What is Depression?



Overview

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a serious mood disorder that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It is a serious mental illness that is usually associated with feelings of persistent sadness, loss, or anger and can affect people’s ability to complete everyday activities. People may lose interest in activates they once found joy in. People may lose motivation to work resulting in becoming less productive. Additionally, people may experience a worsening in chronic health conditions. Chronic health conditions that can worsen due to depression include, arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Depression has been linked to many different emotional and physical problems, decreasing people’s ability to function in everyday life. Symptoms range from mild to severe. Feelings of sadness are a normal part of life, however people with depression feel sad and hopeless on a regular basis and it can grow worse and worse without proper treatment. People who seek treatment often find improvement in their symptoms within a few weeks.


Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms caused by depression. Some symptoms affect the body well others affect a person’s mood. Symptoms can be persistent, come and go, and range from mild to severe.

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness

  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports

  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort

  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain

  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness

  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame

  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide

  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches


Causes

With mental illness there often isn’t any specific known cause, however there are a variety of different factors that have been linked to the cause of depression, including:

  • Biological Factors: Biological factors such as, genes, hormones, and brain chemicals may be a possible cause of depression. Depression has been proven to run in families, suggesting people may inherit genes that make them more vulnerable to developing the illness. Over or underproducing certain hormones has also been researched as a possible cause of depression. Lastly, brain chemicals or neurotransmitters is believed to be a possible cause. There can be a reduced activity level of neurotransmitters, which regulates functions such as, sleep and appetite. Many antidepressants increase the neurotransmitters in the brain.

  • Psychological Factors: Psychological factors such as, thinking, loss, sense of failure and stress may be a possible cause of depression. Thinking patters like, overstressing or thinking that others are thinking negatively about you, have been associated with people with depression. Constant negative thoughts about oneself can put you in a negative headspace of feeling constantly sad. A specific event can occur such as, losing a loved one, a job, or a friend, that may cause someone into a depressive state. People having a sense of failure from not achieving specific goals such as, finding a spouse or getting a promotion might cause a sense of failure and begin or increase one’s depression. Lastly, being under immense amounts of stress from changes in life circumstances such as, financial issues or physical illness, may be a cause of depression.


Risk Factors

Below is list of risk factors, by Mayo Clinic, that have been seen to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression:

  • Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being too dependent, self-critical or pessimistic

  • Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems

  • Blood relatives with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or suicide

  • Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or having variations in the development of genital organs that aren't clearly male or female (intersex) in an unsupportive situation

  • History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs

  • Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease

  • Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills (talk to your doctor before stopping any medication)


Treatment

Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. To find treatment you will need to reach out to a health professional to be diagnosed. If you are diagnosed with depression a health professional may recommend a variety of different treatment options including:

  • Medication

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy)

  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)


Facts

  • Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, it is estimated that 5.0% of adults suffer from depression.

  • Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.

  • More women are affected by depression than men.

  • Depression can lead to suicide.

  • There is effective treatment for mild, moderate, and severe depression.


References

1. “Depression (Major Depressive Disorder).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Feb. 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007.

2. “Depression.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 13 Sept. 2021, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.

3. “What Is Depression?” American Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, Oct. 2020, https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression.

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