Depression is a mood disorder that generally brings about sadness, but it can also influence a person’s energy, motivation, irritability, and overall well-being. It is one of the most powerful mental health conditions a person can endure. The numerous depressive disorders differ based on the types of symptoms as well as their frequency, intensity, duration, and triggers. Depression is incredibly common about 8.7% of women and 5.3% of men have some form of depression fortunately, it’s very treatable. Mental health experts can successfully diagnose and treat a range of depressive disorders to restore the health and well-being people desire. If you’re ready to speak with a therapist about the ways in which depression is affecting your life. We’ll help you find a therapist who specializes in the treatment of depression and who is able to connect with you online at a day and time that’s convenient for you. Appointments are available as soon as next-day. Getting started is free, easy, and confidential.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a collection of symptoms with the ability to impact all parts of the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Because the term “depression” covers a range of disorders and symptoms, the way one person experiences depression can vary greatly from someone else. Several factors contribute to the presentation of depression with biological, environmental, and chemical differences in the individuals. Available depression treatment options target certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to improve symptoms.
Depression vs. Sadness
All people experience sadness, but not all people experience depressive disorders. If someone loses their job, ends a relationship, or loses a loved one, sadness is expected. Depression is different from sadness because of the difference in intensity, duration of symptoms, and effect on a person’s life. Mental health professionals will work to correctly see the difference and decide if the person is experiencing a mental health condition or typical emotions due to life experiences.
Depression vs. Grief
When a loved one dies or a person experiences another form of loss, sadness, anger, and despair are normal and expected reactions. As time goes on, though, it can become challenging to separate typical grief from depression. Not everyone who experiences a loss will become depressed, but many will. Because of this connection, it is essential for people to be aware of and communicate the levels, duration, and frequency of symptoms. Common grief does not require intervention from a mental health professional, but depression will necessitate professional involvement.
Types of Depression
Rather than only being one condition, depression is actually a constellation of depressive disorders. Though these conditions differ, they share commonalities like a mood that is sad, empty, or irritable paired with behavior and thinking changes that serve to reduce a person’s ability to function at their expected level. The main differences among depressive disorders are how long they last, the timing of the symptoms, and the events or situations that trigger the symptoms to emerge.
Types of depressive disorders include:
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): This is the condition most people think about when considering depression. MDD is marked by five or more symptoms of depression lasting for at least two weeks, which can range in intensity from mild to severe.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): Rather than a period of depression that recur and remit, persistent depressive disorder represents a more stable and consistent level of depression. Symptoms may not be as intense as other disorders, but the duration will be very uncomfortable (at least 2 years in adults and one year in children).
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Changing symptoms that accompany menstruation are expected, but premenstrual dysphoric disorder occurs when the repeated hormonal changes create a drastic shift in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In many cases, these symptoms make it impossible for a person to maintain relationships and responsibilities.
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): As a disorder that targets children and teens, DMDD presents as anger and irritability more than sadness and low motivation. Kids with this condition may frequently tantrum and engage in unwanted outbursts.
- Other common depressive disorders: People may also experience depressive symptoms triggered by prior drug or medication use, while others will note other symptoms of depression that do not meet the criteria for a full depressive diagnosis.
Symptoms of Depression
All depressive disorders have separate criteria to indicate their presence. A condition like persistent depressive disorder will focus on the length of symptoms, DMDD targets increased irritability, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder notes mood’s interaction with hormone changes experts gather this information to determine which diagnosis is accurate.
The classic symptoms of depression belong to major depressive disorder or a major depressive episode, and include:
- A depressed mood with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, or irritability
- Decreased pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities
- A noteworthy weight change or a significant change in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little throughout the day
- Feeling or looking very sped up or slowed down in behaviors
- Loss of energy
- Feeling worthless or very guilty
- Thinking about death, dying, or suicide
Not only does a person need to display these symptoms, but they need to do so for most days during a two-week period. Additionally, these depressive qualities need to drastically impact the person’s daily functioning at home, work, or school to qualify as depression.2
Some depressive symptoms may stem from medical health issues and complaints like cardiovascular concerns and hormone irregularities, so anyone experiencing new or worsening symptoms should seek a full medical evaluation. This assessment can help rule out any risk of physiological complications.
What Depression Looks Like?
Many aspects of depression are individualized, so two people with the condition may show unique signs. Depending on factors like age and sex, depression could look very different. The stereotypical view of a person weeping on their couch as they lay in their bathrobe may be true for some, but other people may express their depression through powerful bouts of irritability and anger. They also may display a blunted, emotionless affect. Children and adolescents are more likely to display an irritable mood rather than a depressed one.
