Life is not a straight line for anyone. We all experience ups and downs, bouts of blues, and periods of sadness that eventually pass with time. For some, however, these feelings aren't a phase – they're symptoms of depression.
Depression is more than a bad mood.
Many people mistakenly view depression as a bad mood gone awry and believe that — with enough willpower — you can shake it off. It's important to understand that depression is a real disease — a mood disorder that affects how you think, feel, and handle daily activities. Those who suffer from depression can find it challenging to maintain their daily routine, fulfill work and social obligations, or simply get out of bed in the morning.
1. How common is depression?
Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the United States. Roughly 1 in 10 adults — that's upwards of 22 million Americans — experience depression at any given time.
2. What causes depression?
Depression is a complex condition, and experts aren't entirely sure what causes it. However, research suggests that various genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors play a role in depression, including:
- Family history
- Chronic diseases, such as cancer or diabetes
- Major life events
- Difficulty in childhood
Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives have also had it. In fact, a family history of depression can increase your risk by three to four times.
Depression can occur with other illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes. Depression can make these illnesses worse, and vise versa. Furthermore, medication taken for various diseases may cause side effects that contribute to depressive symptoms.
Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. While the reason for this gender gap remains unclear, hormonal changes that women experience at different points in their lives may play a role.
Stressful life events, including marital strain, divorce, health problems, and financial challenges, can contribute to the risk of developing clinical depression.
Environmental factors also contribute to the development of depression. Exposure to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, a stressful home environment, and poor relationships with your parents can make you more vulnerable to depression later in life.
3. Are there different types of depression?
Depression is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are many types, each with different causes, symptoms, and treatments. The most common forms of depression include:
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
- Perinatal depression
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Bipolar disorder
Major Depressive Disorder — also called clinical depression — is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness. If you experience depression symptoms most of the day, nearly every day for two weeks or more, you may have MDD.
While less severe than MDD, Persistent Depressive Disorder is — as the name suggests — persistent. Typically, it lasts for two years or longer. People with Dysthymia may feel like they're constantly going in and out of depression.
Perinatal depression affects new and expectant mothers. The term includes depression during pregnancy (prenatal depression) and depression after delivery (postpartum depression). Perinatal depression can cause extreme fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, anger, and a loss of interest in activities.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a form of depression that affects people who get periods. PMDD can cause severe irritability, depression, or anxiety. Symptoms usually show up the week before you start your period and last until a few days after it begins.
The aptly named SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Usually, it starts in the fall and winter months and goes away during the spring and summer. People with SAD may experience depression on a recurring, seasonal basis — but feel mentally healthy the rest of the year.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in mood. Though different from depression, people with bipolar disorder often experience periods of low moods that match the symptoms of depression. However, they also experience mania: periods of high or euphoric moods.
4. What are the symptoms of depression?
Depression symptoms can vary widely from person to person. For example, some people with depression have trouble sleeping, whereas others may want to sleep all the time. Also, different forms of depression have distinct symptoms and varying levels of severity.
While depression looks different for everyone, common symptoms include:
- A persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest in daily life, including hobbies or activities
- Fatigue, or feeling "slowed down"
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Trouble sleeping, either difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don't have a clear physical cause
5. When should you seek help?
It's completely normal — and completely okay — to feel sad, lonely, or depressed sometimes. It's a natural reaction to life's many struggles. But when these feelings start to take over your life, it may be time to seek help. Talk to a professional as soon as you can if:
- Your depression symptoms occur daily and last for two weeks or more
- You find it difficult to maintain your daily routine
- Your career, social life, and relationships suffer as a result of your depression symptoms
- You have suicidal thoughts or feelings (if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255)
Due to stigma and other barriers, more than half of people with mental illness do not seek help for their disorders. At Firefly, we believe that mental illness is no different than any other medical illness. There's no shame in seeking guidance and support. From medications to supporting changes to your habits and lifestyle, we're here to help you work towards a full recovery.
More than half of people with mental illness do not seek help for their disorders.
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