Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting over 15 million Americans ages 15 to 44 each year. Depression affects twice as many women than men; however, this could be due to underreporting of depression in men. Men, children, teens and the elderly may all experience depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Feelings of sadness, loneliness and fatigue are a common occurrence for nearly everyone at some point. However when those feelings and emotions affect normal life functions, relationships and activities depression may be the cause. Depression usually strikes in the late 20’s but can occur at any age. The symptoms of depression include:
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Feelings of loneliness or emptiness
• A loss of interest in normal daily activities
• A loss of interest in hobbies and relationships
• A change in appetite or weight
• A change in sleep patterns; experiencing insomnia or sleeping much more than normal.
• Irritability, frustration or anxiety
• Lack of energy
• Strong feelings of low self-worth and guilt
• Trouble concentrating or focusing
• Physical symptoms: backaches, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems, that do not respond to treatment.
• Reduction of sex drive
• Agitation or restlessness
• Slowed thinking, speaking or movements.
• Difficulty making decisions
• Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
• Crying for no apparent reason
Causes and Risk Factors for Depression
Depression is the result of a combination of factors. The seriousness of a depressive episode as well as the length and symptoms present will vary in each case. Some of the factors that may contribute to an occurrence of depression are:
• Physical changes in the brain: MRI imaging shows a decreased function in the area of the brain that regulates mood, thought processes, sleeping and appetite in individuals with depression.
• Abnormalities in the production and function of neurotransmitters due to poor nutrition or other factors.
• Changes in the balance of hormones in the body due to menopause, pregnancy, or other factors.
• Family members who have experienced depression
• Loss of a loved one through death (especially suicide) or divorce
• Financial problems
• High stress
• Chronic illness
• Being a woman
• Traumatic childhood experiences
• Alcoholism: Either personally or in the family
• Having little social support
• A recent pregnancy
• Drug abuse
• Some medications for high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, etc., may cause depression.
Different Types of Depression
There are several different types and severity levels of depression.
• Major depressive disorder: The symptoms of major depressive disorder are debilitating and can last for up to six months if left untreated. An individual with major depressive disorder is likely to experience more than one episode over a lifetime. However single episodes have been reported.
• Dysthymic disorder lasts for two years or longer, however, the symptoms are less severe than major depression and may not lead to complete disability. Normal life functioning is impaired and individuals with dysthymic disorder may experience episodes of major depression.
• Minor depression occurs for a shorter time period and with less severe symptoms than major depression or dysthymic disorder.
• Psychotic depression occurs when a major depressive episode is accompanied by hallucinations, delusions or some other type of break with reality.
• Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the result of a lack of vitamin D due to a shortage of natural sunlight. SAD is most commonly diagnosed during the winter or in Arctic environments where the days are much shorter for a large part of the year.
• Premenstrual dysphonic disorder (PMDD) occurs when women experience symptoms of depression during the week before the start of their period, to the extent that it inhibits their normal functioning.
• Postpartum depression occurs after a woman gives birth. Hormonal and physical changes as well as the life changes that occur with having an infant can seem overwhelming and daunting.