Mad vs. sad: Depression is often disguised as anger

Typically, we think of depression in terms of its primary and more overt characteristics: depressed mood, low energy, lack of motivation and thoughts of suicide. However, there are other, more subtle signs of depression that are often overlooked. Anger and increased irritability can be common issues among people who are struggling with varying degrees of depression. In a recent report, researchers found that among 4,000 patients diagnosed with depression, two-thirds reported experiencing notable anger or irritability.

You may have noticed yourself growing short-tempered with your colleagues, or perhaps snapping at your friends or family for no perceivable reason. Maybe you recognize these tendencies in a partner but have been unable to identify the cause of such an apparent shift in behavior. While these symptoms alone are not sufficient for a diagnosis, they may be warning signs for an underlying mental health issue such as depression.

Addressing this observation with a loved one, colleague or employee can be difficult. It is best to start from a gentle place of concern and inquiry, avoiding the tendency to blame or label the behavior. Normalizing increased irritability as a sign of another mental health issue (depression, anxiety or prior trauma) may allow the person of concern to consider seeking a professional assessment and/or support.

For more information and support, call Work/Life Connections—Vanderbilt’s Employee Assistance Program—at 615-936-1327.