Depression is a mood disorder that generally brings about sadness, but it can also influence a person’s energy, motivation, irritability, and overall well-being. It is one of the most powerful mental health conditions a person can endure. The numerous depressive disorders differ based on the types of symptoms as well as their frequency, intensity, duration, and triggers.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a collection of symptoms with the ability to impact all parts of the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Because the term “depression” covers a range of disorders and symptoms, the way one person experiences depression can vary greatly from someone else.
What Causes Depression?
Several factors contribute to the presentation of depression with biological, environmental, and chemical differences in the individuals. Available depression treatment options target certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to improve symptoms.4
How Common Is Depression?
Depression is incredibly common—about 8.7% of women and 5.3% of men have some form of depression.1 Fortunately, it’s very treatable. Mental health experts can successfully diagnose and treat a range of depressive disorders to restore the health and well-being people desire.
Depression vs. Sadness
All people experience sadness, but not all people experience depressive disorders. If someone loses their job, ends a relationship, or loses a loved one, sadness is expected. Depression vs. sadness is different due to intensity, duration of symptoms, and effect on a person’s life. Mental health professionals can work to differentiate between the two.2
Depression vs. Grief
Sadness, anger, and despair are normal and expected reactions when a loved one dies or a person experiences some other form of loss. As time goes on, though, it can become challenging to separate grief vs. depression.1
Not everyone who experiences a loss will become depressed, but many will. Because of this connection, it’s essential for people to be aware of and communicate the levels, duration, and frequency of symptoms. Grief & depression does not always require intervention from a mental health professional, but if depression becomes more prevalent, it will necessitate professional involvement.
5 Types of Depression
There are many different types of depression. Though these conditions differ, they share commonalities like mood low mood or irritability paired with changes in behavior and thinking that serve to reduce a person’s ability to function at their expected level.2 The main differences among depressive disorders are how long they last, the timing of symptoms, and the events or situations that trigger symptoms to emerge.
Five types of depression and depressive disorders include:1
- Major depressive disorder (MDD): this is the condition most people think about when considering depression. MDD is marked by five or more symptoms of depression lasting for at least two weeks. It can range in intensity from mild to severe.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): rather than a period of depression that recurs and remits, persistent depressive disorder represents a more stable and consistent level of depression. Symptoms may not be as intense as other disorders, but the duration will be very uncomfortable (at least two years in adults and one year in children).
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): changing symptoms that accompany menstruation are expected, but premenstrual dysphoric disorder occurs when the repeated hormonal changes create a drastic shift in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In many cases, these symptoms make it impossible for a person to maintain relationships and responsibilities.
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD): as a disorder that targets children and teens, DMDD presents as anger and irritability more than sadness and low motivation. Kids with this condition may frequently tantrum and engage in unwanted outbursts.
- Other common depressive disorders: people may also experience depressive symptoms triggered by prior drug or medication use, while others will note other symptoms of depression that do not meet the criteria for a full depressive diagnosis. Sometimes depression is triggered by outside sources, while other times it is prompted by internal reasons (i.e., endogenous & exogenous depression).
Symptoms of Depression
All depressive disorders have separate criteria to indicate their presence. A condition like persistent depressive disorder will focus on the length of symptoms, DMDD targets increased irritability, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder notes mood’s interaction with hormone changes—experts gather this information to determine which diagnosis is accurate.
Classic depression symptoms belong to major depressive disorder or a major depressive episode, and include:2
- Depressed mood with feelings of emptiness, sadness, hopelessness, or irritability
- Decreased pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities
- A noteworthy weight change or a significant change in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little throughout the day
- Feeling or looking sped up or slowed down in behaviors
- Loss of energy
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Thinking about death, dying, or suicide (i.e., suicidal ideation)
Not only does a person need to display these symptoms, but they need to do so for most days during a two-week period. Additionally, these depressive qualities need to drastically impact the person’s daily functioning at home, work, or school to qualify as depression.2
Some depressive symptoms may stem from medical health issues and complaints like cardiovascular concerns and hormone irregularities, so anyone experiencing new or worsening symptoms should seek a full medical evaluation. This assessment can help rule out any risk of physiological complications.
What Depression Looks Like
Many aspects of depression are individualized, so two people with the condition may show unique signs. Depending on factors like age and sex, depression will look different. Some people may even hide their depression symptoms (also known as smiling depression) and keep their feelings inside.
The stereotypical view of a person weeping on their couch as they lay in their bathrobe may be true for some, but other people may express their depression through powerful bouts of irritability and anger. They also may display a blunted affect or emotional blunting. Children and adolescents are more likely to display an irritable mood vs. a depressed one.
