What is Depression?
Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder that persists. Depression is often marked by a persistent state of sadness, fatigue, or lack of interest. This condition affects every aspect of a person’s daily life. Depression changes how people behave, think, and feel. Because of that, this condition can lead to diverse emotional and physical conditions.
In the United States, depression affects about one in six adults. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this mental health condition affects about 16 million American adults each year. It is important to understand that anyone can get depressed. There is no age group or type of person that is immune from this condition.
Records from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey indicate that more than one in ten medical records of physician office visits indicate depression. When it comes to emergency department visits, the number is slightly higher, at just above 11%.
Depression can also be complicated by other mental health conditions, such as low self-esteem or anxiety. The latter is currently the most common mental health condition across the nation. Like depression, severe anxiety can last a long time and interfere with day-to-day activities in a person’s private and professional life.
Potential feelings of depression need to be taken seriously. Left untreated, depression can not only damage careers, friendships, and family relationships. But this mental health condition can even lead to suicide.
With more than 45,000 suicides being committed in the United States every year, it is important to take depression seriously.
Over the past two and a half years, mental health concerns have become more accepted as a topic of conversation. Removing some of the stigma surrounding these health challenges has been one of the positive consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more people felt comfortable admitting to struggling with the uncertainty brought by the virus.
The public conversation about mental health concerns, including depression, has made it easier to seek help and access resources for many. However, some confusion remains between feeling low for a brief period and struggling with major depressive disorder. Taking a closer look at the symptoms that affect different parts of the population and different age groups will help clarify the differences.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Women
Signs and symptoms of depression vary between genders and age groups. Signs are things that others may notice in people suffering from depression. while not always obvious, they can be spotted by an outsider. Symptoms, on the other hand, are the feelings and emotions a depressed person experiences. They are not generally visible or noticeable to others.
Many depression sufferers experience more than one symptom at a time. As their condition develops, their symptoms may also change. In most cases, sufferers experience a combination of physical and emotional symptoms.
Women are twice as likely as men to develop clinical depression or major depressive disorder during the course of their lifetime. Medical experts currently believe that one in four women will have at least one episode of major depressive disorder at some point in her life.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of depression in women include:
- Persistent and long-term feelings of sadness, anxiety, or a low or empty mood
- Fatigue combined with a lack of energy, and a feeling of being slowed down
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Feelings of helplessness, pessimism, and hopelessness
- Excessive crying and an inability to stop
- Restlessness and crankiness
- Loss of interest in previously loved activities
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide, sometimes leading to suicide attempts
Physical symptoms of depression in women include:
- Disrupted sleeping patterns, including sleeping too much or too little and waking up very early in the morning
- Changes to weight and eating patterns, including weight gain or weight loss, overeating, or a distinct lack of appetite
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions that used to be easy
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide, sometimes leading to suicide attempts
When it comes to physical symptoms such as headaches or digestive problems, it is important to notice whether there is a response to treatment. If the symptoms do not subside despite professional medical treatment, they may be an indicator of depression in females.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men
Men may be less likely than women to develop depression during their lifetime. However, that does not mean that there is no risk. The American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that nearly 9% of American men experience depressive feelings or struggle with anxiety every year.
More than three in ten men experience the illness throughout their lifetime.
More than three in ten men experience the illness throughout their lifetime. while those figures may seem high, CDC figures show that a little over 5% of men suffer from depression in the U.S., while the figure is twice as high for women.
When men become depressed, they often experience symptoms that are different from those of female patients. Both groups tend to experience a combination of emotional and physical symptoms. For men, however, behavioral changes are often the most noticeable difference.
Behavioral and emotional symptoms of depression in men include:
- Expressing frustration and irritability more easily
- Showing anger and aggression toward others
- Increased risk-taking behavior, such as unsafe sex or gambling
- Relationship difficulties leading to the avoidance of social situations or displaying controlling and even abusive behavior
- Suicide attempts
Physical symptoms of depression in men include:
- Increased alcohol consumption, sometimes leading to alcohol and substance abuse
- Trouble meeting family commitments and struggling with responsibilities
- Disrupted sleeping patterns like sleeping excessively or not getting enough sleep, also general fatigue
- Disordered eating, including overeating or lack of appetite that is leading to weight loss
- Chest pain or tightness
- Unexplained joint, limb, and back pain
- Digestive problems
Differences Between Depression in Women and Men
Despite the similarities between symptoms of depression in men and women, there are several key differences between the condition’s manifestation in males and females.
