Everyone has the blues from time to time.  It’s a part of the ebb and flow of emotions in our lives.  Yes, that’s a form of depression – a temporary mood that will pass fairly quickly, ranging from a few hours to a few days.  But, often when people are talking about depression, what they really mean is Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder.  It’s not something that will pass quickly, and it’s a reoccurring issue that has deep effects on overall quality of life.

Depression comes in a number of different types, and the symptoms of depression includes some cross-over into other areas such as our previous article on Anxiety Disorders.  We’ll also be focusing in on some specific forms of depression in future articles, though we’ll give a quick overview of the most common forms and symptoms of depression in this article.

Symptoms of Depression

By no means is the following list a complete list of symptoms for depression, nor should it be considered a checklist that you need to fulfill before seeing a medical professional.  Depression is a serious issue, and if after reviewing this list, you feel that you may be suffering from one of the persistent depressive disorders, please contact a medical professional soon – the number and intensity of depression symptoms can change fairly quickly.

  • Irritability
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Persistently sad
  • Persistently anxious
  • Extreme guilt
  • Worthlessness
  • Helplessness
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased decision making skills
  • Memory issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping at night
  • Oversleeping
  • Lost of interest in things you used to find fun or fulfilling
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Suicide attempts
  • Physical pain without a source
  • Significant weight changes
  • Significant appetite changes

Types of Depression

Persistent Depressive Disorder is a term associated with depression symptoms that last more than two years, though the intensity and number of symptoms experienced increase and decrease during that time period.

Perinatal Depression (Postpartum Depression, Postnatal Depression) is common in women after having given birth.  As much as 1 in 10 women suffer from Perinatal Depression, though it’s not just the mother:  it’s not completely uncommon for men or even a same-sex partner to suffer from depression/

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is most often associated with the fall and winter months, and is often thought to be caused by a combination of lack of sunlight and changes in temperature.  For some sufferers, though, it can occur in the spring or summer months.

Psychotic Depression mixes both the symptoms of depression with various psychotic disorders, giving rise to a situation where the suffer may also be experiencing false memories, weird beliefs, hallucinations, and more.

Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression) is characterized by an extreme swing in energy levels and mood, ranging from manic state (high energy often with a happy mood) to severe lows of depression.

What Causes Depression?

There’s multiple types of depression, and a ton of symptoms for depression, so you might have already guessed that depression comes from multiple sources.  Making things even more interesting, it’s possible to have issues with depression where the original source may have been one cause, but is further aggravated by other causes on the list.  Depression is not a simple disorder.

Chemical Imbalance:  Sometimes, our bodies have something just go wrong.  Our mental health is tied with a complex system designed to keep the entire body in balance, including our emotional state.  It doesn’t take much to knock that out of balance.  The body does have the ability to self correct, but sometimes even that goes wrong, and the chemical imbalance can lead to long term depression.

Stress:  Increases in day to day stress – particularly when the stresses are an ongoing, non-stop problem – can bring about a slow increase in depression symptoms, or be the source of depression it’s self.

Brain Damage:  Along with a whole host of chemicals required for the body to self regulate, the structure of the brain it’s self matters to overall mental health.

Trauma:  Physical and emotional trauma often play a role in certain forms of depression, such as Persistent Depressive Disorder.  The loss of loved ones, physical or mental abuse, and many other traumas can lead to depression.

Genetics:  While the mechanisms involved aren’t fully understood, there’s an increased risk of depression along family lines.  If a parent or sibling is battling depression, there’s a good chance you also may have to deal with depression.

Medication:  Sometimes, the medication required to deal with other physical or mental health issues can knock the self-regulation mechanisms in the brain out of whack.

Substance Abuse:  Alcohol abuse often comes with depression as a symptom.

Additionally, other factors can increase the likelihood of depression, compounding the existing potential factors for depression.  For instance, age and gender can play a role:  women have nearly twice the rate of depression cases as men, and the elderly also see a higher incidence of depression.  And, to complicate matters, you can also experience depression caused by other medical issues – for instance, a thyroid imbalance can bring about depression when left untreated.

Treatment for Depression

Treatments for depression fall into one of three categories, and may combine multiple solutions from each of those categories:

Therapy:  Talking with a therapist is often the first choice for medical professionals, as it can be the least invasive, and comes with the lowest number of side effects.  The effects aren’t immediate, and can take months to begin to really feel the changes.  Cognitive therapy helps explore your behaviors, and make changes to them.  Some forms of therapy may see the depression sufferer digging into the root causes of their depression, such as traumatic life events.

Medication:  Medications for depression aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and may take a while to find the right medication and the right levels.  SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors) are a pretty common anti-depression medication, with a fair amount of success.  However, there’s also a host of other antidepressant medications such as SNRI’s (Serotonin and Norepinephrine Uptake Inhibitors) and MAOIs (Monamine Oxidase Inhibitors) that are older, less used, but are still effective for some depression sufferers.

Procedures:  While rare, in extreme cases medical procedures such as electroshock therapy could be a solution.

Where To Start

While it’s easy to dismiss depression as “all in your head”, the truth is that it’s a physical and mental ailment that should be taken quite seriously.  Talk to your health care provider immediately if you feel your are experiencing symptoms of depression – it’s not “all in your head”, and it won’t get better on it’s own.  They will help you find the best starting place, no matter if it’s therapy or medication.

Header image by JLHopGood via Flickr.

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