What Depression Looks Like In Children
Depression in children may have a completely different tone and presentation. Younger kids may complain more of physical issues and discomfort when depressed, like having an upset stomach. They could appear clingy, unwilling to separate, and worried.4 These symptoms could be mistaken for other conditions frequently seen in childhood, including separation anxiety disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
What Depression Looks Like In Adolescents
Depression in older children and adolescents usually shifts towards anger, defiance, and irritability. They may get into more trouble at school with declining academic performance. Often they will have changes in social life such as withdrawing from friends or experiencing other significant changes in their friend groups. Teens depression could also present with symptoms of anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.4
Depression In Men vs. Women
Many of the standard depressive symptoms like low mood, low motivation, and decreased energy levels will be the expected experience for women. Women commonly display high levels of guilt, shame, and worthlessness paired with depression.1 Regardless of age, depression in men more commonly includes physical symptoms.
Physical symptoms of men with depression include:5
- Heart problems
- Chest pain
- Digestive health issues
Depression In Older Adults
Depression in older adults becomes more challenging to distinguish from preconceived notions of aging. In some cases, this is because symptoms may be less evident. Seniors may also conceal their feelings of sadness due to how people may respond. Life events like death of loved ones and medical conditions can add to or create new depression.5
Treatment of Depression
Professionals like psychotherapists know best how to treat depression. Some people will find success with therapy and medication management or lifestyle adjustments like changes in their exercise, diet, and sleep. Not every treatment option will be an appropriate match for every person with depression, so treatment must be tailored to each individual.
Depression therapy is a frontline treatment option. This treatment commonly involves the person with depression attending sessions with a talk therapist in an individual, group or family setting. People with severe depression may require treatment in an inpatient treatment center to maintain safety while increasing available services.
Therapy for depression occurs at a range of intensities and frequencies as therapists may employ different therapeutic techniques to reduce symptoms. Some people can benefit from one therapy session each month while others will require several hours of therapy each day to manage the signs and symptoms of depressive disorders.
Medication is another standard treatment for depression that aims to adjust the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, decrease depressive symptoms, and improve overall mental health. Medication management can be used alone or in combination with other treatments like therapy to complement its effectiveness.4
Medication for depression usually requires some level of trial and error to find the wanted effects. Any person using prescribed medications should always use the drug as directed and make their prescriber aware of any health changes like pregnancy. Stopping medications abruptly can result in unwanted effects, so the prescriber will often recommend a weaning schedule to reduce risk.4
There are plenty of ways people can work to improve their depression at-home. Although these changes may not resolve depression independently, they can add to the benefits of professional strategies. Effective lifestyle changes include learning more about depression, increasing your level of exercise, limiting your use of alcohol and other substances, and establishing a regular sleep routine.3
Performing these changes will not suddenly eliminate depression, but they could help to limit symptoms and make other treatments more effective. Best of all, these healthy lifestyle changes can be used in conjunction with other professional treatments and carry zero risk of unwanted side effects.
How to Get Help For Depression
When a person identifies the presence of depression, it’s time to seek professional treatments. Though it may be tempting to address the situation alone, depression is a serious mental health condition that deserves professional intervention. Many begin the journey towards depression treatment by speaking to a loved one with personal or professional experience in the field.
Waiting may only give time for the symptoms to intensify, so people with depression would do well to seek treatment early.
Helpful options for beginning mental health treatment include:3
- Speaking to a primary care doctor
- Calling the local mental health treatment provider
- Most counties have mental health treatment available for their constituents with limited resources
- Search for a therapist in an online therapist directory
- Phoning a national hotline specializing in depression
- Contacting a religious leader for a referral
- Communicating with the insurance company about covered providers
Helping a Loved One
Getting help for a loved one poses some challenges as the other person’s reaction is never certain. When preparing things to say to someone who is depressed, be sure to always approach the situation from a place of love, support, and understanding. Choose a calm time to have a conversation, rather than during a period of anger or distractibility.
Whether your loved one is an adult or child, let them know you are willing to explore the treatment process with them. From calling to schedule an assessment to actually attending sessions with them, your patience and support can create positive effects.
To understand the widespread impact of depression, consider relevant depression statistics and resources.
Here are depression statistics compiled by the NIMH in 2017:1
- 8.7% of adult women experienced depressive episodes during the previous year while adolescent females had a depression rate of 20%
- 13.1% of young adults and 13.3% of adolescents displayed depressive symptoms each year
- 8% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives adults had a depressive episode in 2017 with white adults close behind with a depression rate of 7.9%
- Rates of depression decrease with age. 7.7% of people 26 to 49 and 4.7% of people 50 and over reported depressive symptoms
- Nearly two-thirds of adults with depression in the last year reported severe impairment due to the condition
- About 65% of adults with depression received treatments like therapy and medication
- 35% of adults and more than 60% of adolescents with depression received no treatment at all
Final Thoughts on Depression
Every person’s symptoms, triggers, and experiences of depression are unique, but this doesn’t mean that others won’t understand. To the contrary, help is available from professionals and loved ones to combat depression and the damage it creates. Everyday, people confront depression and push back against the disorder.