By Deborah Serani, Psy.D. | CONTRIBUTOR |

Depression is a mental health condition, a mood disorder  where a child or adult experiences difficulty regulating emotions. Depression often negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.

Other depressive symptoms include sadness, loss of interest in activities you’ve once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, feeling withdrawn and hopeless, just to name a few.

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In the case of depression, anger can take several different forms. Below are three of the most common kinds of anger you or your loved one might experience when living with depression.


Despite being recognized as a feature itself in depression, irritability is not always highlighted as go-to symptom. It is sometimes overlooked for unipolar depression or mistakenly linked only bipolar disorder.

Another misconception is that irritability primarily affects adolescents – or adult men who live with depression. Studies have long shown that irritability occurs as a common symptom of depression with children and adults, both male and female.

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Irritability may present in

  • snapping at others
  • feeling inpatient
  • not wanting to be touched or held
  • being restless
  • being unable to handle small disappointments or challenges.

Further, decreased functioning in the frontal lobe interferes with judgment and reasoning when you have depression, so many who have a mood disorder interpret situations, experiences, thoughts and feelings in negative ways. Irritability in depression can be episode or situational, or present in a more chronic manner.


Going a step beyond irritability is hostility, which is defined as a person with depression who expresses anger outwardly. Most often hostile-depression gets expressed towards other people or about external issues in the environment.

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Sometimes a child or adult will outwardly be aggressive toward a friend or family member, attacking others for their opinions, thoughts or more materialistic things like how they dress, look, etc. Hostility tends to develop in individuals who’ve experienced trauma from their environment.

They mistrust others and feel hopeless and helpless about the world around them. This insecurity doesn’t present in a quiet depressive restlessness, but rather an external demanding, cynical and negativistic style. Studies have found that depressed children and adults who have experienced loss may have higher rates of hostility.

Anger Attacks

Escalating more intensely than irritability and hostility are anger attacks, sometimes called rage reactions. Studies have shown that children and adults who have particular deficits in the serotonergic system and the autonomic arousal network can fly into angry outbursts in response to trivial matters. Or remain angry longer than a situation may call for such an emotion.

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In one study, 1/3 of subjects who were diagnosed with unipolar depression presented with sudden spells of anger attacks accompanied by symptoms of autonomic activation such as tachycardia, sweating, hot flashes, and tightness of the chest. Anger attacks can be very emotionally and physically draining for the child or adult who experiences them. So too, it can be overwhelming for family, friends or others to endure.

5 Tips to Help with Anger

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Anger is a common emotion that can be destructive when it isn’t responded to in an adaptive manner. When you live with a depressive disorder you’re likely to experience one, more or all of these anger experiences. To help minimize irritability, hostility and anger attacks, consider the following.

  • Reflect on your reaction style: Spend some time mindfully assessing what kinds of anger experiences you have. Do your symptoms and behaviors fall under irritability? Are you more hostile than irritable? What about anger attacks? Does this behavioral reaction sound or feel familiar to you? Do you have one, more or all?

  • Identify your Triggers: Learn what issues and experiences press your buttons. Do current events overwhelm you? Talk of politics or other subjects? Family gatherings? If so, limit your exposure to these moments, or find ways to dilute your one-on-one time within such experiences. Finding a way to balance life within and around your triggers will help soften negative feelings.

  • Problem Solve: When you’re irritable, hostile or in the midst of an anger attack, have a set of techniques to soothe you into a greater sense of well-being. Take a walk. Listen to music. Spend some time alone to decompress. Journal your feelings. Feed your senses in meaningful ways. Find a solution to the discussion, issue or table things until you feel less angry.

  • Forgive yourself: Make allowances to forgive yourself when these negative emotions and behaviors arise. Depression often results in regulatory difficulties with
    thoughts and emotions. Sometimes you may be able to control yourself, while other times it may be hard to do.

  • Repair your connections: Don’t forget to spend time repairing any ruptures or misunderstandings your irritability, hostility or anger attacks causes. Be accountable with an appropriate “I’m sorry” – but don’t use your illness as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Deborah Serani, Psy.D. is a psychologist and an award-winning author. Visit her at

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About the Author: Dr. Deborah Serani – Contributor

Dr Deborah Serani Mental Health Foundation contributor headshotDr. Deborah Serani is a psychologist, a professor at Adelphi University in New York and an award-winning author.

Dr. Serani is also a go-to media expert, a TEDx speaker, writes for Psychology Today and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A recurring character was named after her – Judge D. Serani – as a nod to her technical work.

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