Feeling sad and lonely is a normal emotion, especially when you’re dealing with significant changes in life or grieving over the death of a loved one. However, experiencing sadness that causes you to feel worthless and hopeless about life for weeks may be a sign of something more serious—depression.
What Is Depression
Mental health experts classify depression as a mood disorder that causes a person to feel persistent loneliness and a lack of interest in life. People with depression experience helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, which lasts for days or even weeks.
Depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a common yet severe mental condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In fact, the World Health Organization discovered that depression had hit the lives of more than 260 million people around the world.
People with depression experience changes in their behavior and level of functioning. In most cases, depressed individuals find themselves functioning poorly at work, school, and in relationships. If left unchecked, depression can lead to suicide, which is the leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 29 years old.
Read more to discover everything you need to know about depression and why you shouldn’t ignore it.
Depression vs. Sadness
To help gain a better perspective, let’s compare how depression is different from sadness first.
Sadness is a normal reaction when we experience pain. Losing a job, the death of a loved one, or going through a rough break up, are some of the situations where we’ll typically feel lonely. When these situations occur, we go through the grieving process, which is a lot like depression.
Grieving and depression both involve feeling sadness. However, the loneliness one feels when grieving is temporary. During this process, a person’s emotion impairs their functioning. They may find themselves lacking in motivation, causing them to perform poorly in school or work. But as the sadness fades away, their motivation goes back to normal.
Unlike grieving, depression is not an emotion. It is a mental condition that causes you to feel sad regardless of your present circumstance. It also affects essential areas of your life, such as school, work, relationships, and self-esteem. When untreated, depression can lead to more serious mental disorders, even suicide.
As you can see, depression is something people should not take lightly. Signs and symptoms vary from person-to-person. Sometimes, these symptoms may not even be visible.
But the good news is, depression is certainly treatable. Whether or not you’re suffering from this debilitating disorder, you can benefit from understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatments available for people with depression.
Now that you understand how depression is more than just a case of the ”blues,” here are the signs and symptoms you should look out for:
- You continuously feel sadness or are depressed all the time.
- You feel exhausted or drained of energy most of the time.
- Your appetite changes causing either weight gain or loss.
- You’re unable to focus and make critical decisions.
- You lose interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed, such as hobbies, routine activities, and even sex.
- You find yourself having trouble staying asleep or sleeping too much almost every day.
- You feel empty and worthless, often blaming yourself and fixating on past failures.
- You experience unexplained pains in your body such as headaches, back pains, and digestive problems that don’t seem to get better even with treatment
- You’reYou’re having thoughts of death, suicide, and ending your life
Take note that depression can cause a variety of symptoms that affect your mood and body functions. Symptoms occur most of the day, and sometimes it can also come with a pattern, like seasonal affective disorder.
According to the DSM-5, a manual mental health professionals use to diagnose mental disorders; if you are experiencing five or more of these symptoms for at least two weeks, you might need to consult with a specialist.
Also, take note that depression does not only happen in adults. In fact, depression can occur in people of all ages, even children.
Although most of the symptoms mentioned earlier can also be observed in children and teenagers, there can be differences.
Common signs of depression among children:
- Low energy
- Persistent sadness
- Social withdrawal
- Refusing to go to school
- Frequent outbursts or crying
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Thoughts about death and suicide
- Constant stomachaches and headaches
Common signs of depression among teenagers:
- Low self-esteem
- Inflicts self-harm
- Feeling worthless
- Poor school performance
- Acts out or exhibits rebellious behavior
- Isolates themselves from family and friends
- Frequently in need of excessive reassurance
- Often thinking about death, dying, and suicide
- Often views life and the future as dark and hopeless
- Pays less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
- Having difficulty remembering things, making decisions, and concentrating
Regardless of current status, anyone can experience depressive symptoms in their lifetime. Although modern science has yet to figure out the definitive answer as to the real cause of depression, many mental health specialists believe it’s a combination of these:
- Researchers believe that individuals with relatives or ancestors who have a history of depression have a higher risk of developing depressive symptoms. It is important to note that scientists have yet to find the genes responsible for causing depression.
- Brain Structure. Researchers have discovered specific differences in brain structure when comparing the brain of individuals with depression from those without. Moreover, they also found out that individuals with inactive frontal lobes have a greater risk of developing depression.
- Changes in the levels of your hormones could set off depressive symptoms. Hormonal imbalance can occur during pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, thyroid complications, and other conditions.
- These are chemicals in your brain that play a vital role in regulating your mood. Some of these chemicals include dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can contribute to developing symptoms of depression.
- Exposure to trauma, violence, and abuse can affect how your body reacts to stressful situations, which can cause people to become more vulnerable to depression.
