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Mood Disorders >> Depression

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 the problem. 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. It’s 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 over time.

Depression Signs and Symptoms
Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness 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 month.
Sleep changes Either insomnia or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
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.
Self-loathing Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Harsh criticism of perceived faults and mistakes.
Concentration problems Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
Irritability 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 away.

If you are considering suicide see Coping with Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings or call 1-800-273-TALK now!

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 and treated.
  • 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 teens.
  • 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 affective disorder.
  • 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.
  • 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 disorder.
  • 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 to rejection.
  • 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 depressive episode.

Other risk factors for depression:
  • Loneliness
  • 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 on 11/6/07.

    Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/. C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.

    You can find the original article at

    SOURCE: www.helpguide.org

    Helpguide.org: Mental Health, Healthy Lifestyles, and Aging Issues

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