Depression Warning Signs
Learn the symptoms of untreated or unresolved depression
Treating depression is not one-size-fits-all, and it’s rarely a homerun on the first try. In fact, less than a third of patients will reach remission (have no symptoms or residual problems) with a first-line therapy for major depressive disorder (MDD). Response to a first-line treatment is high—typically more than half of patients will respond positively to the treatment, but the goal isn’t response. When a medication is not effective or isn’t suited to your symptoms, you may experience residual symptoms. Here is a list of the tell-tail symptoms of untreated or unresolved depression.
Many of these residual symptoms can also be side effects of the medication you’re taking. Fatigue is an initial symptom of depression, and many patients who are undertreated for depression will continue to suffer from it. However, you should not accept fatigue as a side effect of the medicine or as a residual symptom. Fatigue can sap your energy and deplete you of the desire to be physically active or productive—an important part of treating and coping with depression. If you feel tired all the time or have noticed yourself feeling increasingly tired, talk with your doctor.
Can’t get shut eye, no matter how hard you try? Insomnia may be a sign of unresolved depression, or it may be a side effect of medication. Whatever its cause, however, insomnia is a serious problem. Insomnia may be an indicator of a poor response to treatment, and it can increase a person’s likelihood to consider or even commit suicide.
Loss of Interest
Untreated or under-treated depression may leave you without interest in your personal or professional life. People with residual symptoms of depression have higher levels of absenteeism from work. When they do work, they are less productive, suffer more interpersonal challenges, and experience less job satisfaction.
Anxiety is a red flag in people with MDD. That’s because anxiety makes a person more likely to experience a recurrence of MDD. It also means a person may take longer to respond to treatment. If anxiety is not resolved with a first-line treatment, and especially if it is not resolved with a combination or augmented therapy, talk with your doctor about the possibility of another condition: an anxiety disorder.
It’s no secret people with depression struggle with suicide. In fact, more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide are depressed or have another mental health disorder. Suicidal thoughts are more than just daydreams about harming yourself—you may also think about how “beneficial” it would be for your friends and family if you were no longer alive. If you find yourself contemplating suicide or talking with others about it, seek help from a mental health specialist immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Alcohol or substance abuse in a person being treated for MDD is a warning sign of a larger problem. A person with depression may be using alcohol or substances to cover up or reduce other residual symptoms or comorbid conditions, such as an anxiety disorder or personality disorder.
Aches and pains are nothing to be ignored when you have MDD, and they’re all too easy to chalk up to “just getting old” or the changes in weather. However, backaches, muscle aches, joint pain, and even stomach aches may be a sign of unresolved depression. If these aches are constant or are not easily treated with an over-the-counter pain reliever, speak with your doctor.
The Trouble with Unresolved Symptoms
Residual symptoms of depression may not be so easy to pin to your depression as you might think. In some cases, these symptoms are the result of a wholly separate, untreated disorder. In other cases, it may be a sign that your primary depression problem is still present, but treating it may not be as simple as taking another medication.
The Risk of Residual Symptoms
Patients with MDD who experience residual symptoms have higher rates of heart attack and stroke. Also, people with untreated MDD will suffer from the condition longer, increase their risk of additional health problems, and need increased medical services throughout their lifetime. Studies show that the longer MDD goes undertreated or untreated, the more treatment-resistant it may become.