Women tend to suffer from an earlier onset of depression than men. In females, depressive episodes can also last longer and are more likely to return than they are in men. Medical experts believe that depression in women is more likely to be tied to stressful live events as well as seasonal changes.
When they are suffering from depression, women are more likely to experience feelings of guilt. They are also more prone to suicide attempts, although men take their life more often than women.
In addition, scientists have found a closer connection between depression and anxiety in women compared to men. Women are more likely to suffer from a combination of both mental health disorders, and they are especially prone to panic- or phobia-related symptoms. Eating disorders are also frequently diagnosed in combination with depression in women.
For both genders, a feeling of sadness is often the primary symptom of depression. Aside from sadness, men tend to show aggression or risky behavior. Depression in men also causes a wide range of physical symptoms, despite being a form of mental illness.
Diagnosing a physical ailment as a sign of depression can take time. In the first instance, physical symptoms are often treated like they are indicators of a physical condition. If the symptom is an indicator of depression, the treatment will simply not work. In many cases, physical symptoms are only recognized as signs of depression when initial treatments fail. For men affected by depression, that means a diagnosis can take some time.
So, why do men and women experience depression differently? Scientists believe that some of the differences are better explained as different expressions of emotions as opposed to emotions themselves.
Society has different expectations of men and women when it comes to expressing feelings. Doctors believe that men may hesitate to express emotions like sadness for fear of being stigmatized. Anger and aggression, on the other hand, are more typically associated with male behavior. At the same time, many men feel more comfortable discussing physical symptoms and health challenges than emotional issues.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Teens and Minors
Depression can affect people of any age, even children and adolescents. Like adults, younger people cannot simply snap out of depression. Many require professional support. Left untreated, long-term childhood depression can lead to chronic depression that carries over into a person’s adulthood.
As a result, early-life mental health challenges can limit a child’s academic performance in school. Struggling academically may jeopardize a child’s college education and their entire future. For that reason alone, parents, teachers, and others need to understand the symptoms of childhood and teenage depression.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of early-age depression:
- Persistent sadness and low mood
- Mood swings or mood disruptions
- Irritability and being grumpy all the time
- Thoughts about self-harming and suicide
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Feeling numb
- Preoccupation with books or lyrics that suggest life is meaningless
Physical signs and symptoms of early-age depression:
- Lack of interest in activities
- Experiencing trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Tiredness and exhaustion that does not improve with sleep
- Problems in school or starting to display problematic behaviors
- Actual self-harm, like cutting the skin
- Inability to relax or excessive lethargy
- Changing eating patterns such as overeating or losing appetite
- Headaches and stomach aches
- Drug and alcohol abuse in older children
As a parent, it is not always easy to spot early signs of depression in a child. One thing to look out for is a change in behavior that cannot be explained otherwise and lasts more than a few days. At that point, it is a good idea to assume that the change is not a phase but perhaps an indicator of something more serious.
Like adults, children and teenagers may experience more than one symptom of depression. Symptoms of childhood and adolescent depression may also change as the illness progresses. Many young people affected by depression also struggle with other mental health conditions such as anxiety.
Some of those symptoms can become overwhelming for a child, especially as they persist. Parents, guardians, and other caregivers need to understand the indicators of mental health challenges to address them more efficiently.
How Common is Early-Age Depression?
Scientists at Yale Medicine Child Study Center have found that roughly 3% of American children and adolescents have been diagnosed with depression. For years, the illness was seen as an adult-only problem. However, Yale researchers found evidence that even two-year-olds can experience periods of depression.
The numbers look more dramatic when including suicide ideation. Child psychiatrists report that suicidal ideation, thinking about committing suicide, is common among children and teenagers with depression. In fact, according to Yale’s data from a survey of American high schools, 10% of boys and a staggering 22% of girls admitted to thinking about suicide in the previous year.
Early-age depression can have a backlash on a child’s entire adult life, causing problems with a person’s career and personal relationships. Because of its huge potential impact on the rest of a child’s life, it is crucial to spot childhood or adolescent depression early before it can become chronic.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly
Mental and behavioral health conditions and illnesses do not stop at a certain age. They can affect seniors just as much as kids, teenagers, and adults of other ages. Recognizing depression in older adults is not always simple and straightforward, but it is important to help seniors enjoy the last stage of their lives.
Old-age depression is not normal. Aging does not necessarily lead to mental health problems, but some aspects of getting older may predispose seniors to conditions like depression and anxiety. In the United States, around 6% of all adults aged 65 years and older suffer from depression. The percentage may look small, but it still amounts to millions of Americans who are suffering. Only 10% of them get the treatment they need to feel better and enjoy their retirement.
