What is depression?
Everyone goes through tough times at different points in their lives, and we all feel sad every now and then. It’s important to understand that feeling sad temporarily is very different from being depressed-or having depression.
Depression is a mental disorder that is more severe and longer-lasting than normal sadness. Depression interferes with other aspects of your life, like work, school, or relationships. With the right kind of treatment, many people can overcome it and lead happy, healthy lives.
What causes depression?
Sometimes depression has no apparent cause. However, in other cases, it may be caused by one or a number of factors, which include:
- Genetics: If there’s a history of depression in your family, it could be that there’s a genetic or biological link that makes the illness more common among your relatives;
- Biochemical: In certain cases, the chemicals in the brain that control your moods might be out of balance
- A stressful event: Or chain of events, such as a family divorce or conflict, physical or sexual abuse, bullying, rape, the death of a loved one, or a relationship break-up
- Personality: Certain personality types are at a higher risk of depression than others. This includes people who tend to be anxious, shy, perfectionistic, or those who have low self-esteem.
Symptoms of depression
People experience depression in different ways depending on the type of depression and individual differences. Common symptoms across all types of depression include:
- Sadness that won’t go away;
- Feeling irritable or anxious;
- Loss of interest in usual hobbies and activities;
- Loss of appetite;
- Irregular sleeping habits;
- Unexplained outbursts of yelling or crying;
- Reckless or risky behavior like alcohol and drug abuse.
Everyone feels or acts like this from time to time. But for people experiencing depression, the feelings might be more severe and constant-they don’t go away over time and they’re not easily explainable.
Types of Depression
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Depression affects about 5% of young people in the U.S. There are different types of depression, each of them have their own symptoms, causes, and treatments. However, it’s important to remember that depression affects people in different ways, and not all scientists agree on how these illnesses should be defined.
Dysthymic disorder is a type of depression that may not completely prevent someone from functioning normally, but keeps someone in a constant low mood. Dysthymic disorders are chronic and last for two years or longer.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that surfaces during the winter months when there’s less natural sunlight. People with SAD typically come out of their depression during the spring and summer months.
Major depressive disorder is a severe form of depression that interferes with a person’s ability to eat, sleep, work, study, or take part in daily activities like he or she normally would. Major depressive episodes usually last at least two weeks. For most people, a major episode of depression can occur only once, but for some, it can recur throughout a person’s lifetime.
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that occurs in new mothers within one month after they give birth. Postpartum depression is likely caused by major shifts in hormone levels after delivery. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health, there are several factors that can contribute to postpartum depression, including a history of depression, young age, and little support from family and friends.
Bipolar disorder is a form of manic-depressive illness that can be characterized by extreme “highs” and “lows” in a person’s mood. For more information, check out the Bipolar disorder fact sheet.
If you think you might be experiencing depression, talk to your doctor, counselor or other mental health professional. These professionals can help you sort through your feelings, make a diagnosis, and provide you with the support for managing your depression.
Depression and suicide
For some people, depression may lead to thoughts of suicide. Try to remember that you don’t have to act on these thoughts, no matter how overwhelming they might be. If you’re considering ending your life, it’s important that you talk to someone right away. If you’re in a crisis, you can also call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to get immediate help.
For more information, check out the Wanting to end your life fact sheet for what you can do to keep yourself safe and get the help that you need. If you know someone who is thinking about taking his or her own life, encourage them to get help. Check out the If your friend threatens to end their life fact sheet for more on how you can help.
Information in this fact sheet was provided by:
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
- National Institute of Mental Health, Depression
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Last edited June, 26, 2015.