What Is Depression? More Than Just Sadness
Feelings of sadness are inevitable. Whether brought on by a life circumstance — such as losing a job — or upsetting memories of past events, these feelings are often temporary. They may come and go throughout the lives of many individuals, and are short-lived, without having a significant impact on their lives. Sadness and depression are similar, and often used interchangeably, however they hold largely different meanings.
What's The Difference?
While all individuals will feel fleeting moments of sadness during their lives, those with depression are not simply sad. It is this connection between sadness and depression that often leads to misconceptions and unease. Misunderstanding the differences between the two could lead many to avoid seeking treatment under the pretense that they are only sad, and that their feelings will pass naturally. However, with depression, this is most often not the case.
Unlike sadness, depression is not necessarily brought on by any certain event or distressing circumstance. Rather depression often manifests without any determinable trigger. The mental illness can be brought on by a series of genetic and biological factors, as well as from other illnesses. Depression is a chronic and often debilitating mental illness that can affect all aspects of a person's life, from social interactions to work, school, and even their home life and overall view of themselves.
Types Of Depression
Depression comes in many forms, affecting each individual a little differently. There is no one definitive mold into which depression can fit. Symptoms can vary widely among patients and may last for weeks, months, or even years.
Clinical (major) depression, for example, is categorized by recurring feelings of sadness and futility. These feelings make it difficult, if not impossible, to participate in activities which otherwise would have been enjoyable. It can have an overall effect on the way an individual views themself and the world around them. For many the world seems bleak and hopeless, and they experience low self-esteem, recurrent sadness, and even pain which seems to have no cause. These individuals can often be helped by prescription medications and therapy. However, they are also at risk for suicidal thoughts, which can be extremely dangerous if carried out. (If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7).
Manic depression is a form of depression in which the patient experiences periods of mania, as well as melancholy. Their mania can often manifest in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex, drug use, dangerous thrill seeking, and a feeling like they could take on anything. However, these moods can swing drastically and suddenly, without warning. Now called bipolar disorder by many, this form of depression can often be described as a roller coaster ride. One where most of the track is flat, save for a few sudden rises and plunges.
Another form of depression, known as seasonal depression, is pretty much just as it sounds. Unlike with the sudden, unpredictable mood changes of bipolar depression, or the persistent sadness associated with clinical depression, those experiencing seasonal depression may appear to have a healthy mindset for the majority of the year. Each individual is different, but most become severely depressed upon the change of seasons. When winter (or, in rare cases, spring, summer, or fall) rolls in, they experience recurrent sadness, with concurrent sleep issues and a noticeable lack of energy.
Who Is At Risk Of Getting Depression?
Major depressive disorder is reportedly the number one reason for disability in the United States, affecting over fifteen million Americans over the age of eighteen each year. Manic depression, now referred to as bipolar disorder, affects between six and twenty million US adults.
Both major depression and manic depression are statistically more prevalent in women than in men. Many argue that many more men than we realize experience depression, but do not seek out help, likely due to perceived stigma. It is important to keep in mind, when discussing the topic of depression, that the mental illness does not discriminate. What it truly comes down to is genetics and a series of environmental factors.
A past family history of depressive disorders or other mental illness can increase your risk of developing depression. More prevalent in women, as earlier stated, the illness can manifest in anyone at any age. However, the average age of those with depression is about thirty-two. It is also believed that in the United States eight percent of teenagers experience troubling depression. In many cases, a chemical imbalance within a person's brain causes their depression, despite no known history of the illness.
Life changes and environmental aspects can also raise one's risk for depression significantly. Those who experience trauma, such as neglect and violence, in their childhood are more likely to become depressed, as well as those born into low-income families. Different factors play into your risk of depression. Diet, drug use, and even chronic illness can make an individual more likely to experience depression.
What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?