For most adults, overwhelming and persistent sadness are the most noticeable symptoms of depression. For seniors, that is not always the case. Instead, they may be displaying a type of numbness and a general lack of interest in activities they used to love and pursue regularly. Many seniors also resist talking about their emotions, choosing to try and deal with them privately. This type of behavior makes it harder to help older people with depression.
Old-age depression is not normal
To spot the tell-tale signs of depression in an older person, it is important to understand the emotional and physical symptoms they may suffer from.
One of the major differences between depression in older and younger adults is the connection between mental and physical illnesses. In seniors, depressive episodes and depression are more regularly tied to medical illnesses and disabilities. Depressive episodes may also last longer than they do in younger adults, children, and teenagers.
As they get older, most people start to develop physical health problems of some kind. Suffering from depression at the same time can make it harder for seniors to recover. Studies of nursing home patients have shown that their ability to rehabilitate is limited by depressive disorders.
Depression in elderly people can also increase their risk of cardiac disease and substantially increase the likelihood that they die from an existing illness. Their counterparts who are not suffering from depression are more likely to recover. Because of these complications, even mild depression in elderly people needs to be taken seriously and treated as soon as possible.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of depression in the elderly:
- Acting irritable and grumpy
- Feeling tired
- Feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts
Physical symptoms of depression in the elderly:
- Slower movements than normal
- Increased aches and pains that the person endures
- Struggling to pay attention
- Unwanted changes in weight and appetite
- Struggling to sleep
- Not enjoying the activities that the person used to enjoy
Not all elderly sufferers of depression will experience an overwhelming feeling of sadness, which is the most obvious sign of depression in other adults. Because this obvious sign may be absent, seniors showing one or several of the other symptoms of depression should be professionally evaluated.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression During Pregnancy
Mention depression and pregnancy, and most people will think of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a type of depression women experience after they give birth. while this type of mental illness is being discussed far more widely than other types of depression, it is not uncommon for women to suffer from depressive episodes during different phases of their pregnancy.
According to research by the Mayo Clinic, approximately 7% of pregnant women experience depression. Scientists believe that the rate may be higher in lower- or middle-income countries. At a rate of 7%, depression in pregnant women is almost as common as depression in adult women in general.
In fact, pregnancy can cause women to experience depression due to the sheer amount of changes their bodies are subjected to. These physical and emotional changes cause stress which may trigger depression. Those women who experienced depression before their pregnancy may find their symptoms returning. Existing depression may also worsen during pregnancy.
Spotting and diagnosing depression in pregnant women can be difficult as some of the symptoms of the illness can easily be mistaken for symptoms of pregnancy.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of depression during pregnancy include:
- Feeling inadequate about becoming a parent due to low self-esteem
- Poor response to reassurance
- Exaggerated anxiety about the baby
- Generally suffering from a depressed mood for the majority of the day, almost daily
- Struggling to make decisions
- Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Thoughts of suicide
Women and their partners should also look out for these physical symptoms of depression during pregnancy:
- Developing or continuing unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking
- Taking illicit drugs
- Avoiding or not adhering to prenatal care recommendations
- Poor weight management caused by an inadequate or even decreased diet
Spotting depression in pregnant women can be difficult for medical professionals. For a start, medical care during pregnancy is often focused on the physical condition of the mom-to-be and the baby. Because of this focus, it is easy to overlook emotional difficulties and mental health symptoms.
Many women may also feel reluctant to voice their symptoms due to the stigma attached to depression and society’s general perception that pregnancy is a happy time. It is important to address depression during pregnancy as early as possible.
Feeling depressed may limit the mom’s capacity to care for herself and her unborn baby. Unhealthy choices or risky behaviors can place both at higher risk for pregnancy complications. Pregnancy is also a time for mom and baby to start developing an emotional bond. If a pregnant woman is dealing with depression, she may not be able to focus on forming that bond.
Bear in mind that unborn babies can hear people talk and sense the emotions carried in the pitch of their voices. Babies will pick up on happiness and positive feelings as well as on stress and other negative emotions.
Depression during pregnancy can put both mother and child at risk for physical and mental health problems later on. That is why it is important for families, friends, and the entire support network of a woman to be aware of potential symptoms.
What Are Some of the Root Causes of Depression?
Causes of depression can vary from one individual to the next and between different groups of the population. Like signs and symptoms differ between men, women, and various age groups of sufferers, the causes of depression can also cover a wide range.
Saying that there are some common causes of depression that are found frequently across all segments of the population. These causes include:
- Having a family history of depression. Being related to a person who suffers from mental illness does not guarantee that you will suffer from the same condition but it does increase the likelihood.
