Depression – Definition, Symptoms and Causes

Depression – Definition, Symptoms And Causes
Depression – Definition, Symptoms and causes

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses. Not just the middle-aged or elderly but teenagers are equally susceptible to it. According to the World Health Organization, about 3.8% of the world population is affected by depression. Out of which about 5% are adults and 5.7% are adults who are 60 plus.  About 1 in every 6 people will experience depression at some point of time in their life. Women are more likely to experience depression than men. Hereditary is another factor. If close relatives have or had depression, one is more likely to go through depression.

In the following article, we will discuss definitions of depression, its symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Defining Depression

Before we go on to define depression, it is imperative to understand that it is different from mood fluctuations. Mood swings are short-lived and more of a reaction to everyday challenges. However, depression is long-term. To the extent that it may lead to suicide. In fact, depression is one of the main causes of suicide among the young, mainly the age group of 15-29. 

Depression involves low energy, empty or irritable, loss of interest or pleasure, disturbed sleep or appetite, feeling of guilt, low self-worth. This feeling in a person stays for weeks, months, or years. Prolonged periods of depression lead to a person performing poorly at work, school, and in maintaining relationships with family. Such regular tasks become difficult to perform. Plus, it leads to several physical and emotional problems as well. 

Most of the time, depression goes undiagnosed in developing and under-developing economies. Several reasons are attributed to it. The lack of trained health care personnel, lack of resources for proper care, social stigma, etc are a few obstacles on the road to proper diagnosis and treatment of depression.

The good news, more and more countries are paying attention to mental health care. Depression is taking center stage. It can be diagnosed and treatable. 

Symptoms of Depression

There are several symptoms of depression. For any symptom to qualify as depression it must last for at least two weeks. Additionally, it should mark a change in your previous behavior. Some of the common symptoms are-

  1. Feeling sad or teary.
  2. Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  3. Feeling miserable.
  4. Eating disorders leading to weight loss
  5. Low on energy or fatigued.
  6. Not able to sleep or sleep too much.
  7. Severe restlessness or slow movements and speech.
  8. feeling worthless or guilty.
  9. Not able to concentrate, make decisions, or in general think.
  10. Contemplating suicide or death.
  11. Feeling overwhelmed, unhappy, frustrated, and disappointed.
  12. Lacking confidence.
  13. Feeling angry or guilty
  14. Feeling hopeless about the future.

A depressed person harbors negative feeling. They have the following mindset-

  1. Life is not worth living.
  2. I am a failure.
  3. I am no good.
  4. Nothing good ever happens to me.
  5. I am worthless.
  6. It’s all my fault.
  7. There is nothing good in my life.
  8. People would be better off without me.
  9. Things will never change.

Behavioral Changes and Symptoms

  1. People suffering from depression exhibit the following behavioral changes
  2. Not participate in or enjoy the activities they used to earlier.
  3. Withdraw from interacting with friends and family.
  4. Confine themselves at home and do not interact socially.
  5. Perform poorly at work, school, or home.
  6. Increasingly, people depend on sedatives and alcohol.
  7. Lose interest in sexual intercourse.

Physical Changes and Symptoms

People suffering from depression show the following physical symptoms-

  1. Feeling fatigued all the time.
  2. Difficulty sleeping.
  3. Feeling sick.
  4. Eating disorders.
  5. Excessive weight gain or loss.
  6. Regular muscle pains, headaches, and stomach pains.
  7. A churning stomach.

Some of the above-mentioned symptoms may overlap with other ailments, like a vitamin deficiency or a thyroid or brain tumor. Therefore, these need to be ruled out before we zero in on depression as a disorder.

Types of Depression

The above-mentioned symptoms can be from mild to severe. Therefore, depending on the number of symptoms, their severity, and how much it impacts the person, depression can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. 