While skeptics often try to claim that depression is simply sadness taken to the extreme, there are many undeniable symptoms, which may vary in severity from person to person. One of the most common and notable, of course, is persistent, unrelenting sadness. These forlorn feelings can lead those experiencing them to feel helpless and alone. Individuals living with depression often lose interest in what were once their favorite activities. They may become withdrawn, feeling like a burden to those around them. Many describe feeling alone, even in rooms full of people. Again, this is common. They may even feel a sense of guilt, believing that they are dragging others down with them or affecting other people’s quality of life. It is also, unfortunately, common for these individuals to feel that life is not worth living. This can lead to dangerous suicidal ideations. (If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7).
Aside from the emotional symptoms of depression, the illness can also bring about a plethora of physical symptoms as well. From a loss of appetite to unexplainable aches and pains. Sleep disturbances are also common, including either trouble sleeping or sleeping in excess. Patients battling depression often feel drained of energy and have difficulties functioning properly. Depression may cause joints to ache, stomach problems, migraines, irritability, and reckless behavior. Also, many experience self-loathing, trouble concentrating, and fluctuations in weight.
What Do I Say?
Often loved ones are at a loss for what to say when they believe someone may be depressed. We often worry about interfering with or offending the individual. With so much misconception and confusion surrounding depression, many people say the wrong thing without even realizing it. However, speaking up is important, and showing that individual that you support them can be the most important factor in getting them treatment.
The best thing you can do is to show them you care. Be careful in comparing their situation to others, as this often does no good. Rather, assure them that they are not alone and that you are there for them. Remember that it is not your job to 'fix' your friend or loved one. Offer your ear, listen to what they have to say, even if some of it may seem irrational. Depression often leads people to view things as being worse than they are, so offering support through these struggles can mean the world to someone.
Assure them that you are there for them now, and will be there for them through the entire process. A common fear of those living with depression is that they will be alone, or that they will burden those around them. Explain to them that you care for them and you want to be there for them — that you will not abandon them during their struggle and will be there when it's over. Make sure to be patient. It can often be a long journey to recovery, but your support could make all the difference.
Talking To Your Doctor
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, it is crucial that you contact your doctor. When booking the appointment, it is a good idea to inform the office that you may need extra time to discuss this with your practitioner so that they can schedule accordingly. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms, and you can discuss possible underlying causes.
Once you've got that out of that way, it can be a good idea to prepare for your appointment ahead of time. You can do this by writing down a list of your symptoms so that you can be sure not to miss anything. Try to keep track of how long you have been experiencing each symptom and how they affect your life. For example, if you have been exhausted for the past three months, sleeping over 12 hours per day, be sure to make note of this. If this is causing difficulties at school or work, specify how.
Lastly, create a list of the questions you'd like to ask your doctor. List any of your concerns, whether they're physical, mental, or social concerns. Include any treatments you've tried in the past, such as counseling. It is also important that the doctor knows of any pre-existing health conditions, as well as any physical symptoms you believe are caused by your depression. When you go to your appointment, remember that depression is not an easy diagnosis. Nor is there an immediate cure-all pill. The process can take time and may consist of trying different medications and therapies.
While depression can feel debilitating and leave you with little to no motivation, it is still important that you take your health into your own hands. If you are concerned you may be experiencing depression, reach out. There are many ways to do this, from online resources to crisis lines and more. There is a vast network of support out there for you. All you have to do is reach out.
If you're not ready to confide in a loved one just yet, that's okay. There are many options for you to talk to and get support from others.
Additionally, sites such as BetterHelp, offer therapy for those experiencing a range of mental illnesses, including depressive disorders. It allows you to connect with someone who doesn't know you personally, but you can help talk you through your worries and concerns. BetterHelp offers messaging with counselors, group support, and other tools to get you on the road to recovery.
Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:
What exactly is depression?
What is the main reason of depression?
What are 5 causes of depression?
What are 3 possible causes of depression?
How does depression affect people's life?
How does depression affect the brain?
What can happen if you don't treat depression?
How stress can cause depression?
What causes anxiety?
What are 2 ways to help yourself feel better?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are 4 major causes of depression?
While researchers have identified a wide range of possible causes of depression, there are four that receive a majority of the attention — environment, genetics, major life events, and substance abuse. You might experience one of them, a few of them, or none of them — it’s different for everyone.
