Depression can make it difficult to eat, work, sleep, or take care of yourself and others. Even though it is a feeling, anxiety can also bring on unpleasant physical sensations and bothersome thoughts. Additionally, depression can be worsened by difficult life circumstances, other mental health conditions, or medical conditions.
Depression is one of the most universally experienced mental health conditions, so if you are battling it, know that you aren’t alone. Treatment for depression is usually highly effective and help is available for you.
Depression – what is it and what causes it?
Depression, also known as depressive disorder or clinical depression, is usually diagnosed when a person’s symptoms have persisted for at least two weeks and have had a significant impact on their life.
Depression affects as many as 1 in 15 adults, according to the American Psychological Association, and over 16 percent of adults will have a bout of depression in their lifetimes. Depression can be experienced as a one-time episode, but many people experience it chronically.
Depressive disorders can strike anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status or race or gender, but some groups are more vulnerable than others. For example, women are more likely to experience depression than men: a third of women experience a depressive episode during the course of their lives. Depression often runs in families; if you have a close relative who is depressed, your chances of developing depression are 40 percent higher.
Depression doesn’t just affect one’s mood. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression increases your risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases by 40 percent . A high school dropout rate is twice as high for students who suffer from depression in their teens. Substance abuse and unemployment are more common in people who suffer from depression and mental illness.
Hearing all of these numbers may leave you feeling a little down. Most importantly, though, it’s important to know that depression is highly treatable. Depression can be successfully treated with a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and dietary and lifestyle changes.
Talking about depression — and reaching out for help — is often stigmatised by society, which makes it hard for people battling depression to get the help they need. Educating yourself and others about depression, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment options is critical in light of these facts.
An Overview of Depression’s Symptoms
Feeling that depression is more than just a bad mood is critical. For many, depression is experienced emotionally, physically, and might include intrusive thoughts, as well as suicidal ideation. Depression symptoms make it hard to participate in everyday life and complete basic tasks. Additionally, activities that used to be enjoyable may lose their happiness or meaning, and depression may cause individuals to distance themselves from others.
There is no one way for someone to experience depression. Depressive symptoms can be present on a daily basis or fluctuate from one episode to the next.
Depression Symptoms To Look Out For
Here are some of ways that depression may present itself and common symptoms:
- Altered Sleep: changes in sleep patterns, including sleeping more or less than usual
- Changes in Appetite: changes in appetite including overeating, losing your appetite, or losing interest in food
- Concentration & Cognition Challenges: an inability to concentrate, struggling to keep your concentration, and/or “fuzzy” thinking, trouble remembering things. This can also include slowed thoughts or speech.
- Low Energy Levels: feeling sluggish or having low energy
- Loss of Interest: feeling less interested or not interested at all in activities that used to be pleasurable
- Reduced self-esteem, diminished self-confidence, and a feeling of insignificance are all symptoms of low self-esteem.
- Heightened Emotions: feelings of hopelessness and feeling worthless, increased agitation or anger
- Intrusive Thoughts: negative thoughts about yourself that come throughout the day, whether triggered by something in your environment or not
- Inability to sit still, increased pacing, and hand wringing are all symptoms of restlessness.
- Decision-making Problems: inability to make decisions, no matter how simple or complex they appear to be.
- Back pain and other non-injury related aches and pains are examples of physical discomfort.
- Suicidal Thoughts: having thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation
It’s important to keep in mind that suicidal ideation is considered a medical emergency, and you shouldn’t wait to seek care. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please go to the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). (800-273-8255).
Depression Symptoms By Age Groups
Age can also affect the severity of depression symptoms. As an illustration:
- Depression in children may present as refusing to go to school, being extra clingy to parents, or experiencing physical symptoms such as stomachaches.
- Older children and adolescents may experience difficulties at school, inability to complete school work, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and ADHD symptoms. Eating disorders and substance abuse are common in depressed adolescents.
- Adults may experience depression at pivotal moments in their lives or during major life changes. Young adults may experience other mental health disorders alongside their depression, such as anxiety, panic disorder, and eating disorders. Insomnia and gastrointestinal symptoms are common in the middle years of life.
- Grief, generalised depression, and loneliness are all common in elderly people who are depressed.
Identifying And Preventing the Roots Of Depression
Depression can have several causes, and certain people may be at more risk than others for developing depression. People battling depression may be prone to placing blame on themselves but feeling depressed is never your fault. When a person is depressed, it’s usually because of circumstances or causes outside their direct control. Keep this in mind as you begin the process of understanding your depression and healing from it.
Causes of Depression
When it comes to depression, it’s common for there to be several contributing factors. When someone who is predisposed to depression is confronted with adversity or trauma, it is common for depression to set in.
