Depression understood: is the first step in helping people identify symptoms, both in themselves and others, in order that they can seek treatment or support.
Although there are many different types of depression, most of them share very similar symptoms and recognizing these can give you the confidence to speak to your doctor, who in turn will then help you to find a successful treatment method.
With around 6.7% of the US population suffering from it, equating to 16.1 million people, major depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. Symptoms of the condition include:
Major depression can be caused by a myriad of things. Some are genetically predisposed to it and it may be biological factors, such as chemical imbalances in the brain, which cause it.
For others, a stressful or traumatic event could trigger it. In other cases, certain medications or physical illnesses may increase the risk of major depression.
Dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder, is a form of depression which lasts for at least two years, during which time sufferers feel depressed on most days. Around 3.3 million adults in America have the condition. It shares much of the same symptoms as major depression but they tend to be less severe, which means that individuals are often able to remain more functional in their daily lives.
However, simply because someone can continue to work and interact socially does not mean that their depressive symptoms should not be treated. Getting treatment, either via medication or psychotherapy, can significantly improve quality of life and reduce the risk of dysthymia sufferers experiencing episodes of major depression, when symptoms will become much worse. When someone with dysthymia experiences major depression, it is known as "double depression".
Most types of depression cause persistent sadness which cannot be alleviated by positive events. However, atypical depression can. For example, spending time with friends or taking part in an enjoyable hobby may temporarily reduce the severity of symptoms for someone with atypical depression.
There are also a few other symptoms which tend to be particularly common in people with atypical depression. This includes:
Major depression is called "reactive" when it occurs as a result of an external circumstance or event which has caused significant emotional stress to an individual. Events such as the death of a loved one, a burglary, being victim to a violent attack or losing your job are all examples of things that may trigger a depressed episode.
Although any of these events would have an impact on anybody's mood and cause some temporary symptoms of depression (such as hopeless, insomnia, lack of appetite, anxiety, etc.), for some the symptoms last far longer than is normal. If they remain for longer than three weeks and nothing is able to temporarily improve mood, it is likely that the event has caused an episode of major depression.
SAD is a type of seasonal depression where sufferers experience symptoms in autumn and winter months only. Although much of the symptoms are similar to those of major depression, it's also common to experience:
Seasonal depression is understood to be caused by the reduced daylight hours during autumn and winter months, which impacts the body's natural circadian rhythm and causes a drop in serotonin. It is therefore often advised to get out into daylight as much as possible, and to use a light therapy box if this is not possible.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication, but since the depression often naturally lifts midway through spring, long-term use of antidepressants may not be desired.