Clinical depression is often misunderstood, partially because the term “depression” is sometimes used out of context in the English language. A consequence of these misunderstandings is that some don't even realize that they are experiencing depression. Likewise, if you suspect someone you know has depression, it may be very difficult to determine based on popular perception of what it is.
What Is Depression?
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, depression is a mood disorder defined as “extreme sadness or despair that lasts more than days and interferes with the activities of daily life and can cause physical symptoms such as pain, weight loss or gain, sleeping pattern disruptions, or lack of energy.”
There are many different types of depression, including major depression, persistent depressive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. The most common type is major depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “An estimated 21.0 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 8.4% of all U.S. adults.” The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that while the causes of depression are highly complex, brain chemistry and genetics may play a role in increasing the risk of developing depression.
Depression may also be linked to other disorders such as anxiety disorder and panic disorder, whose symptoms occur more frequently during a depressive episode. For some individuals the symptoms of depression may remain mild. However, for others, a major depressive episode may lead to suicidal thoughts or ideation.
If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately using local emergency number. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.
While depression is prevalent worldwide, there are also other diseases and disorders that mimic depression. Conditions like thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, and brain tumors can all demonstrate the same symptoms as depression. To rule out these other causes your doctor may do lab tests or advanced imaging to ensure that they are not the cause of your depressive symptoms.
Why You May Not Recognize Depression
The psychological factors that influence depression vary from person to person and sometimes people’s behaviors and unique personalities make it difficult to discern whether they are experiencing depression symptoms or not. For example, some individuals are highly demonstrative when it comes to their emotions, while others with equally strong feelings might not show this externally.
Sometimes changes in routine, behavior, or sudden lifestyle changes may have explanations other than depression, as well. Someone who doesn’t socialize as often as usual might be avoiding people because of depression. Or they may simply have worked longer hours or are focused on a new relationship.
In addition, some who experience depression don't want to discuss it publicly. There are many reasons this may be the case, including societal stigma or fear of being stereotyped. Some may even regard depression as a “weakness” that will affect their standing within a group dynamic, or they might not want to cause worry for those they are close to.
There are many misconceptions about depression, but it’s vital to recognize that it is a legitimate health issue that may evolve into other conditions if left untreated.
What Are Signs Of Depression?
Understanding signs of depression or depressive symptoms can be challenging because each person is unique and complex in their own way.
The signs of depression can look very different from person to person and may depend upon variables like timing, circumstances, cultural or familial influences, past experiences, and more. There are, however, some relatively common signs of depression that may provide you with some clues about a person’s mental state:
Loss Of Or Increase In Appetite
A total lack of desire for food may be a serious symptom of either depression or other medical conditions. This points to the possibility of an unhealthy cycle of lack of appetite as a symptom of depression, leading to poor nutrition, which exacerbates the symptoms of depression.
Paradoxically, some people who experience depression can feel compelled to overeat. This demonstrates that how much a person eats doesn’t necessarily signal depression; it’s the change in behaviors around eating that may be an indicator.
Engaging In Risky Behaviors
There are several potential motivations behind why people experiencing depression may exhibit risk-seeking behaviors, one of the most common being the misuse of drugs and alcohol. A recently published article by American Addiction Centers notes: “Mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, are often recognized as a driving factor behind a person’s misuse of drugs or alcohol.”
But numbing behaviors as a potential indicator of depression aren’t limited to drugs or alcohol. Distracting or numbing behaviors may include gambling, self-harm, sex, or pornography. People may also turn to binge eating or compulsive shopping – even a person’s job or career can be a source of compulsion.
Physical Symptoms Of Depression
Depression is not exclusively a mental illness. It affects the body as well as the mind and can be a contributing factor to many emotional and physical problems or health conditions, ranging from heart disease to digestive problems to frequent headaches. Bodily pain that doesn't respond to medical treatment is also a common sign of depression.
Beyond this, many people who are feeling depressed are prone to fatigue and difficulty concentrating. As with other depression cues, there are varying possible reasons for these symptoms. However, if they persist for a long time, something may be wrong, and it may be time to consult with a therapist for guidance.
If a person’s normal topics of conversation begin to change to include things like feelings of powerlessness, a poor sense of self-worth, or a lack of hope, it may be an indicator that they’re experiencing depression. It’s important to note that it’s not unusual for a person’s focus to shift to topics like these occasionally, but if you notice it’s become constant without any other context, now is a good time to gently reach out.
The same applies to the frequent, unusual use of phrases referring to themselves negatively, such as “I am useless” or “I feel stupid.”
Loss Of Interest In Pleasurable Activities
Loss of interest in sex is strongly associated with depression in adults, but a sudden loss of interest in any activity one normally enjoys could be an indicator of depression.
