Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with depression? If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.
Learn about depression
Depressive disorders affect people of all ages and all different stages of life. Experiencing feelings of sadness is something that everyone faces at various times throughout their lives, but there are some people who experience such strong feelings of sadness and helplessness that it impairs their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. For these people, emotions begin to negatively affect their occupational social responsibilities, further perpetuating the cycle of depression.
Depressive disorders can present themselves in a variety of forms with varying stages of severity. The following are the most commonly recognized forms of depression:
Major depressive disorder occurs when a person experiences such extreme symptoms that it affects his or her ability to function in most aspects of his or her life. People suffering from major depressive disorder will find difficulty maintaining control of their ability to work, sleep, eat, and participate in activities that they once found enjoyable.
Minor depression occurs when a person experiences the symptoms of depression for more than two weeks but the symptoms are not severe enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. These people will experience significant levels of distress but not necessarily to the point where it interferes with their ability to function.
Dysthymia (or persistent depressive disorder) occurs when a person has suffered from depressive symptoms for two years or longer. These individuals struggle to maintain control of their emotions but do not typically suffer from an inability to function appropriately on a daily basis.
Late-life depression occurs when a person experiences the symptoms of depression for the first time during late adulthood, typically recognized after the age of 60. Late-life depression is characterized differently due to the fact that older individuals tend to experience the onset of depressive symptoms as a result of experiencing things that are more specific to that stage of life, including the death of close friends and family members, health deterioration, the changes of life surrounding retirement, and developing disabilities.
Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in the United States and throughout the world. It has been estimated that depression affects 1 in 10 Americans and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, major depression is the leading cause of disability for people between the ages of 15 and 44. Late-life depression in particular is said to affect 15 out of every 100 adults over the age of 65 in the United States.
Causes and risk factors for depression
There is not any one particular cause that has been identified as leading to the development of depressive disorders, but professionals in the field believe that it is a combination of factors working together that ultimately cause an individual to experience the onset of the disorder. Examples of these various factors can include:
Genetic: There is believed to be a strong genetic component involved in the development of depressive disorders. Depression is known to run in families, which suggests that its onset is largely hereditary. However, people without a family history of depression may still develop the disorder.
Physical: Neuroimaging studies that have been conducted on people who have depressive disorders have shown that there are structural differences in the areas of the brain that are responsible for one’s sleeping patterns, appetite, and behaviors. People who have depression are also said to have an imbalance of the brain chemicals that are responsible for regulating various physiological functions, including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. When these chemicals are imbalanced, the result can be improper regulation of one’s emotions, resulting in the symptoms of depression.
Environmental: Due to the fact that the brain is so malleable, it is constantly changing as a result of its experiences. As a result, it is a widely held belief that when people experience certain life events, such as major stressors or trauma, the changes in the brain can result in the onset of symptoms of depressive disorders.
- Being female (The National Institute of Mental Health reports that women are 70% more likely to experience depression during their lifetime than men are.)
- Family history of depression
- Family history of other mental illnesses
- History of substance abuse
- Chronic stress
- Major life changes
- Low socioeconomic status
- Suffering from trauma
- Poor social and familial support
Signs and symptoms of depression
The signs and symptoms of depressive disorders will vary from person to person depending on a number of different factors, including the severity of the disorder, the support system that the person has available to him or her, a person’s ability to implement appropriate coping mechanisms, and a person’s inherent personality traits. The length of time that a person has been suffering from the disorder will also play a role in the types of symptoms that he or she exhibits. Some examples of symptoms that a person suffering from a depressive order may display include:
- No longer participating in activities that one used to enjoy
- Self-harming behaviors
- Social isolation
- Unprovoked angry outbursts
- Inability to adhere to work responsibilities
- Difficulty maintaining household responsibilities
- Changes in appetite (having a poor appetite or eating excessively)
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in sleeping patterns (having difficult falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much)
- Lacking energy / constantly feeling fatigued
- Chronic headaches
- Bodily aches and pains
- Digestive problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slowed thinking
- Memory problems
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feeling overly critical of oneself
- Feelings of helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
Effects of depression
Depression and depressive disorders can be successfully overcome through various treatment interventions and the implementation of certain medications. When left untreated, however, depressive disorders can cause people to suffer from negative long-term effects, which can include:
- Social isolation
- Relationship problems
- Familial conflict
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Increased levels of anxiety
- Self-harming behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Depression and co-occurring disorders
There are a number of mental health disorders that can exist alongside depressive disorders. The most common of these co-occurring disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Other anxiety disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Eating disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance abuse disorders