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While feeling down from time to time is a normal part
of life, when emotions such as apathy and despair
take hold and just won't go away, depression may be
the cause. More than just the temporary "blues,"
the lows of major depression make it tough to function
and enjoy life like you once did.
With treatment and help, you can feel better. But
first, you need to know what depression looks like.
Learning how to spot the signs and symptoms of depression
is the first step to understanding and overcoming
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
We all go through ups and downs in our mood. Sadness
is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, setbacks,
and disappointments. We’re down in the dumps
for a short time, then gradually the painful feelings
dissipate and we move on with our lives—often
the wiser for the experience. But when the low mood
persists, interfering with your ability to work, study,
eat, sleep, and have fun, it’s no longer normal.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
There’s a vast difference between “feeling
depressed” and suffering from clinical depression.
The despondency of clinical depression is unrelenting
and overwhelming. Some people describe it as “living
in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending
doom. They can't escape their unhappiness and despair.
However, some people with depression don't feel sad
at all. Instead, they feel lifeless and empty. In
this apathetic state, they are unable to experience
pleasure. Even when participating in activities they
used to enjoy, they feel as if they're just going
through the motions. The signs and symptoms vary from
person to person, and they may wax and wane in severity
|Depression Signs and Symptoms
|Feelings of helplessness
||A bleak outlook – nothing will ever
get better and there’s nothing you can
do to improve your situation.
|Loss of interest in daily activities
||No interest in or ability to enjoy former
hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex.
|Appetite or weight changes
||Significant weight loss or weight gain –
a change of more that 5% of body weight in a
||Either insomnia or oversleeping (also known
|Psychomotor agitation or retardation
||Either feeling “keyed up” and
restless or sluggish and physically slowed down.
|Loss of energy
||Feeling fatigued and physically drained. Even
small tasks are exhausting or take longer.
||Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Harsh criticism of perceived faults and mistakes.
||Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering
||Easily annoyed or frustrated. Lashing out
in anger or snapping at others.
|Aches and pains
||New or worse physical symptoms, including
headaches, backaches, diarrhea or constipation,
abdominal pain, and aching joints
People suffering from depression often show distorted
thinking. Everything looks bleak to them, and they
hold extremely negative views about themselves, their
situation, and the future. Trapped in their pessimism,
they obsess over their problems and blow them out
of proportion. Unable to see a light at the end of
the tunnel, they may even start to see suicide as
their only way out.
Thoughts of Death or Suicide
Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of severe depression,
and must always be taken seriously. If someone you
know is threatening suicide or talking of wanting
to hurt him/herself, seek professional help right
If you are considering suicide
with Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings
or call 1-800-273-TALK
GENDER AND AGE DIFFERENCES
Depression is often expressed differently according
to one's age, sex, and culture. For example, a young
woman is unlikely to exhibit the same signs and symptoms
of depression as an elderly man. An awareness of these
differences helps ensure that the problem is recognized
TYPES OF DEPRESSION
- Depression in teens - Depression
in teenagers can look different than it does in
adults. Irritability—rather than depression—is
frequently the predominant mood. A depressed adolescent
may be hostile, grumpy, or easily lose his or
her temper. Unexplained aches and pains are also
common symptoms of depression in children and
- Depression in older adults
- The difficult changes that many older adults
face—such as bereavement, loss of independence,
and health problems—can lead to depression,
especially in those without a strong support system.
However, depression is not a normal part of aging.
Older adults tend to complain more about the physical
rather than the emotional signs and symptoms of
depression, and so their mood disorder often goes
unrecognized. But depression in the elderly is
associated with poor health, a high mortality
rate, and an increased risk of suicide, so diagnosis
and treatment are extremely important.
- Depression in Women - Rates
of depression in women are twice as high as they
are in men. This is due in part to hormonal factors,
particularly when it comes to premenstrual syndrome
(PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD),
postpartum depression, and perimenopausal depression.
As for signs and symptoms, women are more likely
than men to experience pronounced feelings of
guilt, sleep excessively, overeat, and gain weight.
Women are also more likely to suffer from seasonal
- Depression in Men - Depressed
men are less likely than women to acknowledge
feelings of self-loathing and hopelessness. Instead,
they tend to complain about fatigue, irritability,
sleep problems, and loss of interest in work and
hobbies. Other signs and symptoms of depression
in men include anger, aggression and violence,
reckless behavior, and substance abuse. Men may
also try to cope with their depression by throwing
themselves into their work.
There are several different types of depressive disorders.
Many of the symptoms overlap, but each type of depression
has distinct signs and effects.
DEPRESSION CAUSES AND RISK
- Major Depression - Major depression
is characterized by a persistent sad mood and/or
an inability to experience pleasure. These symptoms
are constant, interfering with the ability to
lead a productive and enjoyable life. Left untreated,
a major depressive episode typically lasts for
about six months. Some people may experience just
a single episode of depression in their lifetime,
but more commonly, major depression is a recurring
- Atypical Depression - Atypical
depression is a common subtype of major depression.
It features a specific symptom pattern, including
a temporary mood lift in response to positive
events. You may feel better after receiving good
news or while out with friends. However, this
boost in mood is fleeting. Other symptoms of atypical
depression include weight gain or significant
increase in appetite, sleeping excessively, a
heavy feeling in the arms and legs, and sensitivity
- Dysthymia - Dysthymia, or
dysthymic disorder, is a type of “low-grade”
depression that lasts for at least two years.
Dysthymia is less severe than major depression,
but the chronic symptoms prevent one from leading
life to the fullest. If you have dysthymic disorder,
you are mildly to moderately depressed on more
days than not, although you may have brief periods
of normal mood. Many people with dysthymia also
experience major depressive episodes, a condition
known as “double depression”.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Some people who experience recurring episodes
of depression show a seasonal pattern known as
seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a major
depression that occurs in the fall or winter when
the amount of sunlight is limited. In SAD, the
depression goes away once the seasons turn again
in the spring. SAD is more common in northern
climates and in younger people.
- Postpartum Depression - Many
new mothers suffer from some fleeting form of
the “baby blues.” Postpartum depression,
in contrast, is a longer lasting and more serious
depression thought to be triggered by hormonal
changes associated with having a baby. Postpartum
depression usually develops soon after delivery,
but any depression that occurs within six months
of childbirth may be postpartum depression.
There is no single cause of depression. Early life
experience, genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors,
and certain personality traits all play a part in
causing depression. Something that causes depression
in one person may have no effect on another.
Certain risk factors, however, make people more vulnerable
to depression. For example, people who are isolated
and have few friends or family members to turn to
in times of stress are more likely to develop depression.
Additionally, if you’ve been clinically depressed
before, you’re at a higher risk of becoming
depressed again. The odds increase with each major
Other risk factors for depression:
Lack of social support
Recent stressful life experiences
Family history of depression
Marital or relationship problems
|| Financial strain
Early childhood trauma or abuse
Alcohol or drug abuse
Unemployment or underemployment
Health problems or chronic pain
Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne
Segal, Ph.D. contributed to this article. Last modified
Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/.
C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.
You can find the original article at
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