Let’s take a closer look at each one:
- Environment - Your upbringing and the specific conditions in which you live your life (either as a child or adult) can have a lasting impact on your mental health. This is especially true for historically underserved, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ communities.
- Genetics - Some researchers believe genetics plays a major role in depression. In fact, those whose parents have depression are three times more likely than their peers to experience it themselves.
- Major Life Events - In addition to the continued struggles some people face daily, major life events can upset the balance of your life without warning. They can bring a large amount of traumatic stress that can lead to depression.
- Substance Abuse - When things aren’t going right in life, some people turn to recreational drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, substance abuse often makes the issue worse.
Research is ongoing and there’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding the causes of depression. At the end of the day, most researchers contribute the symptoms to changes in brain structure and function. How those changes come about is where most of the confusion lies today.
Of course, that’s why a healthy and continued doctor-patient relationship is necessary when managing and overcoming depression symptoms. It ensures the patient receives a custom treatment plan designed exclusively for them — no matter what mental illness they’re managing.
It also keeps the patient away from further substance abuse, which can exacerbate depression symptoms and increase traumatic stress. If you or a loved one are being held back by substance abuse, help is available.
If you don’t know who to reach out to, contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK.
What is the most reliable symptom of depression? More than just sadness...
Since everyone might experience depression differently, there are a variety of signs and symptoms that people should be aware of. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) lists a total of eight symptoms, and individuals must experience a minimum of five of them over a two-week period — that’s the difference between sadness and depression.
Of those five symptoms, two of them are known as the most reliable and common symptoms of depression — a depressed mood (feeling sad) and a loss of interest. These two symptoms must be present in every depression patient, otherwise it can’t be diagnosed by a professional.
Outside of a depressed mood and a loss of interest, some of the other symptoms include weight or appetite changes, slowed movement or thought, substance abuse, loss of energy, excessive guilt, feelings of unworthiness, inability to concentrate or make decisions, and suicidal thoughts.
If a treatment plan isn’t initiated quickly, the problems can become worse. For immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK.
What percentage of students have symptoms of depression?
Depression has been diagnosed in nearly two million children aged 3-17 years, which is over 3% of that population. That’s compared to 7% of students that have been diagnosed with anxiety and over 9% of students that have been diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, three of every four children with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.
Although over 3% of students have been diagnosed with depression, that number doesn’t include the students that are living with depression symptoms without receiving treatment. Some students don’t know they’re living with depression, some of them don’t talk about it, and some students welcome it. Either way, a proper treatment plan is necessary.
What is the biggest cause of depression?
Although researchers have learned a lot about depression and what causes it, they haven’t identified the biggest cause of depression. Instead, they’ve identified a wide range of different causes of depression today, and continue to identify more as we continue to learn.
While there are plenty of causes of depression, most researchers narrow it down to brain function and brain chemistry. Many depressed individuals experience a lack or excess of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which makes it difficult to seek pleasure, find happiness, and live a normal life.
Individuals can experience these changes in brain function and chemistry for a wide range of reasons, which is why there’s no such thing as the ‘biggest cause of depression.’ Since it’s different in everyone, it’s very important that the individual sees experienced doctors and treatment facilities to diagnose and treat depression.
Some of the other causes include substance abuse, genetics, the environment, and major life events. If you suspect any of these are playing a role in your mental health — especially substance abuse — you should seek help immediately.
What are the types of depression?
There are several different types of depression and it’s up to the doctors and treatment facilities to diagnose an individual with the right one. With that said, four of the most common types of depression include major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Let’s take a closer look at each one:
- Major Depressive Disorder - if you’re experiencing depression symptoms throughout most of the day and week, then you might be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (if the symptoms aren’t explained or caused by something else).
- Persistent Depressive Disorder - anyone who has depression for more than two years is diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder. It’s often used to describe chronic major depression and dysthymia.
