epression is a painful condition that impacts millions of people per year. It afflicts people worldwide, regardless of age, gender, social status, or any other demographic factor. Depression can ruin a person’s life, causing unnecessary pain, sadness, anxiety and suffering, when there is no cause to experience those emotions.
What Is Depression
Depression is a medical term used to describe the impact of a low mood due to chemical imbalance in the brain, or the impact of ongoing difficult life events or unhelpful ways of thinking about them. It is often termed a whole-body disease, as it affects everything about the person, mind, body, work, social life, spirituality. In short, a diagnosis of depression can disrupt anyone’s life.
Depression will look different in different people. Since it affects the whole body, so the symptoms will be individual to each person. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, some common symptoms of depression include:
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities
• Decreased energy, fatigue, or being “slowed down”
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight changes
• Lack of interest in sexual, decreased libido
• Withdrawal from people or places, like work, church
• Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
• Restlessness or irritability, angry overreactions
• Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
Depression can also cause a flat mood, or no emotion at all. It is almost look any emotion would take more energy than the person has.
Although this may not seem like a depressive state of mind, angry outbursts, aggression, and easy irritability can also be symptoms of depression.
In the United States about 10% of the population has experienced a major depressive episode. While all age groups are susceptible to it, most often the illness starts when they are in their late teens to early 20’s.
What Depression Is Not
Depression is more than just being sad. It is a medical condition that lasts weeks or months, happening constantly. A true clinical depression will impact areas of a person’s life, preventing them from going to school, to having them be in the doctor’s office weekly for aches and pains that come with the disease. Depression is also not about being weak or lacking in willpower. It is a condition that ruins motivation and takes away a person’s energy and desires.
While depression causes hopelessness, there is hope. People suffering from a depression just cannot see it. There are many treatments and medications available now, so hope and help are out there. Depression does not last forever, and with help, it’s length can be cut short.
What Causes Depression
Depression can be caused by a couple of different factors. The two main ones are the person’s neurochemistry, and their thought patterns.
Neurochemistry plays a very important role in depression When there is not enough of the neurochemicals serotonin and dopamine, the brain tends to move towards depression. It also limits the amount of pleasure and happiness a person can experience.
Stressful events and the ways people interpret them also are major players in causes of depression. Everyone experiences a tragic or at the very least, an unfortunate event. People suffering from depression will view this as being much worse than the average person, and view life more negatively to begin with. People are not to be trusted, life is hard and only has sadness. This can be brought about by the ways they were raised and the events they experienced growing up.
To be clear, everyone gets sad, grieves, and mourns. This is a constant part of life, and in ways can help us grow and be stronger in the end. This is also not depression. Depression lasts longer than grief, and there is often no cause to be depressed. It just happens.
Subtypes of Depression
Depression is not a one-size fits all type disease. There are many symptoms people may have, and even subtypes and specific features that a diagnosis of depression may have. The subtypes include:
• Disruptive mood dysregulation (DMDD): Generally diagnosed in children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 18. It involves frequent temper tantrums that are not appropriate for the child’s age or situation.
• Major depression: The most common subtype. The symptoms are usually severe and impact daily life.
• Persistent depression or dysthymia: A depressed mood that lasts for over two years.
• Premenstrual dysphoria: Symptoms appear the week before one’s menses, then become minimal after menses.
• Substance/medication-induced depression: Depression that occurs during or soon after one is exposed to a substance. It could also occur during withdrawal.
• Depression related to another medical condition: Depression caused by the physiological effects of another medical condition.
• Other specified depressive disorders: This diagnosis applies when someone has depressive symptoms, but they do not qualify for any other subtype. A clinician will specify the reason the condition does not meet the criteria. The person may not have enough symptoms, or the depressive episode may have been too brief.
• Unspecified depression: This diagnosis is used when depressive symptoms do not meet the full criteria for a specific type, but the clinician does not specify why. A clinician may use this distinction when they do not have enough information to make a specific diagnosis (such as in an emergency room).
A depressive subtype might contain these specific features:
• Seasonal pattern: in which episodes occur at a certain time of year
• Peripartum onset: when symptoms occur during or immediately after pregnancy
• Anxious distress: including worry and restlessness
• Catatonia: strange movements or a lack of movement
• Mixed features: such as increased energy and inflated self-esteem
• Melancholic features: such as loss of pleasure, weight loss, and excessive guilt
• Atypical features: such as mood reactivity, weight gain, and hypersomnia
• Psychotic features: such as delusions and hallucinations
Depression can occur alongside other major mental illnesses, including substance abuse. It is in fact one of the most common mental health issues and can often be seen alongside other concerns.
Anxiety and depression are often seen together, and anxiety can sometimes be a symptom of depression. Disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often seen comorbid with depression.
Health issues, since it is a whole-body disease, are often a significant part of the illness. Individuals with health problems are not necessarily going to be depressed, but more people with depression have some type of health concern. It may be related to their diagnosis, or it may just be exacerbating something that is already there.
Substance abuse is also a very common co-occurring disorder with depression. Alcohol is frequently used as a coping mechanism by people suffering from depression. Using drugs or alcohol provide quick and effective relief from their immediate suffering, which unfortunately devolves into addiction and an even worse state than when they were just dealing with a depressive episode.
In pediatric mental health, DMDD has the highest rates of occurring with other mental illnesses. In children it often comes with unexplained emotional outbursts and defiant, or oppositional, behavior. This can also overlap other emotional disturbances of childhood, like anxiety disorders as well.
Depression in Men and Women
Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. This may simply be because women as a whole are more likely to seek help for problems than men are. Men are also less likely to talk about feelings and avoid doing things that make them appear weak. It also may be simply that depression presents differently in men than in women.
In men, depression looks more like anger and agitation than sadness and guilt. They present more of the physical problems, like insomnia, or feeling tired, or those vague aches and pains, than women. Men also choose less healthy ways of coping with depression, like substance use.
Women on the other hand look more like classical depression. Sad, weepy, feeling hopeless. They are also more likely to think about, and act on, thoughts of suicide. Women also experience certain subtypes of depression linked to their menstrual cycles, with the symptoms coming and going in time with their cycle.
Depression in Children
In the U.S. children are diagnosed with depression at high rates. Estimates are that 2% of children between the ages of 6-12 have depression, and that goes up to 7% for 13-18-year old’s.
This all may come from genetics, with children inheriting problems in their brain chemistry from their parents. It may also be a sign that an adult in their life is suffering from depression as well. Children will more likely experience depression if one or both of their parents are suffering with it and not getting appropriate care.
Depression Hurts Everyone
Depression impacts everyone, not just the person suffering from it. It alters a person’s ability to interact with and be there for their loved ones. Suddenly dad is not coming to sports events anymore. Mom and dad fight all the time. Drinking is involved. It becomes easy to see how one person’s depression suddenly blossoms into a family problem.
Depression is treatable, and there are many therapies and medications out there, so there is hope, even when it does not feel like it is. The first step is always reaching out and finding someone that treats depression to begin the healing and to find hope again.
If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, you can always call 911 and go to your local emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is (800) 273-8255