- Going through traumatic or particularly stressful events. These events could include financial problems, the death of a family member or a loved one, or criminal activity such as assault or abuse.
- Major life changes. Even if big changes are wanted and planned, they cause a certain amount of upheaval. For some individuals, these changes prove disruptive enough to cause depression.
- Developing medical problems, especially chronic conditions and serious illnesses. Research has found connections between cancer and depression as well as stroke or chronic pain and mental illness.
- In some cases, medications may lead to depression and anxiety as a side effect.
- Excessive use of alcohol or drugs predisposes people to develop depression.
Apart from these relatively generic and widespread causes of depressive episodes, other reasons are more specific to certain segments of the population.
In elderly people, for example, there is often a strong connection between illness, especially chronic illness, and depression. If you are caring for an elderly person, it is important to look out for changing moods when a person’s physical health changes.
In pregnant women, a history of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) can make it more likely for symptoms of depression to occur. Women who are already raising kids and juggling a busy job with their family life and pregnancy may also be more likely to suffer from depression.
Children and younger people can be strongly affected by family difficulties. Most children understand and pick up more family arguments than parents think. Even if they do not witness those difficulties first-hand, they may pick up the atmosphere around the house, for example.
Bullying is another leading cause of depression in children. while it may be hard to prevent your kids from experiencing bullying at some point in their lives, it is important to try and talk to them about their experiences with children and other young people.
Big life changes affect everyone, in all age groups. Moving house, changing schools, going through a divorce or a traumatic breakup, and suffering from trauma can all trigger a depressive episode. All of these events have one thing in common – they cause major disruption to healthy routines and habits. Coupled with increased stress levels, this disruption can be enough to trigger depression.
For seniors, the transition from independent living to an assisted living facility or even a nursing home can cause mental health problems. This move is not only disruptive, but it also marks the beginning of the last stage of their lives. This can be a very difficult time for many elderly adults with many thoughts to process.
As with many types of mental illness, it is important to understand that these conditions can affect individuals very differently. An event that has a very small impact on one person can be enough to completely derail another individual’s emotional stability.
How do I Know if I Have Depression?
As Americans are discussing their mental health more openly, it has become easier to voice concerns in front of friends and loved ones. During the pandemic, talking about mental health issues became normal, and some of the stigma surrounding these illnesses disappeared.
At the same time, Americans learned more about the symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health conditions. Checklists of signs and symptoms like the lists we’ve laid out above have proven helpful in helping to get a general idea of what mental illness looks like.
Most mental illnesses develop gradually over time. Even some cases of depression that are related to a traumatic event, perhaps during a person’s childhood or youth, only manifest later.
If you think you are suffering from a mental illness, consider the following questions:
- What symptoms are you experiencing?
- How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?
- Are they starting to feel overwhelming and interfering with your ability to manage your career and family life?
The answers to these questions will vary from individual to individual. Remember, it is normal to feel sad and suffer from low mood from time to time. However, if your sadness persists for weeks and worsens, you may be suffering from depression.
Similarly, it is normal to feel angry from time to time. But feeling angry all the time can be a warning sign of depression in men. Ask yourself whether your angry reaction was justified or more of a case of “flying off the handle.” If your reaction was perhaps unjustified, and if you are finding yourself becoming angry more often, depression may be an underlying cause.
Mood swings are part of growing up, and most teenagers or young people will be affected by them to some degree. Because of that, it can be hard for parents to gauge whether their teenagers are simply being teenagers or suffering from mental health problems. In those cases, it is worth looking at some of the other symptoms of depression in children and young people to gain a better understanding.
Attempting to self-diagnose may be possible with the help of the checklists above and other research. But if you are unsure about your mental health, it is important to get a diagnosis from a mental health professional. Psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals are trained to understand and clarify what is happening with you or a loved one.
What Can I Do?
First of all, it is critical to understand that a mental health condition is an illness just like a physical illness. There are reasons why the issue developed, and there are effective treatments. While some stigma continues to surround mental health conditions, the challenges of COVID-19 related lockdowns have made it clear that mental health problems can affect anyone.
Thanks to more people speaking up about their conditions, admitting to mental illness has become far easier. If you think you may be suffering from a mental health problem, avoid judging yourself. Having an illness like depression is not a reason to despair either.
Understanding that you are potentially suffering from an illness is the first step toward addressing the problem. The same goes for family members, friends, and loved ones. Before seeking treatment, you need to get your conditions diagnosed properly by a mental health professional.