The Most Common Causes of Depression Include:
It’s not uncommon for people with a predisposition to depression to inherit the illness from their parents or grandparents.
Traumatic events and circumstances can trigger depression. Older traumas, such as abuse as a child, or more recent ones, like the unexpected death of a loved one, war, poverty, or an earthquake, can all fall under this category. A person’s brain and body’s reaction to stress can be altered if they have experienced repeated or early trauma.
Traumas are not the only events that can trigger depression. Major life disruptions such as job loss, moving, and divorce can trigger depression or depressive episodes.
An increased risk of depression is seen in those who suffer from medical conditions such as chronic pain, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or sleep disorders. Medicines prescribed for medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, can cause depressive symptoms in patients who aren’t depressed at all.
Abuse of drugs or alcohol
People who have issues with substance abuse are more likely to experience depression. Alcohol, for example, has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of depression.
Changes in hormones
Major hormonal changes, including puberty, pregnancy and postpartum, as well as menopause, can trigger depression.
Differences in biology and the brain
People who experience depression may have brain differences. For example, people with depression may have differences in how their pituitary gland and hypothalamus interact with their hormones, or how neurotransmitters function in their brain and body.
Depression Risk Factors
Certain people and population groups may be at higher risk of developing depression than others. As an illustration:
- Women are more likely to experience depression than men, although this may be because women are more likely to seek care for their symptoms.
- Trauma such as childhood abuse or neglect, the death of a loved one, financial hardship, or any difficult or sudden life change, may make someone more prone to depression.
- If they don’t get the support they need because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, people who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to suffer from depression.
Depression can also be exacerbated by the following life events:
- Knowing that you or a loved one suffers from depression or another mental illness
- Possessing a personal history of mental health issues such as postpartum depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Suffering from an ongoing disease, such as fibromyalgia, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.
- Having a history of drug and alcohol abuse
- Taking any medication that may cause depressive symptoms, such as blood pressure medication or medication to help you sleep
Just as different people have different reactions to depression’s symptoms, so too does depression itself come in a variety of forms. A person’s symptoms, the circumstances that set off the depression, and other overlapping mental health conditions with depressive symptoms all play a role in the different types of depression.
More than one type of depression can occur at the same time. The best way to find out what type of depression you are experiencing is to visit your doctor or psychiatrist for a diagnosis. For example, if you have bipolar disorder and have recently given birth to a child, you may experience postpartum depression. Or perhaps you suffer from a chronic depression that is exacerbated by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) during the winter.
Most Common Types of Depression
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder is considered the “classic” type of depression. The symptoms of this type of depression are long-lasting, and the sufferer may feel as if a dark cloud hangs over him or her all the time. They may become disinterested in once-enjoyable activities and have difficulty completing even the most basic of daily tasks. The most common symptoms of major depressive disorder include issues with sleeping, eating, and weight loss or gain. It is typical to experience feelings of extremely low self-esteem and worthlessness. Some people with major depressive disorder also have suicidal thoughts. Those who suffer from major depressive disorder can be treated with therapy and/or medication.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
When someone experiences symptoms of depression for two years or more, they may be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia. Having persistent depressive disorder doesn’t necessarily mean that that person has been intensely depressed for two years — they may have had a combination of less severe symptoms mixed with severe ones. In this case, it’s assumed that the signs and symptoms have persisted for at least two years. People with persistent depressive disorder may be highly functional at times, but still experience low, depressive moods. Symptoms may also include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, energy, and low self-esteem.
Depression and manic or euphoric symptoms alternate in a person with bipolar disorder, which is not the same thing. Someone with bipolar disorder usually has “high” periods (mania) followed by extremely “low” periods (hypomania) (hypomania). Bipolar is a serious mental health disorder that requires psychiatric care and medication.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is experienced primarily during the darker, colder fall and winter months. The absence of natural sunlight, as well as fewer social interactions, less exercise, and more time spent indoors, are all thought to play a role in this disorder. Treatments involve light therapy as well as psychotherapy or medication.
A person who has psychotic depression experiences severe depression symptoms alongside psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. Delusions are beliefs that are not based in reality, and hallucinations are when someone has the experience of seeing or hearing things that do not exist. A person who experiences psychotic depression needs to seek therapy and medication for psychosis as well as depression.
Postpartum depression is something experienced by 1 in 7 new parents. Postpartum depression should be distinguished from the “baby blues,” which is a period of mild depressive symptoms that almost all new parents experience after giving birth due to hormonal and lifestyle changes. Postpartum depression involves more serious and consistent depressive symptoms and is usually diagnosed when these symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks. Parents with postpartum depression may feel that they are terrible parents, and may experience extreme sadness, guilt, and anxiety about parenting. They may also have difficulty taking care of themselves or their children.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
An extreme form of premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is diagnosed in women who have it (PMS). This is more common in the last week before a woman’s period, but it can begin as early as the week after ovulation and last for about two weeks until an expected period. Medication, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may relieve some PMDD symptoms. Lifestyle changes, including stress reduction and exercise, can also help PMDD symptoms.
