5 Common Depressive Behaviors

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Isolation and sleeping less could be two indicators of depression, but the list doesn't stop there.

If you're looking for an article on the symptoms of depression, this isn't it. Symptoms are physical side effects of a disease. Behaviors are how a person acts as a result of those symptoms. They are conscious or subconscious responses to some sort of stimulation or impetus in the body.

There are numerous examples of common symptoms and corresponding behavioral responses. For example, a full bladder prompts a person to go the bathroom. Or, itchy skin leads a person to scratch. Mental health symptoms are no different. Sadness can cause crying, for instance. In fact, conditions like depression are frequently referred to as behavioral health disorders -- most likely because of the explicit connection between brain functioning and behavior.


On the following pages, we'll look at five common behaviors of depressed people and examine the symptoms behind them. Ultimately, understanding the medical causes of depressive behaviors may lead a person with depression to seek treatment for his or her condition, or to encourage someone they know to seek information and treatment. Keep reading to learn more.

5: Eating Less

If the term "fat and happy" were to be taken literally, the opposite statement would be "thin and unhappy." While this might overly simplify both mental state and eating habits, it does -- in part -- ring true. Depression notoriously leads to reduced appetite and is a top cause of unintended weight loss [source: MedlinePlus].

Loss of appetite is a neurovegetative symptom originating in the autonomic nervous system [source: Dantzer, et al]. It keeps a person from finding pleasure in things they once enjoyed, and eating is a source of pleasure for most people.


There is an exception to this behavior, however. People with atypical depression tend to eat more and can actually experience weight gain [source: WebMD].

4: Sleeping Less

It's easy to imagine a depressed person as someone who stays in bed all day, hiding under the covers away from the rest of the world. In reality, however, most depressives don't sleep that much. It's believed that nearly 80 percent of people with the condition experience disordered sleep behaviors, such as lying awake at night, waking several times throughout the night or rising too early in the morning [source: Jaret]. The reason behind these behaviors is the same one that can cause a person to eat less: neurovegetative symptoms [source: Dantzer, et al].

Ironically, lack of sleep may lead to depression [source: Kaneita, et al]. Therefore, a depressed person who sleeps less can find himself or herself in a cycle of insomnia and depression that continually feeds itself. If a depressive is experiencing a change in sleep behaviors, it's ideal that he or she seeks treatment for the behavioral health condition as well as the sleep disorder. Of course, not everyone with depression sleeps less. Atypical depression can lead to sleeping more, just as it can lead to eating more.


3: Going to the Doctor with Vague Aches and Pains

Imagine you begin feeling muscle pain and spasms in your legs on a regular basis. You start worrying about all of the possibilities. Could it be multiple sclerosis? Maybe Parkinson's disease? You schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out what's behind the pain and physical changes you're experiencing. He or she examines you and runs lab work; once all of the tests are done, you find out ... you're completely fine (on paper, anyway). At first, you're relived, but then worries set in again: What's wrong with me? Why can't the doctor find a cause?

This is a common scenario for many depressed people. Unexplained aches and pains are known symptoms of depression, but if a person is experiencing a mild mood disorder, he or she may not realize the true cause of his or her pain. If depression is diagnosed, an antidepressant may go a long way toward alleviating both the physical and mental problems a depressive is experiencing. Antidepressants are, in fact, trusted treatments of many chronic pain syndromes, with or without depression [source: Sansone, et al].


Pain may hurt you, but the next common depressive behavior can hurt the ones you love.

2: Cutting Back on Activities with Friends and Family

With the behavior of eating less, we discussed how depression inhibits a person's ability to find pleasure in the things he or she once enjoyed. The behavior on this page can also be a casualty of that symptom. As a depressed person stops socializing and participating in activities he or she once liked, he or she can have less interaction with loved ones.

The problem with this behavior is that it leads to isolation, and isolation can increase feelings of depression [source: Schoevers, et. al]. To avoid the cycle of chronic depression that can be caused by avoiding others, it's important for someone with depression to not only seek treatment, but to also rejoin some of the activities he or she once took part in.


1: Calling in Sick to Work

A depressed person may not seem sick in the same way that someone with a disease like cancer or diabetes seems, but the behavioral health condition is a legitimate illness that can have an impact on a person's work attendance. In fact, nationwide, depression may cause more lost workdays than most major illnesses [source: University of Michigan Depression Center]. And it's the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States [source: National Alliance on Mental Health].

Calling in sick to work is a behavior that can be influenced by many other depressive behaviors. For example, the isolation caused by seeking out fewer activities with family and friends could possibly make a person less likely to want to interact with co-workers. The aches and pains caused by depression may make someone feel physically ill and, thus, justified in calling in sick. And, of course, oversleeping or not sleeping enough may make keeping a consistent work schedule problematic.


Symptoms of depression, and the behaviors they cause, don't occur in a vacuum. They're connected, and they feed off of each other. The best way to change them is for the depressed person to seek treatment for his or her overall depression. He or she can then address individual symptoms or behaviors under the guidance of a doctor or therapist.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Dantzer, R; O'Connor, JC; Freund, GG; Johnson, RW; Kelley, KW. "From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain." Nature Reviews Neuroscience. January 2008. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2919277/
  • Jaret, Peter. "Depression and Insomnia." WebMD. 2010. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/sleep-problems
  • Kam, Katherine. "Depression and Risky Behavior." WebMD. June 23, 2011. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/depression-and-risky-behavior
  • Kaneita, Y; Ohida, T; Uchiyama, M; Takemura, S; Kawahara, K; Yokoyama, E; Miyake, T; Harano, S; Suzuki, K; Fujita, T. "The relationship between depression and sleep disturbances: a Japanese nationwide general population survey." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. February 2006. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16566613
  • Mayo Clinic. "Depression (major depression): Symptoms." Feb. 11, 2010. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175/DSECTION=symptoms
  • MedlinePlus. "Weight Loss -- Unintentional." Feb. 20, 2011. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003107.htm
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness. "Treatable Causes of Disability: Major Depression." (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Major_Depression&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=42739
  • Sansone, Randy and Sansone, Lori A. "Pain, Pain, Go Away: Antidepressants and Pain Management." Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience." December 2008. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.innovationscns.com/pain-pain-go-away-antidepressants-and-pain-management/
  • Schoevers, RA; Beekman, AT; Deeg, DJ; Geerlings, MI; Jonker, C; and Tilburg W. "Risk factors for depression in later life; results of a prospective community based study (AMSTEL)." Journal of Effective Disorders. August 2000. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837881?dopt=Abstract
  • University of Michigan Depression Center. "Depression and Lost Productivity." (Jan. 22, 2012) http://work.depressioncenter.org/employers/
  • WebMD. "Atytpical Depression." Sept. 12, 2009. (Jan. 22, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/atypical-depression