- Bipolar Disorder - also called manic depression, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when someone is experiencing rapid mood swings that range from high moments to low moments.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - this type of depression is generally diagnosed when the feelings of depression settle in when the days are shorter and we receive less and less sunlight (winter months).
Mental health professionals perform a number of tests, including physical exams, psychological exams, diagnostics, and more. Since depression is different in everyone, it’s important each individual receives a treatment plan designed exclusively for them.
Whether you have persistent depression, major depression, bipolar disorder, or SAD, contact your preferred mental health services immediately. There’s a huge difference between everyday sadness and depression.
What is the primary cause of depression?
The primary cause of depression is yet to be found, but many researchers contribute the symptoms to a lack or excess of neurotransmitter activity inside the brain. Not only does this change the way we think, but also how we act, behave, move, speak, and perceive.
There are several neurotransmitters in the brain that affect our mood on a daily basis. Dopamine and serotonin are two of the more recognizable names. Dopamine is responsible for helping us seek and feel pleasure, while serotonin is referred to as the ‘happy chemical’ or ‘housekeeping chemical’ because it promotes happiness and well-being.
In addition to dopamine and serotonin, norepinephrine — also known as noradrenaline — is another neurotransmitter that’s thought to play a role in depression. Researchers also believe an individual’s environment, genetics, substance abuse, childhood, social life, and relationships can cause depression.
Is it normal to cry for no reason?
It doesn’t matter who you are or how tough you think you are, everyone cries. You can’t escape it, you can’t avoid it, and there’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. With that said, many people don’t understand why they’re crying from time to time, and some report crying for no reason.
While there’s nothing wrong with crying from time to time, it’s generally not something that happens randomly. There’s usually a reason for crying, even if you can’t find that reason in the moment. It could be due to burnout, anxiety, traumatic stress, hormonal imbalances, or a major life event you haven’t gotten over yet.
The next time you think you’re crying for no reason, try talking to your family and support system — even if it’s yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling and try to get to the bottom of it. Chances are there’s something that’s eating away at you, and all you have to do is find it. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, there are a number of support groups designed to provide support.
In some extremely rare cases, people are diagnosed with pseudobulbar affect (PBA). It’s a mental illness that’s characterized by random and uncontrollable laughter or crying. It’s usually a result of brain damage or injury that changes the way a person reacts or manages emotion.
What are the 5 signs of mental illness?
There’s nothing funny about mental illness. Not only can it have a negative impact on the individual’s life, but it can affect how they connect with others — even their loved ones. That’s why it’s important everyone understands the signs of mental illness and how to spot them.
While there are a wide range of different symptoms, the five major signs of depression are excessive paranoia (worry or anxiety), feeling sad, intense, frequent, or sudden changes in mood, social withdrawal, and unwanted habitual changes (sleep, diet, eating irregularities, etc.).
Suicidal thoughts and actions are also a major sign of mental illness, with many people living with depression under constant suicide prevention watch. If you believe someone needs suicide prevention, don’t hesitate to reach out to your family, support system, or support groups.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and they’re persistent for several weeks, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor or mental health services immediately. It doesn’t always mean you have depression, but it’s also not worth taking the risk.
For immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Does depression count as a disability?
Depression, which is also referred to as major depressive disorder, is an extremely serious mental illness that millions of students and adults experience daily. If not treated properly and persistently, the symptoms of depression can seriously impede someone’s ability to live.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) national survey, which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), clinical depression is considered a disability and should be treated as such, as long as it gets in the way of at least one major life activity.
It’s important to understand that the term disability is more of a legal term than a medical one. It largely applies to a person’s rights under law to ensure everyone is given a fair and equal opportunity in life. That’s why the ADA was created, and it’s why we still use it today.
What age group has the highest rate of depression?
When studying the impact depression has had on different age groups, it’s best to break them down into two different groups — adolescents and adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) national survey, 13.3% of adolescents (12-17) have been diagnosed with depression — compared to 7.1% of adults (18+).
Taking a closer look at each group in the national survey, we can break them down even further:
- Adolescents -8% of 12-year-olds, 8.8% of 13-year-olds, 11.8% of 14-year-olds, 17.2% of 15-year-olds, 16.9% of 16-year-olds, and 18% of 17-year-olds.
