Causes of Depression
Depression is characterized by dejection and a loss of interest in formerly beloved activities. You can wake up, sometimes, after a long night’s sleep and still feel miserably tired. You could start forgetting to do simple things like brush your teeth or eat a meal (or two). You might forget about outings with your friends or simply decide you no longer want to go to them. Relationships suffer. School and work suffer. Your overall wellbeing suffers.
More than 16 million people in the U.S. and more than 350 million worldwide suffer from some form of depression, and many people never seek the necessary treatment. Coming face-to-face with the fact that you might be depressed isn’t always easy, so here’s a helpful tip to make the process less scary: While you’re reading the different types, signs and symptoms of depression below, try to remember that your identity and your feelings are two different things. These are categories for defining how you feel. By no means should you ever see these definitions as limitations on who you are and what you’re capable of as a person. Whichever depression type you feel most resembles your own, consider it a challenge to overcome (instead of a yoke to carry). It can be difficult, but it is achievable.
1) Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder is what most of us think of when we hear or read about depression. With major depressive disorder, you may be unable to fall asleep for hours and then wake up at 4 a.m. Or you might find yourself going to bed right after dinner. You might skip meals or overeat; you can lose interest in sex, or crave it with addictive compulsion; you might get headaches, stomachaches; you might feel constantly fatigued (even if you’ve had enough sleep), forget things and find it hard to concentrate. Most of all, you’ll feel intense emotional pain.
How Do I Know If I Have Major Depressive Disorder?
To an extent, your clinician or therapist can determine some of your symptoms, but diagnosis is typically based on your self-report of the symptoms you’re experiencing. To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, you must exhibit at least five of the following symptoms, most of the day, nearly every day, for longer than two weeks and severely enough that your personal or professional life is suffering:
- Feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, despair, emptiness
- Loss of pleasure in most daily activities
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Changes in appetite
- Disruption of sleep patterns (e.g. insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Changes in activity levels
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or self-hatred
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Suicidal thoughts
Major depressive disorder, untreated, usually lasts from six to eight months—though it can be shorter or longer and may reoccur. Abraham Lincoln, Sir Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin and Marilyn Monroe are believed to have all suffered from major depressive disorder. Notable celebrities today like Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Lovato, and Jim Carrey have also personally experienced the illness.
2) Minor Depression
Minor depression is defined by having two to four of the above symptoms of major depressive disorder and must include the first two, which are feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, despair, and/or emptiness; and a loss of pleasure in most daily activities. If left untreated, your bought of minor depression can become major depressive disorder.
3) Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent Depressive Disorder, often called dysthymia or chronic depression, differs from major depressive disorder in how long and how severe your symptoms are. These symptoms include:
- Mild anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Negative self-talk
- Automatic expectation of failure
- Impaired concentration
- Unstable mood
- Loss or gain in weight of 5 percent or more within a month
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
In order to be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder, you must experience the qualifying symptoms for at least two years. It’s important that those who suffer from this disorder seek treatment, as it can persist for an extended period of time and also lead to intermittent episodes of major depressive disorder.
4) Substance/Medication Induced Depressive Disorder
Some people turn to drugs or abuse alcohol as a way of self-medicating—but this ‘quick fix’ often backfires. The highs of alcohol and drugs lead inevitably to lows. If you’re using substances daily, you may experience the “lows” as a hangover, tiredness, or the grayness of being without the substance and not really think of it as depression. But along with whatever pain and craving you feel, your mood is depressed—there’s no question.
If you’ve been drinking or taking drugs regularly for a long time, your body will need time to regain its balance. Twelve-step programs are often effective because they provide much of what many depressed people need most: understanding, regular social interaction, optimism, forgiveness, and even a bit of laughter. If you believe in a higher power—all the better: that too can be a source of strength. But the bare bones of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other programs are always sound advice: Keep the toxins out of your body and mind, and connect with other human beings.
5) Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition
Many illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease and thyroid disorders, can cause you to feel depressed. This is why a thorough medical checkup is very important whenever you’re trying to take an active approach to becoming healthy and living a fulfilled life. The depressive symptoms in these illnesses are similar to what’s been noted for major depressive disorder.
