waking up regularly throughout the night and in the early morning. On the other hand, you might find that you are sleeping far more than usual and are struggling to wake up in the morning.

Lack of energy and motivation

You may have noticed a change in your energy levels, such as suddenly feeling very tired even when you haven’t been active. As a result, you might be experiencing a lack of willingness or motivation to engage in activities or tasks that you would previously have enjoyed or found manageable.

Trouble focusing

You might suddenly find it difficult to concentrate on things, such as work, reading, watching television, or following a conversation.

Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Experiencing new thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or end your life is a clear indication of emerging depression or another mental health issue. If you experience these thoughts, it is important to seek professional help immediately to ensure your safety.

The importance of spotting early signs of depression

By recognizing the common signs of emerging depression, you can seek professional help and receive an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan as early as possible. If early signs of depression go unnoticed, this can lead to more severe symptoms and a more challenging treatment and recovery process [4].

Research shows that early intervention provides the best opportunity for depression management, as well as preventing a worsening in symptoms. Milder depressive symptoms are shown to be more successfully treated than severe symptoms, thus reducing treatment time and costs [5][6].

Untreated depression can result in severe impairments in social, professional, and personal functioning, increased suicide risk, and worse treatment outcomes [1][5].

What to do if you notice early warning signs of depression

If you notice early warning signs of depression in yourself or someone you know, it is important to seek professional advice and intervention. Clinical depression is best managed with professional treatment, which typically includes a combination of therapy and medication, along with self-care techniques [1].


Therapeutic interventions for depression often involve talk therapy. With talk therapy, a mental health professional can help you to gain a better understanding of your symptoms and the underlying causes as well as provide an opportunity to discuss and explore your emotions [1][6].

You may be able to learn ways to challenge negative thoughts and behaviors to find more positive beliefs and develop useful coping strategies to help you manage emotional distress. Similarly, therapy can help to improve your self-esteem, communication skills, and interpersonal relationships [3][7].

Some of the various types of therapy that can help in the treatment of depression include [1][7]:


If your doctor deems it necessary, they may prescribe you an antidepressant medication to reduce the severity of your symptoms. There are many different types of antidepressants and people tend to respond differently to these medications.

Commonly prescribed antidepressants include [3][7]:

If these medications are not effective, you may be prescribed a different type of antidepressant, such as [3][7]:

It is important to always take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor to prevent adverse effects. Ensure you consult with your doctor if you experience any concerning side effects or before stopping your antidepressant medication.


There are also several ways that you can improve your mental well-being and prevent your symptoms from worsening, such as [1][3]:

  • Diet: Eating a balanced diet has been shown to help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some studies show a diet highin fat or sugar content can worsen depression.
  • Exercise: Engaging in regular exercise can help to improve mental and physical health, increase self-esteem, improve social engagement, and reduce feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety.
  • Relaxation and mindfulness: Relaxation and mindfulness techniques include meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. These techniques can help to improve symptoms of depression and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol: Alcohol and substance use can exacerbate symptoms of depression and make it harder for treatments to be successful. As such, it is advisable to reduce or avoid alcohol and drug use to improve mental and physical well-being.
  • Talking to others: Speaking with friends and family members can provide you with a support system to help reduce emotional distress. This can also improve social engagement, thereby reducing feelings of loneliness.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (Reviewed 2023). Depression. NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  2. Mind. (2023). Depression. Mind. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/symptoms/
  3. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2019). Clinical Depression.NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/clinical-depression
  4. Mental Health First Aid USA. (2021). The Importance of Early Intervention for People Facing Mental Health Challenges. Mental Health First Aid. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2021/06/the-importance-of-early-intervention-for-people-facing-mental-health-challenges/
  5. Halfin, A. (2007). Depression: The Benefits of Early and Appropriate Treatment. The American Journal of Managed Care, 13(4 Suppl), S92–S97. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18041868/
  6. Kay-Lambkin, F., Gilbert, J., Pedemont, L., Sunderland, M., Dalton, H., Handley, T., Chan, S., Perkins, D., & Kelly, B. (2018). Prevention and Early Intervention for Adults with Mild to Moderate Depression.Sax Institute for Beyond Blue. Retrieved from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/about-beyond-blue/policy-submissions/mild-moderate-depression-and-anxiety-in-adults_final-2.pdf?sfvrsn=d182bcea_6
  7. Gautam, S., Jain, A., Gautam, M., Vahia, V.N., & Grover, S. (2017). Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 59(Suppl 1), S34–S50. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.196973
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Jul 28th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 28th 2023