Rural doctor & mental health specialist reveals the 7 surprising signs of depression

Living with constant pain is a constant battle.

Chronic pain impacts on every area of a person’s life…

It’s not just the pain…but fatigue, stress & anxiety.

Pain can affect your ability to work, to help out in the same way at home, to socialize…

Which makes navigating the family expectations, social obligations & general mayhem of Christmas….

Well, a bit of a minefield!

Pain can be a real mental & emotional struggle – even for the most resilient of us…

It is probably not surprising, that people living with chronic pain often live with depression

Now, experiencing a mental health issue is not unique to people with chronic pain…

Almost half (45%) of Australians are expected to experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.

And in any given year, major depression affects 9.5% of Americans & is the leading cause of disability in the US.

There is, however, a much higher representation of people living with chronic pain who experience depression…

People living with chronic pain are 4 times as likely to have depression than patients who are pain-free.

Even less surprising, is that research has found that the higher the pain intensity – the more severe the depressive symptoms…

The statistics support what we all know…

Living with chronic pain is a real emotional & mental struggle…

So it is especially important for people living with pain (and their friends & family) to be aware of the early warning signs of depression.

So how do we know when ‘the blues’ have become something more serious?

How do we know when it is time to ask for help?

Dr. Molly Shorthouse, GP, rural generalist, a specialist in mental health & President of the Rural Doctor’s Association Tasmania, says it is important to be aware of some of the surprising signs of depression, which can very often be mistaken for something else.

“There are many signs of mental illness that are less pronounced and easily slip under the radar. People shouldn’t be afraid to seek help in improving their mental health.”

Dr. Shorthouse reveals 7 Surprising Signs of Depression:

1) Memory loss or a short attention span

If someone you know starts to experience frequent memory loss – such as forgetting appointments – this could be one of the surprising signs of depression.

Likewise, if they begin to have difficulty concentrating at work or school, thinking clearly and making decisions…

It may be time for them to make an appointment with their local GP who may refer them to a psychologist.

2) Weight gain or loss

Most people are aware that weight loss and a loss of appetite could be one symptom of a mental health issue…

but it’s not well known that overeating and a lack of willingness to exercise could also be a surprising sign of depression.

In many cases, the weight gain itself is caused by depression, not the other way around.

3) Irritability

Sadness is associated with depression and anxiety, but irritability in men can also point to a mental health issue.

While everyone can be irritable at times, frequent or easily provoked irritability in men can be a sign of a deeper issue.

If you’re noticing a lot of conflict at home especially, it might be time to talk to a mental health professional to see if something else is going on.

4) Less joy

A lack of enjoyment in activities that once gave a person pleasure (anhedonia) is another subtle but common change we see in sufferers.

It’s advisable to speak with your doctor if you start noticing these changes, as they can recommend a variety of treatment or lifestyle changes which can make a big difference, like trying yoga or meditation.

5. Conflict in the workplace

Employees who instigate conflict in the workplace can be suffering from an underlying mental health issue.

Employers should work towards providing mental health support to employees, especially with regard to stress.

If you are struggling with relationships with loved ones or colleagues you might like to check out our tips on communication.

6. Insomnia

Difficulty sleeping can also point to wider mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder & depression.

It is estimated that 60-90 percent of patients with depression have insomnia, with the cost of depression and anxiety attributed to sleep disorders thought to be more than $170.8 million.

7. Social withdrawal

If you have a friend that starts to cancel plans with you in favor of staying in or they become less willing to participate in social activities…

It may indicate that something is up mentally.

It’s worth making an extra effort to talk with any of your friends who exhibit this behavior, as it could be a silent cry for help.

If you are struggling to socialize you might like to check out our tips to boost your social life (even if pain is zapping your energy).

Now if you recognize some of those symptoms in yourself (or a loved one)…it might be time to seek some help from your doctor…

But asking for help – can be very intimidating…

“What will the doctor say?”

“Will the doctor think I can’t cope?”

“Will I be put a drug like Prozac?”

“Receiving treatment is not a sign of weakness but a positive step that can transform your health & well-being for the better. We know that when a person’s mental health is strong, their chronic and physical illnesses also improve and similarly, many people with chronic disease do not have their mental health checked, despite the known associations. There are several therapy options available with proven effectiveness – medication is only prescribed when needed,”

The top 3 therapies trusted by psychologists to improve mental health:

  1. Cognitive behavior therapy. This treatment involves the use of practical self-help strategies, which are designed to teach patients to think in a positive way and reduce negative mood.
  2. Acceptance commitment therapy. This therapy focuses on applying acceptance and mindfulness skills to uncontrollable experiences in order to increase psychological flexibility.
  3. Mindfulness. A form of therapy centered on gaining awareness of the present moment through paying attention in a purposeful manner. It can be used to treat a range of mental health issues including depression and anxiety.


Living with constant pain is a constant mental battle.

That is why it is essential that people living with chronic pain (and their friends & family) recognize some of the surprising early warning signs of depression.

Asking for help shows a real strength of character & a determination of spirit

The most effective way to heal chronic pain is holistically

Knowing when it is time to ask for help from the professionals is vitally important to everyone & especially people living with chronic pain.

If you would like to learn more about holistic strategies to heal chronic pain click here.

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