What Depression Looks Like in Children
Depression in children may have a completely different tone and presentation. Younger children may complain more of physical issues and discomfort when depressed like having an upset stomach. They could appear clingy, unwilling to separate, and very worried. These symptoms could be mistaken for other conditions frequently seen in childhood like separation anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
What Depression Looks Like in Adolescents
Depression in older children and adolescents will shift towards being angry, defiant, and irritable. They may get into more trouble at school with declining academic performance. Often they will have changes in social life such as withdrawing from friends, relationships, or significant changes in their friend groups. Teens with depression could also display symptoms of anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.
Depression in Men vs. Women
Many of the standard depressive symptoms like low mood, low motivation, and decreased energy levels will be the expected experience for women. Women commonly display high levels of guilt, shame, and worthlessness paired with depression.
Regardless of age, men are more likely to experience and complain about physical symptoms of depression than women. They will complain of:
- Heart problems
- Chest pain
- Digestive health issues
Because the depression presents differently, people may resort to different techniques to try and resolve these symptoms.
Depression in Older Adults
In older adults, depression becomes more challenging to distinguish from preconceived notions of aging because symptoms could be less evident. Seniors may also conceal their feelings of sadness due to how people may respond. Life events like death of loved ones and medical conditions like heart disease can add to or create new depression.
Treatment of Depression
Effective treatments for depression include professional services like psychotherapy and medication management. Some people will also find success with lifestyle adjustments like changes in their exercise, diet, and sleep. Not every treatment option will be an appropriate match for every person with depression, so treatment must be tailored to each individual for the best results.
Therapy is at the frontline of treatment for depression. This treatment commonly involves the person with depression attending sessions with a talk therapist in an individual, group, or family setting with the appointments taking place in an office, the home, or in the community. People with severe depression may require treatment in an inpatient treatment center to maintain safety while increasing the available services. Therapy for depression occurs at a range of intensities and frequencies as therapists may employ different therapeutic techniques to reduce symptoms. Some people can benefit from one therapy session each month while others will require the attention of several hours of therapy each day to manage the signs and symptoms of depressive disorders.
Medication is another standard treatment option for depression that aims to adjust the level of neurotransmitters in the brain to decrease depressive symptoms and improve overall mental health. Medication management can be used alone or in combination with other treatments like therapy to complement its effectiveness. Medication management for depression usually requires some level of trial and error to find the wanted effects. Any person using prescribed medications should always use the drug as directed and make their prescriber aware of any health changes like pregnancy. Stopping medications abruptly can result in unwanted effects, so the prescriber will often recommend a weaning schedule to reduce risk.
People can always take an active role in their depression treatment. There are plenty of ways people can work to improve their depression at-home, and although these may not resolve depression independently, they can add to the benefits of professional strategies. These may include learning more about depression, increasing your level of exercise, limiting your use of alcohol and other substances, and establishing a regular sleep routine. Performing these changes will not suddenly eliminate depression, but they could help to limit symptoms and make other treatments more effective. Best of all, these healthy lifestyle changes can be used in conjunction with other professional treatments and carry zero risk of unwanted side effects.
How to Get Help for Depression
When a person can identify the presence of depression, it is time to seek professional treatments. Though it may be tempting to address the situation alone, depression is a serious mental health condition that deserves professional intervention. Many begin the journey towards depression treatment by speaking to a loved one with personal or professional experience in the field. Waiting may only give time for the symptoms to intensify, so people with depression would do well to seek treatment early.
Getting help for a loved one poses some challenges as the other person’s reaction is never certain. When preparing to discuss a loved one’s depression, be sure to always approach the situation from a place of love, support, and understanding. Choose a calm time to have a conversation, rather than during a period of anger or distractibility. Whether your loved one is an adult or child, let them know you are willing to explore the treatment process with them. From calling to schedule an assessment to actually attending sessions with them, your patience and support can create very positive effects.
Final Thoughts on Depression
Every person’s symptoms, triggers, and experience of depression is unique, but this doesn’t mean that others won’t understand your needs. To the contrary, help is available from professionals and loved ones to combat depression and the damage it creates. Every day, people confront depression and push back against the disorder. Are you ready to connect with a therapist but feel a little overwhelmed by all your options? Speak with one of Choosing Therapy’s Client Navigators. Client Navigators are mental health professionals who will listen to what you’re looking for in a therapist and help pair you with the best possible fit. Getting started is free, easy, and confidential.