What is Depression?

Major depressive disorder, commonly referred to as 'depression,' is a common, but often serious, mood disorder that impacts millions of people every year. It affects your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and can have an impact on you both physically and emotionally. People with depression often have lost interest in activities that used to get them excited, and feel sad or like life is not worth living much of the time. It is important to know that depression is not something people can just ‘snap out of’ – but, with the right treatment plan, feeling better is possible.

Depression Symptoms

In order to be diagnosed with depression, individuals must be experiencing their symptoms daily for at least two weeks. Some common depression symptoms include:

  • Losing interest in activities that were once fun or exciting
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or ‘empty’
  • Difficulty with sleep – either sleeping too much (hypersomnia) or not enough (insomnia)
  • Changes in eating patterns that impact weight – either eating more or eating less
  • Being easily frustrated or irritable
  • Thoughts of suicide or that life is not worth living – call 911 immediately
  • Lack of energy and feeling tired
  • Physical aches and pains that do not have a distinct cause
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

Often, depression symptoms look different in different populations.

Depression symptoms in men include:

  • Feeling reckless or ‘on edge’
  • Anger and aggression
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Excessive substance use

Depression symptoms in children can include:

  • Increased crying or yelling
  • Decreased functioning at school and at home
  • Refusing to attend school (school refusal)
  • Incapacitating self-doubt and ‘what ifs’
  • Lower tolerance for frustration

Depression symptoms are usually present most of the day, every day. Often, symptoms are severe enough to impact performance at work/school, and may impact life at home as well.

Types of Depression

There are many different types of depression; each has its own set of DSM-V diagnostic criteria:

  • Major depressive disorder: symptoms must be present for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
  • Treatment-resistant depression: at least three courses of treatment for depression have not been effective in relieving symptoms.
  • Postpartum depression: Develops during pregnancy or after the birth of a child. Postpartum depression is more than just the ‘baby blues,’ which usually go away on their own approximately two weeks after delivery. Learn more about postpartum depression.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Symptom onset occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less natural light; symptoms usually get better when the weather gets warmer and days get longer. Learn more about seasonal affective disorder.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): symptoms of depression have been occurring consistently for more than two years. There may be time periods when symptoms are not as severe.

Depression Causes and Risk Factors

Researchers do not know exactly what causes depression. Here are some of the known risk factors of depression:

  • Having a relative with depression or another mood disorder
  • Experiencing a major life event, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a traumatic event
  • Biological and brain differences: individuals who experience depression often have altered levels of neurotransmitters, and may have a slightly different brain structure
  • A history of substance use issues
  • Having a serious or chronic physical condition such as cancer or heart disease
  • Having another mental health condition

Some medications may also put people at risk of developing depression; always talk to your doctor about the side effects of any medication prescribed. It is also important to not suddenly start or stop a medication without consulting your doctor.

Treatment for Depression

Talk to your doctor if you're experiencing any depression symptoms. You and your doctor can come up with the right treatment plan that meets your needs. Depression is often treated with a combination of medication, therapy, and support. 

Medication: Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and mood stabilizers can help you start feeling better. Talk to your doctor about the right option for you.

Therapy: A therapist can help you find coping strategies and learn ways to manage your mood disorder. Find care options available through Sheppard Pratt by using our Care Finder.

Education: Learning more about depression and other mood disorders can help you recognize them and their triggers. Visit the Knowledge Center to learn more about mental health conditions.

Support: Getting the support that you need can help you feel better faster. Locate a support group at Sheppard Pratt. 

Read More About Depression

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