- Adults -1% of people aged 18-25, 7.7% of people aged 26-49, and 4.7% of people aged 50+.
As you can see from the national survey, the age group with the highest rate of depression is 17-year-olds, but people aged 15 and 16 are right behind them. As they grow older, some people overcome their symptoms or at least have them reduced, which is why you see lower numbers as you age.
Females are far more likely to be diagnosed with depression when compared to their male counterparts. This is also true for people that belong to two or more races/ethnicities.
Does homework cause depression?
No matter how much students detest homework, it plays a vital role in the student’s ability to learn — both in school and at home. It teaches the student valuable lessons regarding responsibility, priorities, work ethic, and motivation.
Of course, that doesn’t mean students have to like it. In fact, most students don’t like homework and it only creates more stress, anxiety, and uneasiness in their life. This is especially true when students are given large amounts of homework and limited time to complete it.
Homework itself doesn’t cause depression or any other kind of mental illness. In fact, it’s designed to help the child learn away from home. With that said, having too much of it or not enough help with it can cause depression symptoms in some students. If these symptoms persist without treatment, it can lead to a diagnosis.
That’s why it’s important that teachers are reasonable and practical about how much homework is assigned each night. Teachers should also work together to ensure they aren’t overloading the student.
Which country has the highest rate of depression?
Depression is a mental illness that many people experience around the world. While it affects over 16 million people every year in the United States alone, that doesn’t mean the United States has the highest rate of depression in the world. In fact, that title belongs to China.
Behind China, the nine other countries that find themselves in the top-ten of highest depression rates are: India, the United States, Brazil, Bangladesh, Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Iran. The Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu have the lowest.
In general, the region of the Americas and the African regions experience the most depression, but the Eastern Mediterranean, European, and Southeast Asian regions are close behind.
Can depression change your personality?
Everyone has a personality. It’s what makes you unique. It consists of all your thoughts, feelings, actions, habits, tendencies, reactions, and everything else in between. Without it, no one would be unique, and we would all be a spitting image of our own support system and family.
Unfortunately, there are a wide range of conditions out there that can affect an individual’s personality — such as depression. It starts to change the way you think, the way you feel, how you act or behave, your daily habits, and how you react to certain events occurring around you.
The sooner depression is detected in an individual, the sooner they can receive the proper treatment. With the right treatment and support system, the individual can start to return to their normal daily life.
What is the end result of depression?
Living with depression is an extremely difficult task, but it’s one that can be managed over time with the right therapy, medication, and support. With that being said, there really is no end result of depression — or any mental illness. It’s a condition that must be managed and controlled on a daily basis.
That shouldn’t discourage anyone, though. With the right treatment plan, some people could see their symptoms lessen over time. In fact, some might see their symptoms disappear entirely, but that doesn’t mean depression can’t creep back in.
That’s why a good support system is extremely important to anyone experiencing depression, mood disorders, or any other mental illness. When you’re feeling down or start to notice those symptoms appear, they’re the ones that help steer you in the right direction to get you back on track.
What are psychological factors of depression?
Some of the most prominent psychological factors that may contribute to depression include psychological trauma experienced as a child (mental, emotional, sexual, physical, etc.), major life events that occur unexpectedly, daily or persistent neglect, and the inability to relate to others.
The longer someone lives with depression, mood disorder, or any other form of mental illness, the more these psychological factors can wreak havoc on one’s life. The individual starts to distance themselves from other people, but also from themselves, which is an extremely dangerous way to live.
Many people living with depression and other mood disorders turn to substance abuse, which only makes the matters worse. Substance abuse is never the answer, though it might give the individual a sense of relief in the moment. Abusing alcohol, drugs, marijuana, or tobacco is considered substance abuse.
The good news is you can still lead a happy and healthy life with the right treatment plan. If you or a loved one are showing any mental, emotional, or physical signs of depression or mental illness, contact a mental health provider. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can return to enjoying your daily life.