What are the symptoms, causes, and treatment of depression

According to WHO, nearly 300 million people worldwide live with depression. Yet, a large number of these individuals do not receive treatment. 35% of adults with depression go without treatment. For adolescents with depression, the number is nearly double that. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It has massive impacts not only on the economy but on the individual’s quality of life.

What is depression

Depression is a mental health disorder that relates to a person’s mood. While it mostly includes a low mood or feeling ‘down,’ it could also include manic symptoms alternating with depressive symptoms.

What are depression symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) is the manual used by mental health and medical professionals to diagnose mental health disorders. It outlines lists of criteria that need to be met in order for a person to be diagnosed with a disorder.

The individual should experience at least five of the symptoms listed below for at least two weeks. At least one of the symptoms should either be a depressed mood or a loss of pleasure and interest. The five symptoms should be present in the same 2-week period.

  • A depressed mood for most of the day and nearly every day.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all activities for most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant changes in weight for no apparent reason. Changes in weight could be reflected as either weight loss or weight gain. It also includes a decrease or increase in appetite almost every day.
  • Slower thoughts and movements. This should be observed by other people and not just be the perception of the person who is being evaluated.
  • Fatigue and low levels of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings relating to worthlessness and large amounts of guilt feelings almost every day.
  • Struggling to concentrate or being indecisive almost every day.
  • Repeating thoughts around death and suicide or planning or attempting suicide.

The symptoms should cause the person significant distress or cause impairment in social settings, work, or other vital areas in a person’s life. Furthermore, the symptoms should not be as a result of substance abuse or other medical conditions.

The DSM-5 has two specifiers to classify depression diagnoses further. The first includes Mixed Features. This specifier includes manic symptoms as a part of depression in individuals who do not meet all the criteria for a manic episode. The second is Depression with Anxious Distress. If a person who is diagnosed with depression also experiences anxious distress, it will affect the treatment options.

Different types of depression

There are different types of depression.

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is usually referred to as Clinical Depression. It includes the symptoms listed above.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) used to be called Dysthymia. It is a chronic depression where a person experiences the symptoms on most days for at least two years. PDD can be mild, moderate, or severe. People with PDD might have a period of two months or less, where they do not have any symptoms. The symptoms of PDD are often not as severe as MD, but it lasts for more extended periods of time.
  • Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a condition where the person oscillates between depressive states and periods where they experience elevated moods known as mania. Mania could be mild or extreme to the point where it affects the person’s life and sense of reality.
  • Postpartum Depression (PDD) can is often experienced due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy. PDD can arise in the mother during pregnancy or after childbirth. While some mood changes like anxiety and irritability are common after childbirth, the symptoms of PDD are more severe and last longer.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) has similar symptoms to Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), but the symptoms relating to the person’s mood are more extreme.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression experienced during winter months and is especially prevalent in the Northern hemisphere.
  • Atypical depression is someone with depression symptoms who experience fewer symptoms when participating in a positive event.

Risk factors and causes

There are a few different factors that could lead to depression. Imbalances in neurotransmitters in your brain could lead to depression. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are all related to mood regulation. If there is too little or too much of these neurotransmitters, it could contribute to depression. While this is important, it only makes up one of the many factors that lead to depression.

Certain chronic illnesses could lead to depression. These could include sleep disorders, thyroid conditions, chronic pain, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.

Women experience major depression more often than men. Depressive symptoms in women are especially prevalent at times when their hormones are changing like during pregnancy, menses, childbirth, and perimenopause– the time when the transition to menopause starts.

Genetics and family history of depression, or another mood disorder, could put a person at a higher risk of developing depression.

Some lifestyle risk factors could contribute to the development of depression. These include a disturbance in your body’s circadian rhythm (which leads to SAD), poor nutrition, stress, substance use, and grief or loss.

Treatment of depression

There are several ways to approach treatment for depression, and since individuals experience depressive symptoms differently, it is best if treatment is tailored to the individual.

Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for depression. Treatment options could include interpersonal therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills therapy, and supportive counseling, among others. Family or couple therapy could help, and in extreme cases, hospitalization might be required. Admission is vital if the person is at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

Some medications can be used to treat depression. However, these are most effective when combined with therapy.

Self-help strategies like support groups, self-help books, and online resources could also help with alleviating the symptoms.

Depression affects a large number of individuals worldwide. While it can have massive impacts on the economy, businesses, and an individual’s quality of life, it can be diagnosed and treated. A combination of treatment options that include medications and talk-therapy tend to show the best results.