Anger and Irritability Could Signal Depression

Most people are aware of the core depressive symptoms including feelings of hopelessness, intense sadness, lack of motivation, and loss of energy. According to some researchers, there is also a strong association between irritability and depression. In a recent article written by Nell Greenfieldboyce, a NPR science correspondent, she discusses this finding.

Quoted in the article is Dr. Maurizio Fava, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School. He states irritability is listed as a symptom for depression in children and adolescents in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is not listed, however, as one of the symptoms for major depression in adults. Dr. Fava remarks depressed adults presenting with anger issues are typically diagnosed as having bipolar disorder or a personality disorder.

A misdiagnosis could result in a patient not receiving best care. Dr. Fava has found that 1 in 3 of his patients report frequent angry outbursts. He labels these “anger attacks” and likens them to panic attacks.

His research found when patients reporting anger symptoms were treated with antidepressants, their anger attacks subsided.

Dr. Mark Zimmerman, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University is also quoted in the article. “Irritability is not that much less frequent than sadness and anxiety in patients who are presenting for psychiatric treatment,” he says. He believes the field of psychiatry “has not sufficiently attended to problems with anger.”

A different research group conducted another large study. They included more than 500 people, who had been diagnosed with major depression. The study found over 50 percent had symptoms of “overt irritability/anger.” This anger and irritability appears to be associated with more severe, chronic depression.

So what does that research mean for you?

If you are noticing a change in mood or behavior, knowing that outbursts or inability to control your temper could signal you are depressed, will enable you to better understand your experience. Recognized in the article is a group called Families for Depression Awareness. Their list of symptoms families should watch for includes “picking fights, being irritable, critical, or mean.” Finally, physicians or therapists recognizing this symptom will facilitate the patient receiving the correct diagnosis and best treatment. 

Ann Sheerin