Depression 101: Top Things to Know

What is Depression?

Losing a loved one or getting fired from a job can cause someone to feel sad or helpless. These emotions are part of being human. However, depression is more than just an emotion. It’s a disorder that causes serious symptoms that can affect an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and daily activities. Left untreated, depression can devastate those who have it.

Depression is a psychiatric mood disorder. Individuals living with depression often experience low moods that are severe and persistent. Manifestations of depression are often linked to gender and age.

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The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that in men, depression often manifests as tiredness, irritability, and anger. Men may also misuse drugs and alcohol or engage in reckless behavior. They usually do not recognize these as symptoms of depression and fail to seek help. Women living with depression often experience sadness, worthlessness, and guilt.

For younger children, depression is likely to manifest as refusal to go to school and anxiety when separated from a parent. Teenagers living with depression are often irritable, sulky, and may get into trouble at school. They may also have co-morbid anxiety, eating disorders, or issues with substance misuse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Social media plays an important role in teenagers’ mental health. Platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram have contributed to a recent spike in teen depression and suicide for the “iGen” demographic.

Depression manifests itself subtly in older adults, since they tend to be less open about sadness, grief, or medical illnesses, which often contribute to or cause depression.

To be officially diagnosed with depression, someone must experience symptoms for at least two weeks. Depressive symptoms can manifest themselves in a few different ways, depending on the type of disorder.

Types of Depression

From psychotic depression to persistent depressive disorder, there are a number of classifications.

  • Persistent depressive disorder: a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. People diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression in addition to periods of less severe symptoms.
  • Postpartum depression: depression experienced by many women after giving birth. Women may experience major depressive disorder during pregnancy or after delivery.
  • Psychotic depression: occurs when someone with severe depression also has some form of psychosis, such as delusions or hallucinations.
  • Seasonal affective disorder: onset during winter, when there is less natural sunlight, and lifts during spring and summer. Symptoms include social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain.
  • Bipolar disorder: while different than depression, bipolar disorder includes extreme fluctuations in mood that can meet the criteria for major depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Signs and symptoms of depression present themselves nearly every day and vary from person to person. Sadness is just one of the many symptoms someone experiencing depression may face. Symptoms of depression can lead to a number of emotional and physical problems that decrease a person’s ability to function.

The severity and frequency of symptoms also differ by person. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

Again, symptoms must last two weeks before a diagnosis of depression is given.

What Causes Depression?

Depression isn’t triggered by a single cause. It can stem from a life crisis, physical illness, or something else entirely. It may also occur spontaneously. There are several factors believed to contribute to depression:

  • Trauma: experiencing trauma early in life can have long-term effects on how the brain responds to fear and stress, which may lead to depression.
  • Genetics: mood disorders, such as depression, often run in families.
  • Brain changes: depression affects the frontal lobe of the brain and is associated with changes in how the pituitary gland and hypothalamus respond to hormone stimulation.
  • Alcohol/Drug misuse: almost 30% of individuals who misuse drugs and alcohol also experience depression.
  • Other medical conditions: people who experience sleep disturbances, medical illness, chronic pain, and ADHD are more likely to develop depression. Some medical illnesses can mimic depressive disorder while a handful of medications can cause symptoms of depression.

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