Depression is a general term for depressive disorders, which are a category of mental health disorders that are characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in everyday activities, diminished energy, loss of appetite, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and related symptoms.
Learn about depression
The two most common forms of depression are major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder.
Symptoms of major depressive disorder will last for a period of at least two weeks and will be severe enough to cause significant distress and to disrupt your ability to function socially, on the job, or in other important areas. If you develop persistent depressive disorder, your symptoms will not always be as severe as what you will experience during a major depressive disorder, but they will last for a period of at least two years.
It is important to understand that depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness, a simple case of the blues, or something that you can just “snap out of.” Depression is a serious and potentially devastating mental health disorder, and anyone with symptoms of depression should consult with a qualified professional to receive an accurate diagnosis and, if necessary, an effective treatment plan.
The good news about depression is that most cases are treatable, typically with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. If you or someone you care about has developed depression, professional treatment at a comprehensive treatment center, an outpatient clinic, or another program will put you or your loved one in the best position to experience an improved quality of life.
The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that about 6.7% of adults in the United States, or about 16 million Americans, will experience symptoms that meet the criteria for a diagnosis of a major depressive episode in a typical year. Major depressive disorder is more common among women than among men, with about 8.5% of women and about 4.7% of men struggling with depression in an average year. Among adolescents, NIMH data puts the annual rate of major depression at about 12.5% of individuals ages 12 to 17, or about 3 million young people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the 12-month prevalence of persistent depressive disorder among U.S. adults is about 1.5% of the population, or about 3.3 million men and women.
Causes and risk factors for depression
Researchers agree that depression does not have a single cause, but results from multiple factors, often occurring concurrently. The following are among the risk factors that can increase the likelihood that an individual will struggle with depression:
Genetics: Having a family member who struggles with depression will increase your risk of also developing this disorder, which suggests a genetic link to depression. If you have a first-degree relative, which means a parent or sibling, who has depression, your risk will be even higher. Advances in genetic research have allowed scientists to identify specific genes and gene clusters that appear to influence a person’s risk for depression. Also, heritable personality traits such as neuroticism or negative affectivity may influence your risk of suffering from depression.
Environmental: There are a number of different environmental factors than can increase the chances that an individual will develop depression. For example, individuals who experience childhood adversity, such as growing up in an abusive household or one in which family conflict was common, may be more likely to suffer from depression. Other stressful life circumstances such as the loss of a loved one, losing a job, or getting divorced can all precede the onset of depression.
- Family history of depression or other types of mental illness
- Being female
- Personal history of mental illness
- Chronic or disabling medical conditions
- Childhood trauma
- Taking certain prescription medications
- Substance abuse
- Social isolation
Signs and symptoms of depression
A wide range of differing symptoms may be experienced by men and women who struggle with depression. Due to individual characteristics and circumstances, those who have depression may exhibit very different symptom patterns. Common symptoms of depression may include the following:
- Acting with uncharacteristic lack of energy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Angry outbursts, even over seemingly insignificant matters
- No longer engaging in activities once enjoyed
- Giving away prized possessions
- Frequently talking about death and dying
- Headaches and/or abdominal pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Digestive problems
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite and resultant weight loss or gain
- Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
- Problems remaining focused
- Slowed thinking and speaking
- Inability to solve problems or make decisions
- Problems with memory
- Feeling worthless or incompetent
- Frequent thoughts of suicide
- Fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that you can’t control
- Sense of helplessness
- Unnecessary worrying
- Feelings of emptiness
- Excessive or inappropriate self-blame or guilt
Effects of depression
Untreated depression is a serious problem that can lead to several negative long-term effects. These effects vary among individuals and their personal life circumstances. Some of the more frequently experienced effects of depression may include the following:
- Family discord
- Strained or ruined relationships
- Substandard performance in school, possibly leading to academic failure
- Problems at work, possibly leading to job loss and chronic unemployment
- Financial problems
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Physical health problems
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Diminished self-confidence and self-esteem
- Loss of social support network
Depression and co-occurring disorders
Individuals who develop depression may also be at risk for a variety of co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:
- Panic disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Substance use disorders
- Borderline personality disorder