Depression: Introduction, Types, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Treatment


Depression is a mood disorder that makes you feel and lose interest in things. It is also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It changes how you feel, think, and act, and can cause many emotional and physical problems. You might find it hard to do everyday tasks, and sometimes you might feel like isn’t worth living. It is more than just feeling sad. It isn’t a weakness, and you can’t just “snap out” of it. It might need long-term treatment. But don’t lose hope. Most people with depression feel better with medication, therapy, or both. For more research you can also visit UNICEF.

What is Depression?

Depression is a very common mental health condition and often occurs with anxiety. It can be mild and brief or severe and long-lasting. Some people only have depression once, while others may go through it many times. It can lead to suicide, but this can be prevented with the right support. It’s important to understand that there is a lot that can be done to help young people who are thinking about suicide.

What are the Types of Depression?

Depression can be classified based on how severe the symptoms are. Some people have mild and short-term episodes, while others have severe and long-term and long-lasting episodes. There are two main types of it, major depressive and persistent depressive disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder:

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most severe type of depression. It involves ongoing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that don’t go away by themselves. TO be diagnosed with MDD, a person must have five or more of the following symptoms over a 2-week period:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day
  • Loss of interest in most regular activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Sleeping a lot or not being able to sleep
  • Slowed thinking or movement
  • Fatigue or low energy most days
  • Feeling of worthlessness or guilt
  • Loss of concentration or indecisiveness
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

There are different subtypes of major depressive disorder, known as “specifiers.” These include:

  • Atypical features
  • Anxious distress
  • Mixed features
  • Peripartum onset (during pregnancy or right after giving birth)
  • Seasonal patterns
  • Melancholic features
  • Psychotic features
  • Catatonia

Persistent Depressive Disorder:

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), formerly as dysthymia, is a milder but long-lasting form of it. To be diagnosed with depression because it persists for a long time. People with PDD often:

  • Lose interest in normal daily activities
  • Feel hopeless
  • Lack productivity
  • Have low self-esteem

It can be treated successfully, but it’s important to follow your treatment plan. Living with depression can be challenging but treatment can help improve your quality of life. Talk to your healthcare professional about your treatment options.

Postpartum Depression:

After giving birth, some people go through a short period of sadness or interesting emotions known as the “baby blues.” This usually goes away in a few days to a few weeks. Postpartum depression, or postnatal depression, is more severe. There is no single cause for this type of depression, and can last for months or even years. Anyone who experiences ongoing depression after childbirth should seek medical attention.

What are the Causes of Depression?

The exact causes of it are not fully understood. Like many mental disorders, several factors may contribute:

  • Biological Differences: People with depression often show physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still being studied but may help identify potential causes.
  • Brain Chemistry: Neurotransmitters, which are natural brain chemicals, likely play a role in depression. Recent research suggests that changes in how these neurotransmitters function and interact with brain circuits involved in mood regulation may contribute to it and its treatment.
  • Hormones: Shifts in the body’s hormone balance can contribute to or trigger depression. Hormonal changes can occur during pregnancy, postpartum (after childbirth), and due to conditions like thyroid disorders or menopause.
  • Family History: Depression tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component. Researchers are exploring specific genes that may be involved in causing depression.  
  • Brain Structure: There is a higher risk of depression if the frontal lobe of your brain is less active. However, it’s unclear whether this occurs before or after depressive symptoms start.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain conditions can increase your risk of depression, such as chronic illness, insomnia, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, strokes, and cancers.
  • Substance Use: A history of substance or alcohol misuse can also increase your risk of depression.
  • Chronic Pain: People who experienced long-term emotional or chronic physical pain are significantly more likely to develop it.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

Although it may happen just once in a lifetime, most people experience multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur nearly every day and may include:

  • Feeling of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, Irritability, or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
  • Sleeping disorders, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue and lack of energy, making even small tasks difficult
  • Changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or gain
  • Anxiety, restlessness or agitation
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • Feeling of worthlessness or guilt, focusing on past failures or self-blame
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicides attempts, or suicide
  • Unexplained physical issues, like back pain and headaches

For many people with depression, these symptoms are severe enough to disrupt daily activities such as work, school, social life, or relationships. Some may feel generally unhappy without understanding why.

Depression Symptoms in Children and Teens:

Common signs and symptoms of it in children and teenagers are similar to those in adults, but there are some differences. In younger children, symptoms may include:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Clinginess
  • Worry
  • Aches and pains
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Underweight or changes in appetite

In teens, symptoms may include:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling of negativity and worthlessness
  • Anger
  • Poor school performance or attendance
  • Feeling misunderstood and overly sensitive
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Self-harm
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Avoidance of social interaction

These signs and symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, and it’s important for parents and caregivers to be aware of changes in behavior that could indicate it in children and teenagers.

Depression Symptoms in Older Adults:

It is not a normal part of aging, and it should always be taken seriously. Unfortunately, depression is often overlooked and untreated in older adults, who may hesitate to seek help. Symptoms of depression in older adults may be different or less obvious, including:

  • Memory difficulties or changes in personality
  • Physical pains and aches
  • Fatigue, and loss of appetite, sleep problems, loss of interest in sex, (not due to a medical condition or medication)
  • Preferring to stay at home rather than socializing or trying new activities
  • Thoughts of suicide of feeling suicidal, especially in older men
  • Recognizing these signs is crucial for getting appropriate support and treatment for older adults experiencing depression.     

