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What is depression?

Depression (also known as major depression, major depressive disorder, or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least 2 weeks. There are different types of depression, some of which develop due to specific circumstances.
  • Major depression includes symptoms of depressed mood or loss of interest, most of the time for at least 2 weeks, that interfere with daily activities.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia or dysthymic disorder) consists of less severe symptoms of depression that last much longer, usually for at least 2 years.
  • Perinatal depression is depression that occurs during or after pregnancy. Depression that begins during pregnancy is prenatal depression and depression that begins after the baby is born is postpartum depression.
  • Seasonal affective disorder is depression that comes and goes with the seasons, with symptoms typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.
  • Depression with symptoms of psychosis is a severe form of depression in which a person experiences psychosis symptoms, such as delusions (disturbing, false fixed beliefs) or hallucinations (hearing or seeing things others do not hear or see).
People with bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression or manic-depressive illness) also experience depressive episodes, during which they feel sad, indifferent, or hopeless, combined with a very low activity level. But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences manic (or less severe hypomanic) episodes, or unusually elevated moods, in which they might feel very happy, irritable, or “up,” with a marked increase in activity level. Other types of depressive disorders found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)  include disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (diagnosed in children and adolescents) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (that affects women around the time of their period).

Who gets depression?

Depression can affect people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and genders. Women are diagnosed with depression more often than men, but men can also be depressed. Because men may be less likely to recognize, talk about, and seek help for their feelings or emotional problems, they are at greater risk of depression symptoms being undiagnosed or undertreated. Studies also show higher rates of depression and an increased risk for the disorder among members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms, most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling slowed down
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, waking early in the morning, or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes
  • Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not have a clear physical cause and do not go away with treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every one of these symptoms. Some people experience only a few symptoms, while others experience many symptoms. Symptoms associated with depression interfere with day-to-day functioning and cause significant distress for the person experiencing them. Depression can also involve other changes in mood or behavior that include:
  • Increased anger or irritability
  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Becoming withdrawn, negative, or detached
  • Increased engagement in high-risk activities
  • Greater impulsivity
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Inability to meet the responsibilities of work and family or ignoring other important roles
  • Problems with sexual desire and performance
Depression can look different in men and women. Although men, women, and people of all genders can feel depressed, how they express those symptoms and the behaviors they use to cope with them may differ. For example, some men (as well as women) may show symptoms other than sadness, instead seeming angry or irritable. And although increased use of alcohol or drugs can be a coping strategy for any person with depression, men may be more likely to use alcohol or drugs to help them cope. In some cases, mental health symptoms appear as physical problems. For example, a racing heart, tightened chest, ongoing headaches, or digestive issues. Men are often more likely to see a health care provider about these physical symptoms than their emotional ones. Because depression tends to make people think more negatively about themselves and the world, some people may also have thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Several persistent symptoms, in addition to low mood, are required for a diagnosis of depression, but people with only a few symptoms may also benefit from treatment. The severity and frequency of symptoms and how long they last will vary depending on the person, the illness, and the stage of the illness. If you experience signs or symptoms of depression and they persist or do not go away, talk to a health care provider. If you see signs or symptoms of depression in someone you know, encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional.
If you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline  at 988 or chat at . In life-threatening situations, call 911.

Source: The National Institute of Mental Health