SIGECAPS is not a name commonly heard, but if you’ve been researching depression for you or someone you know, you may have come across the term.
This useful mnemonic tool is one of the go-to ways to evaluate symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, but it can also be useful for parents and people in general to evaluate their own mental health, or to be better prepared to spot mental health problems in others.
Here’s what you need to know about SIGECAPS, how the acronym is used, and what symptoms  it’s looking for.
Remember, while SIGECAPS can be a good way to spot if someone close to you is in trouble, or even to tell if it might be time to get help for yourself, it’s still no substitute for a professional diagnosis and treatment.
What Is SIGECAPS?
SIGECAPS is an mnemonic acronym designed to make it easier for clinicians and mental health professionals to remember the key symptoms and signs of depression that are used not only for depression diagnosis but also to determine the severity of a patient’s depression and the best treatment paths.
These key symptoms and signs not only indicate whether or not someone has depression, but they can also help you determine the areas of highest risk or that most need intervention depending on the severity of reported symptoms.
Most often, when clinicians are using SIGECAPS, they are broken up into three sections, sig e caps, which helps differentiate what the different letters of the acronym point to and can be used for different diagnoses within depression since depression and many other mental health disorders come in more than one type and presentation.
What Does SIGECAPS Stand For
SIGECAPS stands for sleep, interest, guilt, energy, concentration, appetite, psychomotor, and suicide.
It’s important to remember that this list isn’t so much specific symptoms, but symptom categories that all speak to different ways depression can present in patients and different ways that depression can affect someone’s life.
Remember, this is a diagnostic tool, but not a diagnosis itself. You can rate yourself or the people in your life on the presence of the symptoms we’re going to discuss in a moment, but you really need a professional to determine if there is a relevant disorder happening and to figure out a treatment plan that will be effective for your situation.
Why Are SIGECAPS Symptoms Important?
There are a few reasons that most professionals use the SIGECAPS model for diagnosing depression.
For one thing, this cluster of symptoms is some of the most diagnostically relevant, and also speaks directly to the ways that depression can negatively affect someone’s life as a disorder.
Remember, one of the defining characteristics of a mental health disorder is that it negatively impacts your quality of life and ability to function in some way. You can have all of these symptoms and, if they don’t significantly impact your life, might not meet the diagnostic criteria for depression.
These symptoms are also important, in some cases, because they can be the biggest clinical risk factors for negative outcomes like self-harm or suicide that can result from depression and related disorders.
Let’s talk a little about the importance of each symptom category, how they are used in a clinical setting, and why each symptom matters when it comes to teens dealing with depression
Sleep is the first symptom category in this list, and often one of the most important symptoms and one that will have a significant impact on treatment goals and outcomes.
One common presentation of depression is that the person dealing with the disorder will either have a hard time getting enough sleep, or will have a hard time waking up and may often oversleep or take excessive naps through the day.
When it comes to teens, this can be a tricky symptom to use for diagnosis, however, because it is natural for teenagers to develop different sleeping patterns, and their circadian rhythm might not match the sleep/wake patterns of adults or younger children either one.
That said, if you notice significant or sudden changes in your teen’s sleeping habits, especially in combination with other SIGECAPS symptoms, you should pay attention.
Interest is another symptom cluster that can be more difficult when it comes to teenagers. It’s normal and natural for teenagers to have shifting priorities and changing interests, especially as it becomes more important to them to bond with their peers instead of prioritizing familial relationships.
However, if your teen seems to struggle with getting excited, or expresses that nothing seems interesting anymore, these can both be dangerous signs.
When it comes to depression, one of the most common symptoms is having little or no interest in things you used to enjoy.
So, some disinterest or changing interests are normal for teens, but having little interest in things they normally would enjoy, or enjoyed very recently, may be a red flag.
Guilt is one of the more pervasive, and more difficult, symptoms of depression. People who have a depressive disorder are much more likely to report feeling guilty, sometimes without even having a good reason to feel guilty in the first place.
