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The Basics Everyone Should Know About Depression

Do you know what depression is and how to spot it? Odds are, if you don't suffer from it yourself, you may not have a clue. Depression can be subtle, and often goes untreated because of common misconceptions.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not simply feeling "blue" or down in the dumps. It's a legitimate illness that can debilitate or threaten your life.

Here are some basics about depression that everyone should know to recognize the condition, get help, and support others who may be struggling.

What is Depression?

At its core, depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy. It can significantly interfere with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy life.

Depression is not simply a case of the "blues." It's a serious medical condition affecting your mind and body.

Some of its manifestations are poor concentration, tiredness, changes in appetite, and decreased sex drive. It can also disturb sleep and cause aches and pains.

Of course, every case is different, and not everyone experiences the same symptoms. Some people may feel hopeless like they can't go on living. Others may have thoughts of suicide.

Its effects also vary in severity. It may be a mild case lasting only a few weeks for some people. Others may have a more severe form that persists for months or even years.

Depression is also the leading cause of suicide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it causes around 700,000 suicides each year and is the fourth leading cause of suicide globally among people aged 15 to 29.

Depression is treatable, though. With proper medical care and support, most people with depression can get better.

How Many People Suffer from Depression?

Depression is a common mental health disorder. It significantly contributes to the global burden of disease and affects people of all ages, genders, and social groups.

In fact, WHO estimates that roughly 280 million people suffer from depression globally. That's about 4% of the world's population.

In the United States alone, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that 21 million adults (8.4% of the adult population) had at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

The same report showed women (10.5%) are more prone to depression than men (6.2%). Persons between 18 to 25 years old (17%) are also more likely to experience a major depressive episode than any other age group.

The NIMH report also revealed that depression is more common in multi-racial adults (15.9%) or those with two or more races in their background compared to adults who only identify with one race (7.6%).

Moreover, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience depression than their heterosexual peers, and transgender youth are twice more likely to suffer from depression.

Depression chooses no one. It can affect anyone at any time in their lives, so it's important to be aware of the risks and warning signs.

What Causes Depression?

There is no single cause for depression.

Various events or circumstances can trigger it, such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or financial problems. Other risk factors include a family history of depression, chronic illness, childhood trauma, and substance abuse.

Chemical imbalances in the brain also play a role in causing the condition. These imbalances may be due to genetic factors, changes in hormone levels, or certain medical conditions.

For instance, people with low serotonin levels are more likely to experience depression. Those with an underactive thyroid gland may also be at an increased risk.

Other mental health disorders can also bring depression, such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How Do You Diagnose Depression?

Mental health professionals usually diagnose depression using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria.

To be diagnosed, a person must meet at least five from a list of nine symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Poor concentration
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Loss of pleasure or interest
  • Feeling of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Weight gain or loss

These manifestations must cause significant distress or impairment in social life, work, or other areas of functioning. The individual must also not be under the influence of any substances (e.g., drugs or alcohol) or have any other medical conditions that could explain their symptoms.

What are the Types of Depression?

According to Harvard Medical School, there are six main types of depression:

1. Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression) – This is the most common type of depression. People with major depression experience low energy, unstable weight or appetite, troubled sleep, and melancholiness most days and for at least two weeks. They are in a somber mood and lose interest in activities they normally enjoy. It is usually treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

2. Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) – This is a milder but more long-lasting form of depression. People with dysthymia experience low energy, unstable weight or appetite, troubled sleep, melancholiness, hopelessness, and poor self-esteem for at least two years. They are not severely disabled but still have trouble functioning and often feel down. The treatment for dysthymia is similar to major depression.

3. Bipolar Disorder – This is a type of depression that involves cycles of manic episodes (highs) and depressive episodes (lows). During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder feel elated, have boundless energy, and become abnormally productive. They may also act impulsively and make poor decisions. A depressive episode, on the other hand, is marked by low energy, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and decreased productivity. Bipolar disorder is usually treated differently from other types of depression depending on which stage the person is in.

4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – This form of depression occurs during the fall and winter months when days get shorter and sunlight is less prevalent. It's due to the body's natural rhythms getting out of sync with the changes in the seasons. Symptoms include low energy, social withdrawal, increased appetite, and weight gain. The condition is often treated with light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a special lightbox that emits full-spectrum light, medication, and psychotherapy. 