When you experience situational depression, you may experience many of the same symptoms as major depressive disorder, but your depression may be triggered by a specific situation or major life event, and may not be as long lasting a major depressive disorder. Divorce, the death of a loved one, or any major life change can serve as triggers.
Depression that Isn’t Usually Associated with Me
A person who experiences atypical depression may experience many of the same symptoms as someone who has major depressive disorder, but they are also able to experience moments of happiness and a lifting of the depression symptoms. This can occur if they are uplifted in some way, such as hearing good news. However, when these feelings die down, this person is still likely to slip into an intense and all encompassing depression.
There is hope for even the most severe cases of depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 80-90 percent of people who seek treatment for their depression respond positively. Almost everyone who receives treatment feels better or has fewer symptoms as a result of the treatment. If you’re in a relationship with someone who has depression, or if you know someone who has it, encourage them to seek help.
Before being treated for depression, it’s important that you receive a proper diagnosis. Since certain medical conditions — like thyroid issues, hormonal issues, or vitamin deficiencies — can have similar symptoms to depression, most experts recommend that you get a full medical workup before being diagnosed with depression. If everything else is ruled out, you may be diagnosed with depression by your doctor or by a psychiatrist.
There are several different ways to treat depression and treatment can work better if different methods are combined. For example, lifestyle changes may not be effective alone, but when combined with therapy and medication, they can propel you faster toward healing from depression.
One of the best ways to deal with depression is through psychotherapy. Having an experienced, licenced therapist or counsellor to talk to — someone who will listen and advise without judgement — can make a huge difference as you begin the journey of recovery. A therapist can help understand the origins of your depressive feelings, offer a safe place to express your thoughts and feelings, and can help you come up with effective ways to cope. These days, therapists work both in-person and virtually; there is a way to fit therapy into almost any lifestyle.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), psychodynamic therapy (PDT), and interpersonal therapy (IT) are the most commonly used treatments for depression. Depression can be treated with therapy alone in some cases, but medication and therapy are often needed to treat severe cases of depression.
There are a variety of medications for depression. Antidepressants are used to treat a large number of depression cases. These medications affect the neurotransmitters in your brain — serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine — that control your mood and how you react to stress. The most common types of antidepressants prescribed are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (SSRIs). Other antidepressants include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) (MAOIs).
Many factors must be taken into account when selecting an antidepressant, such as the severity of your depression, how well it is responding to treatment, and how well it will interact with your body. It can take 2 – 4 weeks for an antidepressant to work, so it’s important to be patient and keep in touch with your doctor. It’s also important not to go “cold turkey” and quickly stop taking an antidepressant, as doing so can have negative physical and emotional side effects. Your doctor can help you with a gradual decrease in dosage.
Antidepressants are necessary for some people on a regular basis, while for others, depending on their personal circumstances, they may only be necessary for a few months or years. There is no shame in needing to take antidepressants. Many people’s lives are transformed by these drugs, and for those who are on the verge of taking their own life, they may be a lifesaver.
Wellness and Self-Help Strategies
Most depression treatment plans also involve lifestyle changes or natural remedies. The way we eat, move, and interact with others can all have a significant impact on our mood and our ability to deal with depression effectively. Here are some tips:
Getting your heart rate up and your limbs moving can do wonders for your mood. Stress levels can be reduced through the release of endorphins during physical activity. Exercising does not necessitate that you run or lift weights in order to reap the benefits of it. A walk around the block or an impromptu dance party works just fine.
Consciously establish healthy habits.
Getting enough sleep, eating regular, healthy meals, decreasing your alcohol intake, and creating a daily routine can help get you out of the rut of depression. Regular meditation or journaling can also be extremely beneficial.
Talk about it
In addition to seeing a therapist or counsellor on a regular basis, confiding in a few close friends or family members can help you work through your emotions and feel more supported. If you are having trouble finding these people, look for depression support groups, either online or in person. Keeping your feelings bottled up only exacerbates depression, so finding a safe space to let them out is vital.
Recognize your limitations.
Depression management may be easier if you set attainable goals for yourself. Recovery from depression is a process that may include bumps in the road. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. It’s a huge first step to simply decide that you want to feel better.
The Bottom Line
If you are struggling with depression — whether it’s something you’ve battled your whole life, or whether you are facing it for the first time — there is support out there for you. You don’t have to “put up” with depression. Everyone deserves to live a full, balanced, and happy life.