Chronic illness of any kind can bring depression. Other mental illnesses—anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and personality disorders—can include depression as a symptom or concurrent illness. And it’s no surprise that these feelings of despair and hopeless surface: when an individual’s mind is affected and they can’t even trust their own thoughts and feelings, disaffection from sources of joy and self-esteem easily follows. It’s important to report depressive feelings to your doctor, even if these feelings aren’t your primary problem and you believe them to be a symptom of another condition. If you can get any sort of relief from the depression, it will make whatever illness you have easier to manage.
6) Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorder is a psychological reaction to a change in circumstances that causes acute stress. Divorce, illness and unemployment can be triggers; but so can going off to college or getting married. The symptoms of anxiety, sadness, and disrupted sleeping and eating patterns are not as severe as they would be if you had major depression, nor as long lasting as in dysthymia. Acute adjustment disorder usually passes in a few months, while chronic adjustment disorder can persist long after the stressor has been resolved.
7) Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Disorder (also called manic depression) is characterized by abrupt changes in mood from “normal” to intense states of either depression or mania. Mania, in the clinical sense, refers to extreme levels of excitement, happiness, or euphoria, whereas the person is often very energetic, making many plans, and talking a lot (and quickly). People in this state can be very charismatic, productive, and even creative—this doesn’t sound so bad so far, but there is a flip side. Mania is also capable of causing individuals to spend too much, do too much, make commitments they can’t keep, be sexually promiscuous, take unhealthy or careless risks, and drive themselves to exhaustion.
There are three types of bipolar disorder:
Bipolar 1 Disorder
- Increased self-esteem or grandiosity
- Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only three hours of sleep)
- More talkative than usual or feeling of pressure to keep talking
- Racing thoughts
- Being easily angered
- Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually)
- Psychomotor agitation
- Increased pleasurable and risky behaviors (shopping sprees, sexual indiscretions)
- Pie-in-the-sky business or professional plans
The primary symptom presentation is cycling episodes of mania and depression, whereas three of the following must also be present:
Bipolar 2 Disorder
The primary symptom presentation in bipolar 2 disorder is recurrent depression without manic episodes. Hypomanic episodes may be present, however, and are characterized by milder symptoms such as loss of judgment and irritability.
Cyclothymic disorder is the chronic state of cycling between hypomanic and depressive episodes that do not reach the diagnostic standard of symptom severity for bipolar disorder.
8) Postpartum Depression
When you’re experiencing postpartum depression, the parameters for diagnoses are the same as with major depressive disorder, except that the symptoms begin during the last trimester of pregnancy, or within four weeks of childbirth. A mother with postpartum depression may also:
- Be unable to care for herself or her baby
- Be afraid to be alone with her baby
- Have negative feelings toward the baby or even think about harming the baby
- Worry intensely about the baby
- Demonstrate little interest in the baby
9) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
A person experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will present the symptoms of major depression or dysthymia during the dark winter months. To be officially diagnosed with SAD, one must present a pattern of winter depressions for at least two winters (back-to-back), and one must be severe enough to meet the criteria of major depressive disorder. A person with SAD will have non-depressed periods in the spring and summer.
10) Psychotic Depression
If, in addition to the symptoms of major depressive disorder, you are experiencing delusions, false beliefs about what is happening and what is real; hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that are not actually there; or paranoia, unfounded fear that “everyone is out to get” you, there’s a chance that you are suffering from psychotic depression. With this illness, your hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions are generally negative and self-deprecating. If you feel like you are experiencing psychotic depression, you should contact a health care professional immediately.
Closing Thoughts: Depression Treatment
If you’ve made it through this post and believe you are depressed, we’d like to reiterate that the above definitions and descriptions exist to better define what you may be feeling, and are not meant for self-diagnosis. If you’re often asking yourself the question, “Am I depressed?” it’s important that you seek help—not necessarily because of eminent danger (although that does exist), but because there’s no need for you to continue to feel this way. It’s not helping you reach your goals or develop healthy relationships, and it just plain sucks. So say yes to mental health care; it can help you change your life by teaching you to diminish cognitive distortions, practice mindfulness, change the nature of your inner self-talk, and so much more. Click here to see a counselor or coach this week, if not within 24 hours.
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