Causes, Symptoms and Treatment for Depression

We’ve all experienced at least a time or two in our lives where we felt depressed. But depression is very different from sadness. If you are feeling down or hopeless on a regular basis, you could be dealing with depression. Depression can be caused by circumstances, but it also can have a biological component. Common causes of depression include family history, early childhood trauma, brain structure, medical conditions, and drug use. Chronic illness, insomnia, chronic pain, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are included in the medical conditions that put people at a higher risk of depression. More than 20% of people who have a substance misuse disorder also experience depression. Other risk factors include low self-esteem, personal history of mental illness, certain medications, or stressful events including loss of a loved one, divorce or economic troubles.

Depression is classified as a mood disorder. It may be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. People experience depression in different ways. It may interfere with daily work, resulting in lost time and lower productivity. It can also influence relationships and some chronic health conditions. Some medical conditions can get worse due to depression including, arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 8.1% of American adults over the age of 20 had depression in any given two week period from 2013 – 2016; and women were twice as likely to have depression as men. Symptoms of depression can be different for men, women and children.

Men may experience symptoms related to their:

  • mood, such as anger, aggressiveness, irritability, anxiousness, restlessness
  • emotional well-being, such as feeling empty, sad, hopeless
  • behavior, such as loss of interest, no longer finding pleasure in favorite activities, feeling tired easily, thoughts of suicide, drinking excessively, using drugs, engaging in high-risk activities
  • sexual interest, such as reduced sexual desire, lack of sexual performance
  • cognitive abilities, such as inability to concentrate, difficulty completing tasks, delayed responses during conversations
  • sleep patterns, such as insomnia, restless sleep, excessive sleepiness, not sleeping through the night
  • physical well-being, such as fatigue, pains, headache, digestive problems

Women may experience symptoms related to their:

  • mood, such as irritability
  • emotional well-being, such as feeling sad or empty, anxious or hopeless
  • behavior, such as loss of interest in activities, withdrawing from social engagements, thoughts of suicide
  • cognitive abilities, such as thinking or talking more slowly
  • sleep patterns, such as difficulty sleeping through the night, waking early, sleeping too much
  • physical well-being, such as decreased energy, greater fatigue, changes in appetite, weight changes, aches, pain, headaches, increased cramps

Children may experience symptoms related to their:

  • mood, such as irritability, anger, mood swings, crying
  • emotional well-being, such as feelings of incompetence (e.g. “I can’t do anything right”) or despair, crying, intense sadness
  • behavior, such as getting into trouble at school or refusing to go to school, avoiding friends or siblings, thoughts of death or suicide
  • cognitive abilities, such as difficulty concentrating, decline in school performance, changes in grades
  • sleep patterns, such as difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • physical well-being, such as loss of energy, digestive problems, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain

Diagnosing depression can be a little tricky since there is not a single test for it. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor about how you are feeling. They will ask about your mood, appetite, sleep habits, activity level, as well as the thoughts in your head. Because depression can be the result of other health problems, your doctor may also conduct a physical exam and order blood work. Sometimes thyroid problems or a vitamin D deficiency can trigger symptoms of depression. When depression is left untreated, other complications can arise including weight gain or loss, physical pain, substance abuse, panic attacks, social isolation, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and relationship problems. 

However, if you seek medical attention, you could see improvement in about six weeks. Common medical treatment for depression include medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and antipsychotics. Your physician may also recommend seeking professional counseling services to determine the underlying causes of your condition and to make sure you are taking the right medication for your type of depression. Lifestyle therapies can also help combat depression. According to the World Health Organization, 60% of health and wellness is attributed to lifestyle factors—and just 40% is attributed to genetics and medical care. Through lifestyle therapy, you can connect with wellness experts who understand changes in behavior and what is needed to achieve improved clinical outcomes. With guidance and support in lifestyle management, and insight into the roots of your health issue (including depression) you can instill some positive changes that may help you feel better. Everyone is different, so talk to your doctor about treating your depression. 

Sources: Healthline and the CDC