Types Unique to Women

5. Peripartum (Postpartum) Depression – This type of depression occurs in women during the weeks or months after they give birth. The sudden drop in hormones that occurs after childbirth triggers this condition. Its symptoms include anxiety, sadness, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and difficulty bonding with the baby. Postpartum depression is treated with medication, psychotherapy, and support groups.

6. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – This is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that affects about 3% to 8% of women of childbearing age. Women with PMDD experience symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression, and trouble sleeping during the two weeks before their period starts. These symptoms go away once their period begins. PMDD is treated with medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress reduction.

What are the Symptoms and Patterns of Depression?

The symptoms and patterns of depression vary depending on the type of the condition.

However, there are some common signs and symptoms that all kinds of depression have in common, such as:

  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Persistent thoughts of death or suicide

Depression varies in severity, how long it lasts, and how often it occurs. Some people experience depression as a single episode that goes away after weeks or months. For others, it is a recurring condition that may last for years, coming and going in cycles. People may have periods of remission, where their symptoms lessen or go away completely for a while, only to return later.

Depression also differs in its manifestations. Some people may only experience a few mild symptoms. In contrast, others may have more severe ones that interfere with their ability to function in their everyday lives.

Likewise, it can also be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild depression may cause some people to feel a little down, but they can still function normally. Moderate depression can make it difficult to do everyday activities, while severe depression can make it impossible for a person to get out of bed, go to work, or take care of themselves.

The symptoms of depression can also vary depending on a person's age and gender. For example, depression in older adults may manifest differently than in younger people.

Older adults with depression may be more likely to have physical complaints, such as fatigue, aches, pains, or digestive problems. They may also be more likely to withdraw from social activities and have difficulty concentrating. In contrast, younger children and adolescents with depression may be more likely to have temper tantrums, rebel against authority figures, or withdraw from friends and activities.

Women may also experience depression differently than men. Women are more likely to have symptoms of sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt. They are also more likely to experience changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to have symptoms of anger, irritability, and substance abuse. They are also more likely to take risks and engage in risky behaviors.

How Do You Treat Depression?

The most common treatment for depression is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Medication

Medication helps relieve the symptoms of depression and is often used in conjunction with psychotherapy. The most commonly prescribed medications for depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are a type of antidepressant.

Other antidepressants include tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These medications can have side effects, such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and dry mouth.

Therefore, discussing the potential risks and benefits of these medications with a healthcare provider before starting them is important.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another common treatment for depression. It involves discussing one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a therapist.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is particularly effective in treating depression. CBT helps people change the negative thoughts and behaviors associated with their depression.

Other types of psychotherapy that may help treat depression include interpersonal therapy and problem-solving therapy.

Like medication, psychotherapy can have side effects. These may include feeling worse before feeling better and feeling exposed or vulnerable during therapy.

As with medication, it is important to discuss psychotherapy's potential risks and benefits with a healthcare provider before starting it.

Other Treatments

In addition to medication and psychotherapy, other treatments can help manage depression. Exercise is an effective treatment for depression. It also has the added benefit of being free of side effects.

Light therapy (exposure to artificial light) and electroconvulsive therapy (electrical stimulation of the brain) are other potential treatments for depression. These treatments are typically used when medication and psychotherapy have not been effective.

It is important to note that depression is a serious mental illness, and it should not be attempted to be treated without professional help. If you think you may be suffering from depression, please reach out to a healthcare professional.

Can a Person Heal From Depression?

Depression is a serious mental illness, but it is treatable. With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with depression can experience significant symptom relief.

However, depression can be a chronic illness. There is a risk of the symptoms returning even after a person experiencing the condition achieves symptom relief.

Therefore, it is important to continue treatment even after symptoms have improved. This can help prevent a relapse of depression and help people live symptom-free lives.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has helped you understand a little bit more about depression and its various causes. Remember, if you are feeling depressed, it is important to seek professional help from specialists like those at Jackson House. Depression is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. With the right treatment, however, it is possible to live a happy and fulfilling life.

About the author

Jackson House

Jackson House

We built Jackson House because we realized there was a critical gap in our healthcare system and many individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems were struggling because of it. While there are many outpatient treatment options and locked, inpatient facilities there was nothing in the middle. Nothing to help people who needed around the clock care but wanted to receive treatment voluntarily, on their own terms. Jackson House is different. We provide clients with the level of care they need in a welcoming environment. When you walk through our doors, we will meet you wherever you’re at and help you on your journey toward feeling better.

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