Depression is a treatable medical illness involving an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. It’s not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. Just like you can’t “wish away” diabetes, heart disease, or any other physical illness, you can’t make depression go away by trying to “snap out of it.”
Episodes of depression often follow stressful events like marital problems or the death of a loved one. People who have recurrent episodes of major depression are sometimes said to have “unipolar depression” (or what used to be called “clinical depression”), because they only experience periods of low, or depressed mood (unlike someone with bipolar disorder who goes through periods of both low and high mood).
While depression sometimes runs in families, many people with the illness have no family history of depression. The exact causes of depression still are not clear. What we do know is that both genetics and a stressful environment, or life situation, contribute to its cause. Usually, it’s not one or the other, but a combination of both.
Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
Unexplained aches and pains
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Different Kinds of Depression
There are many names for the different kinds of depression. People with recurrent episodes of major depression are sometimes said to have unipolar depression (or what used to be called “clinical depression”), because they only experience periods of low, or depressed mood. Those living with chronic, low-grade depression have what is called dysthymia. When people experience both dysthymia and major depression, they are sometimes said to have double depression.
Mood disorder symptoms also can arise after a woman gives birth (postpartum depression). And they can sometimes be accompanied by psychosis (psychotic depression) or can occur during the winter season (seasonal affective disorder, SAD).
However, what most mood disorders have in common are major depressive episodes. This is also true of bipolar disorder, another type of mood disorder. People diagnosed with this illness have mood swings involving both lows (bipolar depression) and highs (called mania if severe or hypomania if mild). When people go through the lows of bipolar disorder (bipolar depression), their symptoms are very similar to those that someone with unipolar depression might have.
Two Common Types of Depression
Major depressive disorder and dysthymia are two of the most common types of depression that people experience. More on Two Common Types of Depression
Postpartum depression is a treatable medical illness characterized by feelings of sadness, indifference, exhaustion and anxiety that a woman may experience after the birth of her baby. It affects one in every 10 women who have had a child, and can affect any woman, regardless of her age, race, or economic background.
Depression and Other Illnesses
Depression often coexists with other mental or physical illnesses. Conditions that may be worsened by depression include substance use, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. A great deal of research in the field of “whole health” (also called “mind-body medicine” or “integrated health”), is currently underway to explore the relationship between depression and physical illnesses. More on Depression and Other Illnesses
Depression across the Lifespan
Depression can affect anyone at any age, including children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.
Treatment of depression may include support groups, medication, talk therapy, or other strategies that you and your health care provider may want to try. The right treatment is the one that works best for you.