Warning signs tell us that we may be at heightened risk of developing depression.

There are common warning signs that arise when prolonged and/or major stress begins to get out of hand, but any change in behaviour may be a warning sign as every one of us is different.

Quick fix substance use

People who use alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, nicotine and sugar often experience an additional craving for these substances when they experience prolonged stress. These substances offer a temporary mood lift, and are thought to contain chemicals that help the body cope with stress. Unfortunately, any short-term gain is more than cancelled by the long-term health costs of these substances.


In the face of stress, many people seem to have difficulty “switching off” their worrying process. They may spend excessive time trying to unpick events as if dwelling on the past might in some way change things. They may also dwell on future scenarios imagining how things may turn out. As depression takes hold, this process becomes increasingly negative, with more self-blame for things that occurred in the past and a tendency to see future events going wrong.

Substitution/Avoidance Behaviour

One way in which people will attempt to overcome stress is by “throwing themselves into their work”. Indeed, throwing oneself into any activity – work or recreation – may be a warning sign. The issue is whether busy-ness is being used as a substitute for addressing problems.

One common warning sign reported by people with a personal experience of depression is a growing reluctance to open letters or answer the telephone.


Prolonged stress serves to dampen enjoyment. Also, major life stressors like bereavement, divorce and redundancy can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Taken together, these can lead to disengagement from social activities.

Heightened Emotions

Tearfulness is often thought of as typifying depression. However, other emotional responses can also be affected. The manifestation of anger and irritation may also be a warni