What are Some Signs of Depression?

R. Kayne

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) close to 19 million Americans or nearly 10% of the population suffers from depressive illness every year.

Depression severely affects the way a person feels, mentally and physically.
Depression severely affects the way a person feels, mentally and physically.

While it is normal to occasionally have a bad day or a passing case of the blues, persistent depression over weeks, months, or even years is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry. Low levels of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, brain chemicals responsible for mood, are linked to depressive illness. Because persistent depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, a person suffering from severe depression cannot simply "snap out of it" as well-meaning loved ones often encourage. Depression is not a weakness but a treatable condition.

Weight loss or gain is common in persons suffering from depression.
Weight loss or gain is common in persons suffering from depression.

Depression affects the way a person feels physically, mentally and emotionally. Just as there are different types of the flu virus, there are different types of depression with varying symptoms and severity. Bouts of major depression may be experienced occasionally or once in a lifetime. This type of depression interferes with the ability to focus thereby affecting work, study and domestic activities. Sleep and eating disorders are common, with significant weight loss or gain. Fatigue and hopelessness may also be present, and a lack of caring about hobbies or interests once enjoyed.

Feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness are all signs of depression.
Feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness are all signs of depression.

A milder form of depression is dysthymia, characterized by a chronic malaise that is not disabling but nevertheless reduces quality of life. People who experience dysthymia also often experience periods of major depression.

Excessive alcoholism may be a sign of depression.
Excessive alcoholism may be a sign of depression.

A less common form of depression is biopolar-disorder, formerly called manic-depressive disorder. Bipolar-disorder is significantly different from other forms of depressive illness. Its symptomatic signature is marked by extreme lows, similar to major depression, that gradually turn into extreme highs, or manic behavior. After a time the high mood swing gravitates back to a low, and symptoms reverse. The cycle then repeats itself. At the high end of the bipolar swing, a person feels extremely capable with grandiose ideas and unnatural energy.

People who suffer from depression may struggle to get out bed.
People who suffer from depression may struggle to get out bed.

Signs of depression can vary in severity and can also change with time, and some people will only have a few symptoms while others might recognize quite a few. Some of the signs of depression might be: a feeling of emptiness, sadness, pessimism, hopelessness, fatigue, sleep disorders in the form of insomnia or over-sleeping, weight loss or weight gain, loss of interest in hobbies, decreased sexual drive, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, or persistent thoughts of death or suicide.

Inadequate sleep and poor nutrition may result in the body's inability to combat depression and fatigue.
Inadequate sleep and poor nutrition may result in the body's inability to combat depression and fatigue.

For mania signs may include: abnormal enthusiasm about impractical or grandiose ideas, feelings of euphoria, excessive talking and racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, inappropriate social behavior, increased sexual drive, and lack of proper judgment.

Severe cases of depression caused by certain factors can contribute to homelessness.
Severe cases of depression caused by certain factors can contribute to homelessness.

Depression is often found to run in families, leading researchers to believe there is a genetic predisposition. However, this isn't always the case, as depression also strikes people with no known genetic history. Certainly many stressors like over-work, a troubling relationship, or a bereaved loss can trigger depression.

Although greater emphasis is sometimes placed on manic phases, bipolar depression is often the more dangerous phase of the illness.
Although greater emphasis is sometimes placed on manic phases, bipolar depression is often the more dangerous phase of the illness.

Both women and men experience depressive illness but twice as many women as men suffer from depression. If you recognize even a few of the signs of depression, contact your doctor. Treatment is readily available in the form of antidepressants, "talk" therapy, or other regimens, depending on your personal needs. You don't have to live with depressive illness. It can be treated and you can get back to being your old self soon!

Depression is common following a debilitating injury.
Depression is common following a debilitating injury.
People with major depression are usually not interested in engaging in social activities.
People with major depression are usually not interested in engaging in social activities.
Feelings of angst can lead to depression.
Feelings of angst can lead to depression.
People battling depression often isolate themselves from others.
People battling depression often isolate themselves from others.
Depression is common for people facing a severe illness.
Depression is common for people facing a severe illness.
Insomnia may be a sign of depression.
Insomnia may be a sign of depression.
People with depression may engage in risky behavior.
People with depression may engage in risky behavior.

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Discussion Comments

Ana1234

The signs and symptoms of depression can actually be quite subtle. I recently went to a doctor with a bunch of stomach complaints and was sure that I had cancer or something like that, but after a long talk, she recommended instead that I increase my depression medication and go to counseling.

And, even though that presumption annoyed me a little, she turned out to be right. My stomach problems disappeared once I increased the medication and the counseling.

Fa5t3r

@pleonasm - I'm glad that the medication worked for you, but I would be very annoyed with my doctor if he or she just decided to put me on medication without any other alternatives. I don't think anyone should be put on anti-depressants without a regular appointment standing with a psychologist or a counselor, because there have been cases where someone with signs of clinical depression has committed suicide after being put on medication.

Unfortunately, the pills will often remove the sense of helplessness and the lethargy first, before increasing happiness, and depressed people have found the energy to harm themselves.

I'm not against medication because it can do a lot of good, but I think it's wrong to prescribe it as just another cure.

pleonasm

I went to the doctor recently for a blood test on an unrelated condition and happened to mention that I had been feeling depressed for a while. He gave me a form to fill out which was apparently a fairly standard test and asked questions like whether I've ever had trouble sleeping and whether I was suicidal.

I ended up getting a fairly high score, so the doctor recommended that I be put on medication. I was actually quite surprised, because I'd never really thought that I was depressed enough to need medication, but I decided to try it and it has made a world of difference.

It's like the troubles that used to multiply in my head are now separate issues that don't add up and become overwhelming.

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