An easily recognized symptom is low mood and losing interest in activities enjoyed earlier. There are different patterns of depressive mood. The different types of depression are-

  1. Melancholic depression– is a severe form of depression wherein a person experiences both physical and emotional symptoms of depression.
  2. Psychotic depression– includes:
  • Hallucinations– imagining people and things that are not there in reality.
  • Paranoia– a feeling wherein a person believes that people are out there to get them. Everyone is against them, and the feeling of suspicion doesn’t leave a depressed person.
  • Delusions– believing in false things that others do not agree with.   
  • Single episode depressive disorder– means a person has only one episode of depression and never again.
  • Recurrent depressive disorder– means a person has had at least two episodes of depression in the past.
  • Bipolar disorder– means extreme mood swings to the extent that it disturbs the daily life of a person. There are alternate periods of manic episodes including symptoms like feelings of euphoria or irritability, extremely high energy in activity and speech, decreased sleep, increased self-esteem, extreme talkativeness, feeling distracted, racing thoughts, agitation, and impulsive behavior. People who suffer from bipolar disorder also experience episodes of Psychosis.
  • Cyclothymic disorder is a mild form of bipolar disorder wherein a person experiences mood changes for a minimum of 2 years. They have episodes of depressive symptoms and episodes of hypomania. The periods of normal moods are very less, usually two months. Symptoms of this disorder are mild and last for a short duration in comparison to bipolar disorder.
  • Dysthymic disorder– is the same as major depression. Although the symptoms are few and mild. The symptoms exhibited last for at least two years.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)– the mood disorder is season dependent. The symptoms of depression may start in winter and disappear by spring. It is believed that SAD happens due to a lack of exposure to light. Therefore, countries with shorter days and cold climates have people suffering from this form of depression. It can take a long time to diagnose this type of depression.
  • Perinatal and Postnatal depression is associated with pregnancy and post-pregnancy periods. The lack of sleep, tiredness, irritability, and changes in routine can trigger this form of depression.

There isn’t one cause of depression. Every person has their trigger points. However, a set of contributing factors like social, biological, and psychological affect the person. Once we know the circumstances it is easy to zero down on the causes.

1. Personal Factors includes:

  • Genetic family history of depression
  • The personality of a person- people with low self-esteem, self-critical or perfectionists, or ones who are highly sensitive to criticism.
  • Serious medical conditions can trigger worry and stress, leading to depression.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse lead to depression. People with depression usually have a history of alcohol and drug abuse. 

2. Life Events: several significant and life-altering events can trigger depression. Some of these events are-

  • Being in an abusive or uncaring relationship for a long time.
  • Long-term unemployment.
  • Long-term loneliness.
  • Long-term isolation.
  • Continued stress at work.
  • Going through divorce or separation.
  • Battling a serious illness or being diagnosed with one.
  • Losing a job
  • Death of a loved one.

3. Complex chemical changes in the brain: although a lot of research is going on in this direction, much is yet to be discovered. Complex chemical changes take place in the brain when people go through depression. Medicines work on these chemical changes to treat depression. 

Diagnosis of Depression

Depression can remain undiagnosed for weeks, months, and sometimes years. Therefore, it is essential to seek help if one suspects symptoms of depression in themselves or their loved ones. Generally, a doctor will carry out a mental health assessment. This involves a physical examination as well as answering a questionnaire or a discussion. In this thorough examination, a doctor will look for symptoms of depression and/or delve into your family history. Once diagnosed, the doctor can refer you to a specialist, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor, who can determine the type of depression you suffer from and the severity of the symptoms. They will also diagnose if it’s a recurrent episode or a first one.

Treating Depression

Depression is one of the most treatable mental disorders. Once a qualified and registered health practitioner has diagnosed depression, it is time to treat it. There are several methods of treating depression-

  1. By bringing changes in one’s lifestyle: More exercise uplifts one’s mood. Eating a balanced diet and less use of drugs or alcohol can reduce depression. By adhering to a regular sleep pattern one can let their body relax and heal itself.
  2. Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy or ‘talking therapies’ can help cure depression. A therapy session can be one on one or group sessions as well. This method can cure mild to severe symptoms of depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on issues in the present. It helps a person realize their negative thoughts so that they can change their thoughts and take on everyday challenges in a positive manner. Group therapies bring a person into a supportive environment where they can learn how others a coping with similar issues.
  3. Medication: Antidepressants are prescribed to cure depression. These are not sedatives or tranquilizers or addictive. It is usual for medicines to take several weeks before a person can show improvement. Medication isn’t the first method applied to cure mild depression.
  4. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): ECT is used when other methods fail to cure severe depression. It involves electrical stimulation of the brain when a person is under the influence of anesthesia. Needless to say, this method is carried out by trained professionals.

Final Thoughts

Depression isn’t a recent mental disorder nor is it untreatable. Help is available in the form of trained psychologists, psychiatrists, and health care providers. By staying healthy, social, and active one can avoid depression. If one feels they are vulnerable to depression it is best to seek help.