Sudden Improvement In Mood Following A Positive Stimulus
It may seem counterintuitive that this behavior should be an indicator of a larger problem, but sudden improvement in mood is a common symptom of a type of depression called atypical depression. It usually occurs in response to good news or positive events, but you’ll quickly notice that it’s temporary and often followed by a “crash,” resulting in worsening depression.
Signs Of Depression In Children And Adolescents
A recent survey from the Annie E. Casey Foundation on state trends in child well-being states that “In 2020, 12% of children in the US aged 3 to 17 years were reported as having ever experienced anxiety or depression.” Children exhibit many of the same behaviors related to depression that adults do, but the reasons behind a child’s depression are a little more difficult to pinpoint, possibly due to differences in the ability to communicate succinctly with therapists.
Children with a family history of depression or bipolar disorder, particularly a multi-generational history, are at a greater risk for depression. So are children with high levels of stress, including the stress associated with mental health conditions such as attention deficit and learning disabilities. Finally, anxiety, low self-esteem, and substance use disorders often occur along with depression in children as well.
The teen and adolescent years are typically also challenging for most young people. The reasons for this range from physical changes in the body and brain chemicals, to academic pressure to increasing complexity in relationships and more. These factors, among others, may result in feelings of depression among adolescents. Many teens may turn to self-medication through recreational drugs or alcohol rather than seeking professional help. The signs indicating clinical depression in teens are much the same as those for adults, with the additional proviso that they tend to be more dynamic and prone to change with age. In many cases, primary care physicians have begun screening for depression during a routine physical exam, they may ask questions designed to identify depression and can refer their patient to a specialist if needed.
Even if they are reluctant, getting treatment is urgent for children and teens experiencing depression. Speaking to a mental health professional specializing in the care of children or adolescents is the best help for your child or teenager to cope with the symptoms of depression and potentially regain their mental well-being.
Talking To Others About Depression
Depression is a serious medical condition that may require emotional support or medication to manage symptoms. If you suspect a colleague or friend may be experiencing depression, it’s essential to be mindful if you decide to approach the subject with them. Sometimes, the effort to engage in a friendly and supportive conversation can be misconstrued as a negative intention. Remember that everyone processes feelings of depression differently. Some may be open to conversation, whereas others may not. Do not coerce the individual into talking to you about their feelings if they seem reluctant.
Professionals recommend gently letting the individual know you're concerned and that you are available whenever they feel like talking. If they are receptive, practice active listening and let them express their feelings. Above all, encourage them to seek treatment.
Talking About Your Feelings Of Depression With Others
Reaching out to family members when you are experience depression may be a good first step, however, professional counseling for depression is highly recommended if you recognize symptoms in yourself. Although there are sometimes challenges involved with seeking treatment, psychotherapy is one of the most effective ways to learn the coping strategies you need to move past depression and begin the path to healing. A psychiatrist can also determine if medications are a necessary part of your treatment plan and prescribe them as needed.
If you sometimes feel overwhelmed when discussing your feelings or are reluctant to attend in-person sessions, there are helpful online counseling services available. Depression also sometimes comes with anxiety, which may present barriers to seeking help as well, including aversion to encountering others traveling to and from in-person sessions or in an office waiting room. Speaking to a therapist online is a good alternative and may contribute to overcoming some of the barriers you may experience when speaking with a counselor in person.
There are many different treatments and resources for depression. Psychotherapy, medication, group therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy are among the most common. If you or someone you know exhibits signs of depression, it’s important to get help as soon as possible to work through those feelings and try to prevent any worsening of symptoms.
If you’re ready to take control of your own depression, reaching out to a mental health professional in person or online is the first step. A therapist may assist you in uncovering the roots of your depression and the things in your life that might contribute to it currently. They will likely also provide you with strategies for coping with the symptoms and support your journey of healing.
Online Therapy Is A Popular Option
As mentioned, online therapy is a popular modern treatment option. It has been proven to be as effective at treating depression with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as in-person sessions, and a review of recent studies from the American Psychiatric Association on CBT reports that “online CBT leads to significant decreases in symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
But online therapy has other benefits, too. Some people feel uncomfortable with speaking with an in-person therapist and prefer the option of meeting online. This is understandable, particularly for those who struggle with interacting with others. Meeting up with a therapist or support groups online eliminates the anxiety some experience over having to speak to other patients in a waiting room or along the commute to and from the visit.
If you need assistance in between sessions, you may reach out and your therapist will contact you as soon as possible.
Depression is often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, but it’s important to understand that there is hope for treating your depression, and it doesn’t have to interfere with your daily life. Online platforms like BetterHelp are effective at successfully pairing patients with accredited, licensed professionals with ample experience diagnosing and treating depression. If you need help managing your depression, get started on the process of finding a therapist that’s right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is The Most Reliable Symptom Of Depression?
