Depression is commonly associated with sadness, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. But irritability and anger can be symptoms, too.
Most people recognize the most common symptoms of depression. However, depression doesn’t always manifest the same way in everyone. Some people also experience increased levels of irritability.
In some cases, heightened irritability can also lead to angry outbursts. Like other depression symptoms, treatment can help with irritability.
Danielle Roeske, PsyD, based in Litchfield, Connecticut, explains that people commonly associate depression with a flat affect. But this stereotypical symptom doesn’t always show up in everyone. Some people may have depression that looks different from others. Irritability and agitation, for instance, can go hand in hand with depression, too, says Roeske.
With mood disorders, adds Roeske, there’s an impairment in your ability to regulate emotions. Often, we think of depression as a mental health condition that involves feeling too little. In some cases, though, you can feel too much.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind that irritability doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression.
Other symptoms of depression include:
- feelings of hopelessness
- persistent sadness or anxiety
- loss of interest in usual activities
- low energy
- problems sleeping
- appetite changes
- weight changes
- suicidal ideation
- physical symptoms such as muscle pain and headaches
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available
You can access free support right away with these resources:
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.Call the Lifeline at 988 for English or Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line.Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
- Veterans Crisis Line.Call 988 and press 1, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
- Deaf Crisis Line.Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
- Befrienders Worldwide.This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
At its core, depression makes it difficult for you to regulate your emotions. This often manifests as deep sadness but not always.
If you have a mood disorder like depression, you may find stimuli, such as socializing with others, overwhelming, which can cause agitation and result in irritability, says Roeske. She adds that you might tend to judge yourself, which can make the agitation worse.
“As much as [someone with irritability and depression] can seem frustrated with the outer world, they’re also typically equally frustrated with themselves or their reactivity to it,” says Roeske.
She adds that this can perpetuate a vicious cycle where you get frustrated because of your tendency to get irritated, then become increasingly irritable because you’re judging yourself.
In some cases, irritability can also escalate to aggression. This is even truer if you have an unregulated major depressive disorder, says Roeske.
Because irritability and angry outbursts are the typical emotions we associate with depression, it can be harder to spot depression if you have atypical symptoms like irritability or aggression.
“Often, we’ll see people miss what are signs of depression and personalize it as ‘I’m just an irritable person unable to handle my emotions properly’ without really understanding that it may actually be a symptom of depression,” explains Roeske.
The classic case of depression that you’re probably aware of is someone who has a flat affect and turns their anger inward. But this isn’t how all people experience depression.
In some people, says Roeske, anger can also be turned outward.
Also, research from 2021 suggests that irritability may be a more common symptom in children and teens with depression.
There’s also evidence that irritability is more likely in people with depression than those with other mental health conditions such as conduct disorders and bipolar disorder.
So why might you experience irritability with depression when others don’t? More research is needed to understand the link between depression and irritability.
But certain things may increase the likelihood that you’ll experience it as a symptom, including a family history of depression and being exposed to negative parenting styles.
Medication can help with the symptoms of depression, including irritability.
A 2019 study found that treating people with major depressive disorder with antidepressants lowered their irritability levels. And those who experienced the most significant reduction in irritability in the first few weeks of treatment were more likely to experience remission.
This suggests that antidepressants may be a vital part of treating depression-related anger and irritability.
A mental health professional can help you figure out the best treatment options. This may include medication but may also involve therapy and, in some cases, anger management.
Depression is a treatable mental health condition. Leaving depression symptoms like irritability untreated can make them worse.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating depression. What works for someone else might not be the right option for you. A professional can help you determine which treatment or combination of treatments is the right fit.
Roeske explains that managing irritability with depression is mainly dependent on the person, but some things that may help include:
This doesn’t just include self-awareness of your irritability. It also involves understanding irritability as part of your depressive disorder.
“That gives us the opportunity to intervene on self-judgment and self-loathing that takes place, which actually makes it worse,” says Roeske.
Knowing your threshold
Try to prepare for situations that tend to agitate you.
If you know you’ll be in a crowded area or entering a long workday with few breaks, says Roeske, plan and take timeouts or use ground techniques, like breathing exercises, to center yourself.
Roeske adds that self-compassion is another key ingredient in managing irritability. Try to avoid blaming yourself. Being irritable isn’t a failure or weakness on your part.
Reshaping your thinking
The distorted thinking that occurs with depression can worsen symptoms like irritability. This might include judging yourself for things outside of your control.
But changing your thought patterns doesn’t happen overnight, says Roeske. In addition to enlisting the help of others, like friends and family, she recommends trying on a different mindset for the day.
Concrete actions like these can help build lasting change in your thinking patterns over time.
Enlisting the support of others
Changing distorted thinking doesn’t come easy, and repeatedly judging yourself can be incredibly isolating, says Roeske.
“A really important step in that process of getting out of that is breaking the isolation and actually forming connections with others,” she adds.
Getting professional help
You may also find it helpful to seek the help of a mental health professional if you’re not sure whether your irritability is linked to depression.
They can help you understand whether your irritability and agitation result from a depressive disorder or other mental health condition.
A mental health specialist can also help you address distorted thought patterns that make your depression symptoms worse.
Being irritable and angry when you have depression doesn’t make you a bad person. It also doesn’t mean you’re destined to have angry outbursts for the rest of your life.
The first step in addressing irritability is recognizing that it may be a symptom of depressive disorder or another mental health condition. Most people don’t think of anger and irritability when they think of depression.
People are more likely to assume they have a personality flaw. But irritability can manifest with depression and be treated like other depression symptoms.
It’s probably a good idea to seek the help of a mental health professional if you think your irritable moods may be linked to depression. They can help you figure out if you’re dealing with depression and how best to treat it.