What is Depression?

All of us have experienced feeling down. These feelings of sadness are usually temporary and fade away over the course of a few days. Clinical depression, however, is indicative of more intense thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These feelings last longer. They begin to impair, and can sometimes even paralyze, daily functioning. Many people with depression experience psychological and physical pain, affecting quality of life for themselves and for those who care about them. It is important to note that people experience depression differently. Symptom severity and duration is unique for each person, ranging from mild to severe. The good news for people dealing with depression is that they are not alone and help is available.

Who Can Get Depression?

Millions of children and adults in the United States (U.S.), and hundreds of millions across the globe, are affected daily by depression. Almost 17% of U.S adults and 11% of children suffer from a depressive episode at some point in their lifetime.

Depression presents in people of all genders, ages, and cultural backgrounds. About twice as many women as men are affected by depression, across almost all countries and socioeconomic classes. Other groups of people that are more likely to experience depression include people between the ages of 45-64, people who have been previously married, and those with less than a high-school education.

In other words, depression is a very common occurrence. Chances are that you or someone you know has experienced distressing feelings of despair and hopelessness. Proper treatment can help alleviate these and other symptoms.

Types of Depression

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder. Dysthymic Disorder is a milder form of depression.

Symptoms of Major Depression

How To Tell if You Are Depressed

To be clinically diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, you must present with symptoms that indicate at least one major depressive episode. People typically experience recurrent episodes. These episodes are characterized primarily by a depressed mood or a decrease of interest in activities previously found enjoyable. These symptoms must be present for the span of at least two weeks. Again, it is important to remember that depression presents differently from person to person. Other symptoms include:

  • Fluctuation in weight/appetite (increase or decrease)
  • Change in sleep patterns (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Irritability
  • Increase in unintentional muscular activity; “restlessness”
  • Moving slower than usual
  • Excessive tiredness or decrease in energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and/or extreme guilt
  • Inability to focus, think clearly, or make decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
  • Physiological symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headaches, gastro-intestinal irritation, and general pain that do not improve with treatment

Dysthymic Disorder (Dysthymia)

Dysthymic disorder is identifiable by a chronically sad or depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. Although dysthymic disorder may not be severe enough to disable people completely, it can negatively affect healthy feeling and functioning. Along with a persistent depressed mood, people must exhibit changes in appetite, disturbances in sleep, fatigue or loss of energy, low self-esteem, a decreased ability to focus, indecisiveness, or feelings of hopelessness.

Symptoms of Depression and How They Affect You

Symptoms of depression tend to exacerbate one another and usually span 5 areas of functioning.

1. Emotional – Most depressed people feel sad and down. People who describe themselves a sad often derive little to no pleasure from any activity, even from things they previously enjoyed. Some people report feeling irritable, angry, or anxious. These feelings may lead to an increased frequency of crying.

2. Motivational – People who are depressed frequently lose desire to pursue usual activities, experiencing a lack of inspiration, initiative, and drive. They may experience having to force themselves to participate in life: going to work, spending time with friends, talking, eating, or having sex.

3. Behavioral – People experiencing depression are often less active/productive. They may spend less time engaged in activities; they spend more time alone, spending more time in bed. They may speak and move more slowly than usual.

4. Cognitive – Depressed people have significantly negative thoughts about themselves. They see themselves as worthless, incompetent, and inferior. They usually blame themselves for every adverse event/situation and almost never give themselves praise for positive successes. Depressed people tend to experience lack of focus, concentration, and an increase in confusion.

5. Physical – People who are depressed commonly experience physiological symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headaches, gastro-intestinal irritation, and general pain. Disruptions in sleep and appetite are especially frequent, decreasing or increasing.

More Reading about Depression

You may enjoy reading our list of depression quotes from our blog.

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