What are the Risk Factors of Depression?

Depression often starts in the teens, 20s, or 30s, but it can occur at any age. More women than men are diagnosed with depression, possibly women are more likely to seek treatment. Factors that many increase the risk of developing or triggering depression include:

  • Certain personality traits, like low self-esteem, being overly dependent, self-critical, or pessimistic
  • Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one a difficult relationship, or financial problems
  • Having blood relatives with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or suicide
  • Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex in an unsupportive environment
  • History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, eating disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Abuse or alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain, or heart disease
  • Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills (consult your doctor before stopping any medication)
  • These factors can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of depression, making awareness and early intervention essential.

What is the Diagnosis of Depression?

If a person thinks they have symptoms of depression, they should seek help from a doctor or mental health specialist. A qualified health professional can rule out various causes, make an accurate diagnosis, and provide safe and effective treatment. The health professional will ask about symptoms, including how long they have been present. They may also do an examination to check for physical causes and order a blood test to rule out other health conditions. Your doctor may diagnose depression based on:

  • Physical Exam: Your doctor may perform a physical exam and ask about your health. Sometimes, depression can be linked to an underlying physical health issue.
  • Lab Tests: Your doctors might order a blood test called a complete blood count or check your thyroid to ensure it’s working properly.
  • Psychiatric Evaluation: A mental health professional will ask about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns. You may be asked to complete a questionnaire to provide more information.
  • DSM-5: Your mental health professional uses the criteria for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

These steps help the doctor or mental health professional understand your condition and determine the best course of treatment.  

What is the Treatment of Depression?

Medications and psychotherapy work well for most people with it. Your primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medications to help with symptoms. Many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional. If you have severe depression, you might need to stay in a hospital or take part in an outpatient treatment program until your symptoms improve. Here is a closer look at treatment options for depression.

Medications: Antidepressants can help treat moderate to severe depression. There are several classes of antidepressants:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Atypical antidepressants
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAQIs)

Each class affects different neurotransmitters or combinations of neurotransmitters. It is important to take these medications only as prescribed by a doctor. Some drugs take time to show their effects, and stopping the medication too soon may prevent experiencing its benefits. Some people stop taking their medication after feeling better, but this can lead to a relapse. If you have any concerns about antidepressants or plan to stop taking them, discuss it with your doctor.

Medications Side Effects: SSRIs and SNRIs can have side effects, which may include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood sugar
  • Weight loss
  • Obesity
  • Rash
  • Sexual dysfunction

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to put a “black box” warning on antidepressants bottles. This warning states that these medications may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults, during the first few months of treatment. Although there is an increased risk, the overall risk remains low.

What is the Prevention of Depression?

It is usually not considered preventable because it’s hard to identify its start causes. However, if you’ve had a depressed episode, you might be better equipped to prevent future episodes by learning what lifestyles and treatments work for you. Helpful techniques may include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Sticking to treatments
  • Reducing psychological stress
  • Building strong relationship with others
  • Other techniques and ideas might also help you prevent depression.

What are the Complications of Depression?

Depression is a serious disorder that can have a severe impact on you and your family. If untreated, depression often worsens, leading to emotional, behavioral, and health problems that affect all areas of life. Complications associated with it include:

  • Excess weight or obesity, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes
  • Pain or physical illness
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Anxiety, panic disorder, or social phobia
  • Family conflicts, relationship difficulties, and problems at work or school
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal feelings, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Self-harm, such as cutting
  • Premature death from medical conditions

Getting treatment for it is crucial to managing these risks and improving quality of life.

Is it Curable?

While there is no cure for depression, there are effective treatments that help people recover. The earlier treatment begins, the more successful it can be. Some people may never have it again after one episode, while others might experience it multiple times. Many people get better after following a treatment plan. However, even with good treatment, a relapse can happen. About half of the people do not respond to treatment at first. To prevent a relapse, people taking medication for depression should keep following their treatment plan, even after they start feeling better, for as long as their doctor recommends.


What does depression do to the brain?

Depression can cause changes in levels of neurotransmitters, which are molecules that transmit messages between nerve cells. Over time, it may also lead to physical changes in the brain, such as reductions in gray matter volume and increased inflammation.

Does depression affect your thinking?

It can affect concentration and decision-making. It may also impair attention and cause problems with processing information and memory.

Depression does change your personality?

Research has shown mixed results about whether depression can actually change a person’s personality. However, a review of 10 studies found that depressive symptoms may be linked to changes in certain aspects of personality, such as extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. These changes could be temporary or long-lasting.

What is the last stage of depression?

Thoughts of suicides, self-harm, or death are often the most serious symptoms of depression. It’s important to understand that having suicidal thoughts does not necessarily mean you intend to act on them.

Which depression is permanent?

Dysthymia is a milder but long-lasting form of it. It is also known as persistent depressive disorder.

Can a lack of sleep cause depression?

No, lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does contribute to it. Lack of sleep due to another medical condition or personal problems can worsen depression. Chronic sleep difficulties can also indicate that someone may be experiencing it.

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