What is depression?
Depression is a mental health condition that entails persistent sadness, apathy, hopelessness, and/or lack of interest in life.
Mild versions of these feelings are normal parts of day-to-day life. It’s common, and even healthy, to feel sad or hopeless in reaction to a difficult life event, the state of the world around you, or just to go through a period of time where things feel off.
But when these feelings become especially frequent, intense, or long-lasting, they can interfere with the daily life activities.
How common is depression?
The most commonly diagnosed form of depression, major depressive disorder, affects around 16 million adults in the United States each year. That’s roughly 6.7% of all the adults in the United States. Some sources estimate that up to 15% of the adult population worldwide will experience depression at some point in their lives.
The ADAA notes that women are more likely to suffer from depression than men.
If you’re struggling with depression, you may find it difficult to seek help. One survey from the NCHS indicates that only 29% of all individuals with depression reported contacting a mental health professional in the past year.
What are some symptoms of depression?
The symptoms of depression can vary, and may sometimes seem to contradict each other. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Persistent sadness or hopelessness: These feelings might occur without an obvious cause, and may not improve when external circumstances improve.
Lack of energy: Those struggling with depression may find it difficult to get out of bed and complete day-to-day activities.
Irritability or restlessness: Some presentations of depression may include excessive or agitated activity, rather than (or alternating with) a lack of energy.
Difficulty concentrating: You might feel a general sense of mental fogginess, and/or find it harder to focus and think things through.
Loss of interest in pleasurable activities: If you’re experiencing depression, the things that usually bring you joy (socializing, hobbies, sex) may seem dull and uninteresting.
Changes in sleeping or eating habits: Depression can cause you to sleep or eat too much or too little.
Thoughts of suicide or death: These thoughts may be persistent, involuntary, and disruptive to your daily life.
Different types of depression
Several different diagnoses fall under the umbrella of depression. The most common forms are:
Major Depressive Disorder: This is the most common form of depression. Those struggling with major depression experience several of the above symptoms most days, to a degree that clearly affects their day-to-day lives. These symptoms persist for at least two weeks and are generally not related to specific life stressors (loss of a job, death of a loved one, etc.).
Persistent Depressive Disorder: This form of depression includes milder versions of the same symptoms described above. These symptoms are still present most of the time, but they are less severe and those struggling with chronic depression may be able to hide these symptoms from most people in their lives.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Also known as PMDD, this form of depression is an extension of PMS. Its occurrence is linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle and usually involves the onset of depressive symptoms about seven to 10 days before the start of a menstrual period.
Substance-Induced Depressive Disorder: Here, depressive symptoms are connected to the individual’s use of alcohol or other substances.
Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Certain medical conditions can cause depressive symptoms. In this form of depression, the medical condition physiologically affects the individual’s brain chemistry to cause the symptoms; it is not a psychological response to being sick.
What to do if you’re experiencing depression
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you might consider the following courses of action:
Therapy: Find a therapist who can help you gain insight into your condition and use proven techniques to improve your symptoms and mood. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.)
Check-ups: Because depression can be caused by medical conditions, it’s important to stay up-to-date with your medical appointments. Scheduling a check-up with your primary care doctor can help you rule out physical conditions that may contribute to your symptoms.
Medication: Many individuals struggling with depression find that medication helps reduce their symptoms. Though most medications come with side effects, a psychiatric professional can help you manage these side effects and find the most effective treatment.
Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-8255. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-622-4357 can also help you locate resource and treatment options.
What should I look for in a therapist for depression?
Several different treatment methods have been shown to be helpful for depression. A few of the most common are as follows:
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)