Granted, there is a lot of detailed information available online as well as guides to help diagnose your condition, but without confirmation from a qualified medical professional, you are simply guessing. Your mental health is too important to rely on checklists and research alone.
If you suspect a family member, friend, or other loved one is suffering from depression try to approach them openly and ask them how they feel. A caring, respectful approach creates trust and can encourage the other person to open up about their problems. This kind of approach may also help guide them toward professional help.
Mental health professionals know exactly which questions they need to ask to understand whether you are actually suffering from a diagnosable condition or may be experiencing a temporary low mood. Once they have confirmed a diagnosis, doctors or counselors will suggest a course of treatment.
Treatment for depression can take different forms. The most common forms of treatment today are antidepressant medication and counseling therapy. Many people also respond positively to certain lifestyle changes.
Antidepressant medication is a great option when a person’s symptoms of depression have become so overwhelming that they are not ready for other forms of treatment. This may be the case when someone has become so depressed that they struggle to leave their home and even tend to everyday tasks.
Medication can control symptoms to a point where the person is once again able to care for themselves and function in society. However, antidepressant medication rarely addresses and resolves the underlying causes that led to the illness in the first place. This is where counseling and therapy can help.
How does Therapy Help?
Mental and behavioral health counseling is a form of talk therapy that has grown in popularity over the past few years. Where medication tends to focus on resolving symptoms, psychotherapy or counseling aims to get to the underlying causes of someone’s depression.
In practice, that means counselors will start by asking their clients a lot of questions. Initially, these questions are necessary to confirm or refine a diagnosis. As the treatment sessions continue the focus shifts and the conversation becomes deeper. Together with their clients, counselors work to understand how the client’s mental health condition developed.
Was it a traumatic childhood event? Or did the person simply become overwhelmed by work stress? Perhaps family commitments, work demands, and an illness collided? Or maybe the person was affected by major changes in their life?
During the coronavirus pandemic, many people struggled with their mental health because of the uncertainty they were dealing with. Not knowing whether they would fall sick or were at risk of losing their job was often enough to trigger a mental health condition. Add to that the pressures of homeschooling, and it becomes easier to see why people’s mental health would suffer.
Therapy and counseling help in different ways, including:
- Rationalizing the cause of the condition
- Having a competent person to talk to about the condition
- Developing healthier coping strategies
- Understanding how lifestyle changes can impact mental health
The first major step of therapy for depression is to establish what has caused the illness. Understanding why the condition developed eliminates any thought of it being the client’s fault. Gaining this level of insight also kick-starts the process of resolving the underlying issues.
Of course, it is possible to talk to family members and friends about your concerns. But therapists are trained to ask targeted questions that help you get to the root of the problem quickly and then look for solutions. That means they are generally able to identify and help resolve your condition more quickly than an untrained person could.
During therapy, depression sufferers learn to develop better coping mechanisms when their mood becomes low. Detrimental coping mechanisms like reaching for alcohol or drugs become a thing of the past as therapists encourage their clients to look for more beneficial, productive alternatives.
For many sufferers of depression, healthy coping mechanisms include selected lifestyle changes. Developing healthier, regular sleeping patterns is one of those changes. Eating regularly and choosing healthy foods over fatty, processed foods, is another potential change. Most therapists will also encourage regular exercise to help their patients suffering from depression.
Flexible Mental Health Therapy Solutions
Another benefit of mental health therapy is the flexibility of the treatment. Through platforms like TrueCare24, clients have access to a wide network of highly qualified and experienced therapists nationwide. This network makes it easy to find the right therapist for your condition and your situation without having to deal with waitlists and other delays.
Plus, clients can choose how their therapy is being delivered. There are pros and cons for both online and in-person therapy. In many cases, online therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions and sometimes more effective. Online counseling or teletherapy was often the only option during the pandemic. Because of its benefits, this form of treatment is here to stay. Teletherapy can be scheduled flexibly and allows clients to avoid long travel times to see their therapist. It is also a great way to access specialist care for anyone living remotely.
In-person counseling has made a comeback over the past months. TrueCare24 clients can often choose between seeing their counselor in the counselor’s office or scheduling in-home therapy. The latter is especially popular for children with mental health concerns.
Depression can take many different forms depending on a person’s background, age, gender, and personal circumstances. Understanding the symptoms of depression makes it easier to address the condition and seek support. Therapy is one of the most effective ways of treating not only the symptoms of depression but also its underlying causes.
If you think you, a family member, or a friend needs support with depression or other mental health concerns, contact our team to learn more about treatment for the condition