The most immediately recognizable symptom of depression is a loss of interest in your daily life. There are many other signs and symptoms to watch out for. For instance, people with depression may experience feelings of worthlessness, lethargy, intense feelings of guilt, and more.
What Are 4 Major Causes Of Depression?
The major risk factors that contribute to depression are:
Age: Older adults are more likely to become depressed due to isolation and poor health
Family History: A family history of mental health disorders gives you a higher risk factor.
Substance Abuse: Nearly 30% of people with regular substance use habits have major depression.
Trauma/Grief: The loss of a loved one or something equally traumatic can cause a major depression episode
Depression affects everyone differently. If you are concerned for your mental health or believe that you may have a mental health disorder such as major depression, consult your doctor or therapist for treatment options.
What Are Early Warning Signs In Mental Health?
There are many early warning signs and symptoms of mental health problems. Some common symptoms of depression include:
Extreme mood swings
Sudden and drastic weight gain or weight loss
Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Unexplainable aches and pains
If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms of depression, you may have a serious mental health condition. Speak to your doctor or therapist to find the best treatment options for you.
What Are The Signs Of Poor Mental Health?
People with poor mental health may display a wide range of symptoms that make it difficult to function in daily life. Some of these include:
Difficulty making decisions
Constantly worrying about things out of their control
Loss of interest
Regularly feeling overwhelmed
In some cases, these symptoms may be due to burnout from work or school, or they may signify that you need some time for self-care and recuperation. If the feelings persist, you should speak with a doctor or therapist.
What Are The 5 Signs Of Mental Illness?
Although all the above warning signs are common, these are the five signs of a major mental health disorder:
Excessive worry or paranoia
Long-lasting sadness and irritability that don’t get better
Extreme mood swings
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms of depression, seek medical advice. You may have major depression or another serious mental disorder.
What Are The 4 Types Of Depression?
There are many more than 4 types of depression. The four most common in the United States are persistent depressive disorder (PDD), major depressive disorder (MDD), seasonal depressive disorder (SAD), and Bipolar Disorder. Others include:
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
People often experience depression differently. It is important to know that your experience is valid, and that help is available. Meeting with a doctor or therapist can help you discover what treatment options are available and which ones will work best for you.
What Is The Biggest Cause Of Depression?
You may be wondering what causes depression. There isn’t a single cause for depression. In fact, scientists still aren’t entirely sure why some people are more prone to depression than others when in similar situations. The many factors that may increase your risk are listed below.
What Is The Primary Cause Of Depression?
In many cases, depression doesn’t have a single cause. There are many factors that determine a person’s individual risk factors. Some of the biggest factors that can determine if you are at risk for depression are:
Genetics: If depressive disorders run in your family, you are more prone to developing depression as well.
Age: Older adults are more likely to develop a type of depression due to isolation, health conditions, and more.
Chronic health conditions: Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic pain all increase your risk of certain types of depression and other mental illnesses.
Trauma/Grief: When a major life event happens and impacts you negatively, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, etc. It can make you more prone to depression, especially clinical depression, major depressive disorder, and in some cases, alcohol, and drug abuse.
Certain medications: Side effects and drug interactions from certain medications can cause major depression.
Does Depression Count As A Disability?
In severe cases, yes, it can. Depression is considered a disability when it hinders you from performing daily tasks and interferes with your ability to function day-to-day. All stage 4 mental illnesses are considered disabilities.
What Are The 7 Types Of Mental Disorders?
The seven main types of mental disorders are:
Post-traumatic stress disorders
What's A Mental Breakdown?
While it isn’t referred to as a mental breakdown anymore, it is a symptom of an undiagnosed underlying mental disorder. Typically, it is brought upon by prolonged stress from work, school, relationships, etc. It can also occur after a traumatic event or after the loss of a loved one. In some cases, it can even happen after a bad divorce or breakup. Typical symptoms include panic attacks, inability to sleep, lack of appetite or abnormally increased appetite, and depressive and anxious symptoms.
How Do I Know If I'm Bipolar?
Only a doctor or therapist can diagnose you with bipolar disorder. If you are experiencing long periods of depression followed by bouts of extreme energy and lack of inhibition (mania), then you may have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is markedly different from other forms of depression in that it is thought to be a lifelong and possibly genetic condition.
What Is Stage 4 Mental Illness?
According to the DSM V, a serious mental illness “resulting in functional impairment which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” is classified as a stage 4 mental illness.
While any mental disorder can qualify as a serious mental illness if the symptoms are severe enough, the most common stage 4 illnesses are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.
Is Overreacting A Mental Illness?
Overreacting by itself is not a mental illness; however, it is a symptom of some mental illnesses. If you are experiencing emotional instability that is not a normal reaction to your circumstances, you may want to talk to a mental health professional.
What Is Poor Mental Health?
See above for signs of poor mental health.
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