You can’t get out of bed in the morning, no matter how hard you try, and you’ve either lost your appetite completely or can’t stop eating. Worst of all, you’re sad all the time — even though you have no reason to be. It’s tempting to self-diagnose your symptoms — you must be depressed, right? Though what you’re feeling might seem like depression, there’s a possibility you could have something else.
To make sure you get the proper help you need, learn about the conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed as depression.
1. Chronic fatigue syndrome
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with CFS present a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, sleep problems, issues with memory and concentration, and mood swings. Similarly, depression often carries symptoms like exhaustion, brain fog, as well as sleep and mood problems. However, CFS often involves symptoms depression usually doesn’t, like chills, light sensitivity, allergies, and digestive issues. This syndrome also often occurs in cycles, while depression symptoms persist for weeks, months, even years without relief.
2. Low blood pressure
While high blood pressure can cause a number of heart problems, low blood pressure can also be harmful. The American Heart Association lists fatigue, lack of concentration, and even depression as possible symptoms of low blood pressure. This is why seeing a doctor should be your first step in getting help for any problem, even if you think you might be depressed. A health care provider will check your blood pressure during your exam, and will test you for possible causes of low blood pressure if you’re experiencing symptoms.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, can affect both children and adults. Adult ADHD results in hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and difficulty focusing or following through on commitments. According to Mayo Clinic, trouble coping with stress, mood swings, and trouble completing tasks are all symptoms of ADHD in adults. Interestingly, depression sometimes mimics these symptoms, especially when your inability to concentrate or inappropriate responses to stressful situations begins to affect both your personal and professional life.
4. Post-traumatic stress disorder
Often associated with veterans, PTSD can occur in anyone as a result of any traumatic event. While some symptoms are also features of depression — disinterest in normal activities, self-destructive behavior, problems sleeping — many PTSD indicators don’t line up with those of depression. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, this condition is most often associated with flashbacks and nightmares related to a specific traumatic event. Depression can be a symptom of PTSD, but it’s important to seek treatment that will help you deal with past trauma, instead of just trying to treat depression symptoms and ignoring the root cause.
5. Generalized anxiety disorder
Mental health problems are often difficult to diagnose, since many of the symptoms associated with these disorders overlap. Consider generalized anxiety disorder and depression, which share a number of mental and physical symptoms. This is why many people with anxiety are often mistakingly diagnosed with depression. However, people with this type of anxiety often also feel restless or edgy, and tend to worry about certain events or possible situational outcomes.
Feeling overtired and confused about your recent weight gain? It could be your thyroid gland. According to the American Thyroid Association, people with hypothyroidism don’t produce enough thyroid hormones to maintain normal biological functions. Over time, this can lead to weight gain, memory problems, and fatigue. These symptoms might feel a lot like depression, but it can’t hurt to get your thyroid checked just in case. A blood test can detect any problems with your thyroid, which a doctor can usually treat with a synthetic thyroid hormone prescription.
If you have diabetes, your body is unable to regulate its own blood sugar. The American Diabetes Association says both major types of diabetes are often associated with increased hunger, fatigue, and extreme, unexpected weight loss in the early stages. Some people with depression can experience both weight loss and weight gain due to changes in appetite as well. However, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and tingling in the hands and feet set diabetes apart. A blood test can detect if you’ve had high blood sugar over the past several months.
8. Eating disorders
Mayo Clinic identifies six different types of eating disorders, which have both unique and overlapping symptoms. Common, often subtle signs of a number of eating disorders include withdrawing from social activities, abnormal eating patterns, weight loss or gain, and even drastic mood changes. Low blood sugar can also cause irritability and cognitive issues, also common depression symptoms. Someone with an eating disorder may also become depressed as a result of guilt or shame related to their condition. Because an obsession with healthy eating and deliberately restricting or increasing food intake can have life-threatening consequences if ignored, it’s really crucial to seek help. Certain types of psychotherapy, along with medication and nutrition counseling and therapy, can help treat one or both conditions.
9. Bipolar disorder
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, someone with bipolar disorder cycles through periods of extreme euphoria, called manic episodes, followed by stretches of extreme sadness, called depressive episodes. These down periods are the reason many people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed with depression instead. Someone with bipolar disorder will often seek professional help during a depressive episode, during which only those symptoms are addressed. Mania, on the other hand, can lead to impulsive, even dangerous behavior, and sometimes psychosis. Medication and cognitive behavioral therapy are both effective treatments to help you cope with bipolar disorder.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this condition presents with a wide range of symptoms that can be difficult to diagnose, especially in teens. A person with schizophrenia, especially early on, tends to withdraw from and lose interest in normal activities. They will often also have a hard time controlling their emotions, thinking clearly, and making decisions. Schizophrenia also makes it difficult to follow through with commitments and complete tasks. Unlike depression, though, someone with this condition might also hallucinate or experience delusional thoughts and beliefs. A psychiatrist can, and should, evaluate all out-of-the-ordinary behavior, and can diagnose and help treat any mental health condition.
11. Cushing’s syndrome
Cortisol, the hormone responsible for helping your body metabolize nutrients and respond appropriately to stress, can cause harm at high levels. For example, you could develop Cushing’s syndrome. This condition can cause weight gain, fatigue, loss of emotional control, anxiety, and depression. The most obvious signs of Cushing’s syndrome include fragile, thinning skin that bruises easily, deposits of fatty tissue throughout the body, and pink or purple stretch marks on the arms, thighs, and abdomen. If you notice these symptoms in addition to feelings of sadness, irritability, or mood swings, see your doctor as soon as possible. Early intervention increases your chances of recovery.
12. Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiencies are more common than they once were. Why? Because fewer people work their day jobs outside. Though it might not sound like a big deal, lacking enough of this nutrient can lead to some unpleasant side effects. According to the Vitamin D Council, some people with vitamin D deficiencies experience fatigue and weakness.
Spending more time outdoors, especially in direct sunlight, can give your body all the vitamin D it needs to stay healthy. A doctor may also prescribe vitamin D supplements, which will help relieve many of your symptoms.
13. Celiac disease
People with celiac disease have a negative reaction to gluten. Their immune systems attack their small intestines, which can cause serious damage if left untreated. An official diagnosis, therefore, is an important step in treating and learning to live with the condition.
Curiously, celiac disease symptoms differ with age. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, children often experience digestive problems, while adults are much more likely to experience fatigue, iron deficiency, joint pain, and anxiety or depression. Other symptoms not associated with depression, however, like migraines, a skin rash, or persistent canker sores, are also signs of celiac disease. Blood tests or intestinal biopsies can determine whether or not you test positive for celiac, regardless of your symptoms. Depression could be a side effect, but treating celiac could help stabilize your mood.
Sleep disturbances such as insomnia can be a symptom of depression, according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, just because you’re having trouble sleeping doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed. Medical conditions like allergies, asthma, acid reflux, and chronic pain can also cause insomnia. Unfortunately, this sleep disorder is also a risk factor for mental health problems — including depression. It’s important to talk to your doctor about treating the possible root causes of your sleep problems before they endanger you psychologically.
Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, but sometimes this process doesn’t work correctly. This could lead to anemia, a condition that involves a lower than normal red blood cell count, which is problematic since those cells carry oxygen. Without enough oxygen circulating through your body, you’ll start to feel more tired than normal. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says fatigue, headaches, and chest pain are all common physical symptoms of anemia. People with depression also tend to report exhaustion and chronic pain when discussing physical symptoms of the disorder, however. If you’re feeling more exhausted than usual, your doctor may first test your blood for signs of anemia.