Signs & Symptoms of Depression

Understanding Depression

Learn About Depression

Everyone has periods of time in their lives when they experience feelings of sadness or hopelessness. These instances are especially common when someone experiences a major life stressor, such as losing a job or having to relocate to a new city. However, other individuals have a much stronger reaction to negative events in their life and instead of having a simple case of the blues, they struggle with debilitating depressive disorders that impact all areas of their life. Depressive disorders affect an individual’s mind, body, and thoughts leaving them to face tremendous emotional pain. The most common types of depressive disorders include:

Major depression includes a combination of symptoms that significantly disrupt a person’s ability to properly eat, sleep, work, have interpersonal relationships, or engage in activities once enjoyed. Major depressive disorder can become so debilitating that a person is unable to function normally in his or her daily life. While some people may only experience one episode of major depressive disorder in their lifetime, others may struggle with multiple cycles of depressive symptoms that come and go over time.

Minor depression is a milder form of depressive disorder that is defined by the presence of symptoms that are not severe enough to meet the criteria for major depression. While not as severe, the symptoms of mild depression can cause daily difficulties and impact one’s overall sense of well-being. Untreated minor depression should not be overlooked as it can lead to the development of major depression episodes during one’s lifespan.

Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia, is a mental health disorder characterized by pervasive symptoms that cause an impediment in activities of daily living for two years or longer. Additionally, people who have dysthymia may experience episodes of major depressive disorder during their lifetime.

It’s important to recognize the severity of depressive disorders because if they are not properly treated, they can lead to extreme self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts and behaviors. However, most cases of depressive disorders are treatable using the right amount of medications, therapies, and proper self-care. Most individuals with a depressive disorder are able to overcome their depression and lead a happy, healthy, and productive life.


Depression Statistics

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States and worldwide. One in every ten adults in the United States is affected by depression; or 9.1% of the adult population currently struggles with this mental illness, while 4.1% meet the criteria for major depression. The average age of onset for adult depression is 32 years of age and, overall, between 20% and 25% of those living in the U.S. will have an episode of major depression during his or her lifetime. Additionally, of teens between the ages of 13 and 18, 3.3% of this population report having experienced at least one crippling depressive episode.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Depression

Depression is a serious mental illness that is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and physical risk factors working together. The most common causes and risk factors for depressive disorders include:

Genetic: Mental illnesses such as depression often run in families. People who have a first-degree relative who has struggled with depression are at a greater risk than others without a similar history for developing the disorder at some point in their lifetime. However, there are many cases of depression that occur in absence of familial history.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies conducted on the brains of those who have been diagnosed with depression show structural differences in the areas of the brain that are responsible for sleep, appetite, and behaviors. Additionally, decreased levels of certain types of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, have been implicated in the development of depressive disorders.

Environmental: The stress and trauma associated with certain types of major life events may overwhelm a person’s ability to cope and can lead certain individuals who have other risk factors to develop depression.

Risk Factors:

  • Poor social support
  • People with less than a high school education
  • Those with chronic disabilities
  • People without health insurance
  • Childhood neglect or abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal
  • Certain medications
  • Being a single parent
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Past and/or continued traumatic events
  • High stress situations
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Low self-esteem, poor self-image
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Being female
  • People between the ages of 45 and 64
  • Overly dependent, pessimistic, and/or self-critical personality traits

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

The signs and symptoms of the different depressive disorders vary from person to person and are based upon the type of depression an individual has, the availability of social support, proper coping skills, symptom frequency, and the severity of the symptoms.

Symptoms of depressive disorders include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Spending increasing amounts of time sleeping
  • Withdrawing from once-pleasurable activities
  • Increasing challenges in meeting demands of work, home, social, and scholastic life
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide attempts

Physical Symptoms:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Increasing preoccupation with depressive feelings
  • Decreased ability to make decisions
  • Trouble recalling details
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Slowed thinking and speaking

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Worthlessness
  • Feeling critical of oneself
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling “empty” inside
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor self-image
  • Preoccupation with death, dying, suicide


Effects of Depression

Depressive disorders are treatable mental illnesses when one obtains proper therapeutic interventions, support, and any needed medications. Without proper treatment, depressive disorders can worsen over time, causing greater problems in an individual’s life.

The long-term effects of depressive disorders include:

  • Social isolation
  • Loss of job or expulsion from school
  • Homelessness
  • Trouble with interpersonal relationships
  • Increased physical problems
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety, panic disorder, or social phobia
  • Addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and Co-Occurring Disorders

A number of other mental health disorders co-occur with depressive disorders. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • ADHD
  • Dementia
  • Borderline personality disorder
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