13 Common Habits That Are Often Confused As Signs Of Depression

by Irina Gonzalez

Who hasn't come home after a truly terrible day, curled up on the couch, and felt so low you think you're depressed. Although that's a common scenario, feeling sad about a rough day doesn't necessarily mean that you are suffering from clinical depression. In fact, there are several habits that you think are signs of depression but aren't an indicator of the illness.

"As a culture, we often make throw away statements about mental illness like 'I'm so depressed' or 'I'm totally bipolar today'," Dr. Jennifer L. Hartstein, an NYC-based child, adolescent, and family psychologist, tells Romper. "The truth is, they do minimize the experience of someone who really is experiencing significant mental health issues."

In order to figure out how to tell the difference between habits that seem like depression and actual depression, Romper spoke with Harstein, Portland-based Clinical and forensic psychologist Tony Farrenkopf, and Dr. Philip R. Muskin, the Secretary of the American Psychiatric Association and a Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. The main takeaway: "A typical differential diagnosis with depression involves whether it is a longer or recurring lifetime issue or a situational reaction," Farrenkopf says.

Read on for 14 habits that seem as if they might be signs of depression but likely are not.


You Feel Sad At Times

"We all feel sad at times," Hartstein says, and noted that it's totally normal. But this does not mean that you are depressed. The big difference between someone who is clinically depressed and a person who is simply sad is that depression lingers for longer periods of time. If your sadness is primarily situational, then you are likely not depressed.


You Feel Scattered

Hartstein tells Romper that it is absolutely normal for you to occasionally feel scattered, but this is not necessarily a sign of depression either. Maybe work is pulling you in a bunch of different directions or can't figure out where to move. Feeling scattered is normal when coming across tricky situations that will take some time (and possibly some serious soul searching) to resolve, but they don't necessarily mean you are suffering from depression.


You Have Strong Mood Swings

Picture this: You woke up and had a nice breakfast with your partner, then got to work and immediately snapped at your coworker. By the time the end of the day rolls around, you probably have another six feelings creep up. It's like you're the queen of mood swings lately, and you can't help it. Although our culture associates mood swings with depression, Hartstein says they "do not fall into the category of a mental illness," .


You Want To Wallow In Sad Feelings

Did you just have a fight with someone you love, followed by a bad day at work? Then you likely feel that you had a rough day and want to wallow in your feelings. This is a reaction to being sad, Hartstein says, but not necessarily a sign of depression. It's OK for an event to affect your overall mood for a couple of days. If it becomes weeks of wallowing, however, then you may need to speak with your doctor about further depression symptoms.


You Don't Shower

Not showering after a rough day isn't unheard of and is another reaction to being sad. The big difference between this and depression? According to Hartstein:

"The sad feelings may pass within a day or two. Someone with depression will have a harder time moving out of those feelings. They last for longer periods. Family and friends may vocalize concerns when those behaviors start to last for longer than a few days and up to two weeks."


You Withdraw

Although someone with depression typically withdraws, someone without depression may temporarily withdraw or sequester themselves for a variety of other reasons, Farrenkopf says. This can be true after a particularly rough week at work or in your personal life, or even simply because you are an introvert and need some time alone. Withdrawing for short periods of time can be normal, and you likely shouldn't worry that you may have clinical depression unless it is a feeling that continues for longer than a couple of weeks.


You Are Less Socially Responsive

A person who appears less socially responsive, shallow, or lacks follow-through might seem depressed, but it could also be related to memory or distractability issues, Farrenkopf tells Romper.

"A key would be to look for behavior patterns that are enduring versus temporary or new or surprising," Farrenkopf says.


You Feel More Fatigue Than Usual

Fatigue may be a common symptom of depression, but it can also derive from many other sources, Muskin tells Romper. For instance, those who are feeling physically ill may also experience fatigue as part of their overall symptoms of having the flu.


You Get Irritated Easily

Being easily irritated at times can be more of a symptom of simply having a bad day, Muskin says. Who hasn't snapped at their partner after a coworker pissed you off? It's normal to feel irritated after high stress situations, and this temporary symptom is likely to pass quickly if you don't have clinical depression.


You Have Lost Interest In Activities

Feeling fatigued can often lead to losing an interest in some of your favorite activities, which is a telltale sign of depression, Muskin says. If, however, your waning is simply temporary, then you're likely not depressed. You might be exhausted from being sick, from a fight with your spouse, or from a big work presentation that has taken up even your free time at home — and this has led you to skip out on that cooking class or stop going to your weekly Zumba session. That's likely not depression, since your loss of interest is likely due to the temporary rough situation at home or work. Taking some time off can sometimes be just fine.


You Have Lost Your Appetite

Another common symptom of depression that can actually manifest from a tough situation (such as having the flu) is a loss of appetite, Muskin says. If your appetite gets back to normal after a few days, then you are likely not depressed.


You Have A Change In Sleep Patterns

"A change in sleep habits should always be of concern, but is not 'diagnostic' of depression," Muskin tells Romper. "Inability to fall asleep may be caused by anxiety, real life concerns about some issue in the person’s life, physical pain, or the start of a depressive or manic episode. Some people run over the day’s events before going to sleep and may ruminate about something that did not go well, or something they wish they did not say. This can be normal but it can be indicative of a psychiatric disorder."


You Say "I'm So Depressed"

Saying "I'm so depression" probably actually means you're not, since those with clinical depression aren't usually so open about it, Muskin says. What you probably mean when you say that you're depressed is that you are having a particularly difficult week and are feeling very sad or frustrated, and that's okay. Your feelings are still valid and deserve to be dealt with (whether with a bubble bath or with a professional), but are likely not a sign of clinical depression and will be temporary.