Teens might express guilt by feeling especially contrite over small problems, or they might even feel that something is wrong with them or that they are inherently bad people.
Unfortunately, because guilt is a difficult emotion to express, and one teens are more likely to hide or express as anger or resentment, it can be hard to spot guilt in a teen.
Guilt and shame can both be powerful emotions and hard to overcome, especially if they are being reinforced by criticism or anger from their family and peers.
Energy is another symptom cluster that can be hard to differentiate between lack of energy because your teen is depressed, and lack of energy because your teen is growing and going through normal body changes that take a lot of energy.
Modern schedules don’t help for many teens, since most schools open earlier than teens are really able to wake up, and that can mean not getting enough sleep, or not getting high-quality sleep when they do sleep.
However, low energy, especially feeling both physically and mentally tired more often than normal, without a good reason like a new extracurricular activity or recent illness, can point to more serious mental health problems when combined with other symptoms.
Like many of the symptoms on this list, struggling to concentrate is relatively common for teens because their brains don’t prioritize activities the same way a child or an adult would. Social relationships are usually the most important thing in a teen’s brain, so social situations and drama can easily steal focus from other tasks and activities.
That said, struggling to concentrate, or feeling like you can’t focus on what you’re doing aren’t necessarily normal, especially if the lack of ability to concentrate isn’t just situational. The more often you feel this way, and the more difficult it is to concentrate, the more likely this symptom is to be a sign of clinical depression.
Depression can make you both overeat, or not want to eat at all. Both symptoms are concerning, but they can also be difficult to spot in teens because it’s normal for teenage eating habits to shift as they grow and change.
Persistent under or overeating should both be addressed, however, as soon as they are noticed.
Psychomotor might sound like a weird symptom cluster, but it’s actually one of the easiest to notice in someone else, including your teen. Sometimes called psychomotor retardation, psychomotor symptoms are when someone is moving slower than average with no apparent reason, or the opposite, that they are going obviously faster than normal, also with no apparent reason.
These symptoms can show that something is happening in their brain, and they may not realize that they are moving faster or slower when it’s pointed out.
Once or twice with these symptoms can be dismissed, but consistently showing psychomotor changes may be cause for concern.
This last category is often the most concerning for parents and even for teens dealing with depression themselves. Suicide, as a symptom category, isn’t just talking about people thinking about or wanting to commit, or attempting suicide. It also refers to self-harm, excessive risk-taking behaviors, and otherwise not caring about your own health or wellbeing, feeling you deserve to be hurt, or a wide range of other potential behaviors and feelings.
This category can actually be pretty broad, and some people with depression may not deal with suicidal thoughts or intent, and may never self-harm. However, for people and especially teens who do suffer from symptoms in this cluster, they can be very concerning, and almost always call for immediate intervention.
While some acts of self-harm may be considered attention-seeking behaviors, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious, or that they don’t need and deserve to be given attention and treatment. There is no such thing as self-injury or suicidal ideation that isn’t serious.
Is Your Teen Struggling With Depression? Here’s How You Can Get Help
Getting effective help for a teen struggling with mental health disorders can feel like an uphill battle, not only to get treatment in the first place, but also to find the right combination of therapies, medications, and the right mental health professionals to fully address the problem.
Fortunately, if you’re a parent worried about depression or other mental health problems your teen is facing, you don’t have to do this on your own.
BasePoint Academy is here to help with mental health disorders, including finding the treatment combination that not only stabilizes your teen, but also helps them live life to the fullest and get back to their teenage life as soon as possible.
Contact BasePoint Academy to learn more about our treatment programs, how it works, and what kinds of treatment would be available to your teen if they enrolled here. We’re here to help teens live their best lives, and specialize in treating even the most complicated cases. We can help.
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 Pulcu E, Zahn R, Elliott R. National Library of Medicine. (2013, June 3). The role of self-blaming moral emotions in major depression and their impact on social-economical decision making. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670430/ on 2022, December 27