Types of Depression
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder (also known as unipolar depression) is the most common type of depression. In the United States alone, major depression has affected the lives of 16.2 million Americans. Its symptoms develop regardless of how well-established your life is. People with MDD experience five or more symptoms of depressive episodes for two or more weeks at a time.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent Depressive Disorder also referred to as Dysthymia, is a type of depression that lasts for two or more years. Symptoms of persistent depression are not as severe compared to major depression. However, this type of depression still has a significant effect on the quality of life of a patient.
Bipolar Disorder or manic depression is a subtype of major depression that features mania or hypomania. These are episodes where patients with Bipolar Disorder exhibit either extreme energy levels or feel immensely down. Bipolar disorder shares similar symptoms with major depression alongside having manic episodes. Mental health professionals observe that patients should have experienced manic episodes for the last seven days before diagnosing Bipolar Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Depression is also a subtype of major depressive disorder, which has a seasonal pattern. Patients with SAD often begin to observe depressive symptoms as the winter months arrive. Seasonal depression usually occurs in the wintertime due to minimal exposure to natural light, which affects your body’s rhythm. This change eventually causes more vulnerability to depression.
Depressive psychosis is a type of depression that have similar symptoms as major depression along with psychotic features such as:
- These are tightly held beliefs that do not make sense because they are purely based on a misinterpretation of reality.
- These are sensations that only exists inside the mind of an individual with psychosis.
- Irrational thinking causes you to assume that someone wants to cause you harm.
Perinatal Depression occurs during pregnancy or the first few weeks after childbirth. Women experience perinatal depression due to changes in their hormone levels during pregnancy and childbirth. These imbalances in their hormones can cause mood swings, anxiety, and even thoughts of inflicting harm towards themselves or their infant child.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Similar to perinatal depression, PMDD is believed to be related to hormonal changes. It’s only common for women to experience heightened irritability and mood swings before their menstrual cycle as they go through Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). However, women with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder experience depressive episodes prior to and during their period. These episodes can cause severe depression, irritability, and tension.
Situational Depression occurs when a person has difficulty managing stressful situations, like the death of a loved one, unemployment, divorce, receiving news of a severe illness, or being in an abusive relationship.
Atypical Depression is often distinguished for having mood reactivity. In other words, a person with atypical depression can see improvements in their mood when they experience a positive event.
Effects Of Depression
Depression in and of itself is dangerous. It’s an illness that affects your mind, body, and emotions significantly. When you’re depressed, you either binge eat or stop eating entirely. Your self-image lowers alongside your self-worth.
Major depression could cause serious problems when left untreated. Failing to seek medical advice can increase the severity of depressive symptoms and other health risks.
Here are some of the possible effects of depression on your health:
- Difficulty in making health care choices causing to develop severe life-threatening diseases like coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Depression can also cause changes in your sleep pattern. One common symptom of depressed patients experience is insomnia (inability to get enough sleep). Not having enough sleep can cause fatigue, inability to focus, and irritability.
- Untreated depression can lead to suicide. 90% of people who die from suicide have depression and other mental disorders. If you or anyone you know are having thoughts about suicide, do not take it lightly. Suicide is very, very serious. Call your emergency hotline whenever you feel like attempting to harm yourself.
When symptoms of depression arise, you simply cannot pull yourself out of the situation, nor can you tough it out. Nevertheless, depression is certainly treatable.
Before coming up with a diagnosis, mental health professionals may conduct physical examinations, extract blood samples, and most importantly, talk to patients.
Proper treatment, such as psychotherapy and medication is necessary in order to counter the effects of depression. Common treatments for depression include psychotherapy, medication, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and other natural alternative therapies.
As mentioned earlier, the neurotransmitters in the brain may contribute to developing depression. Believe it or not, these chemicals, too, can aid in treating depression.
To help treat depression, mental health professionals may prescribe antidepressants to help adjust a patient’s brain chemistry.
Psychotherapy, or ”talk therapy,” can be used alone or combined with antidepressant medications to treat mild to severe depression, respectively.
One form of psychotherapy that doctors have found useful is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to help individuals counter depression through problem-solving in the present. In CBT, therapists help a person catch negative thoughts so patients can react more positively.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a medical procedure that involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is unconscious. It is reserved for patients with severe depression and is usually one of the therapists’ last resorts if patients do not show signs of improvement using antidepressant medication and undergoing psychotherapy.
Besides medical treatment and talk therapy, therapists may also prescribe additional treatments to help increase recovery. Some of these self-help treatments may include incorporating proper diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep.
Eating healthier does not necessarily mean curing depression right off the bat. However, having a healthy diet consisting of foods rich in omega-3 and fatty acids can help ease depression.
Regular exercise boosts chemicals in your body that help makes you feel good. Staying active can also help strengthen your body and immune system, allowing you to lessen the aches and pains you experience from depression.
Getting enough sleep is also essential to increasing your energy throughout the day.
Clinical depression isn’t something to trifle with. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, check with your nearest mental health care provider. They can help you address what you’re feeling, make a diagnosis if necessary, and work beside you as you heal.