Depression is a serious, but common, condition. It often causes people to feel sad or empty for long periods of time. It can also affect one’s thinking patterns and physical health. In some cases, depression can lead people to consider suicide.
What is Depression?
Depression’s symptoms can vary from person to person. Someone’s gender, culture, or age may change how they experience depression. Yet most forms of depression include these common symptoms:
- Frequent crying and bouts of sadness
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Getting too much or too little sleep
- Difficulty enjoying activities one used to like
- Unexplained physical ailments such as headaches or muscle pain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in weight or eating habits
- Using words like “Always” or “Never”
- Catastrophic thinking like “it’s all going to go wrong, we’ll never get out of this muddle”
- Thoughts of suicide
A person with depression likely has trouble dealing with daily stresses. Sometimes the simplest activities—getting out of bed, bathing, and dressing—can feel like a real chore and even impossible. Such struggles might make people feel helpless or alone. Even when something good happens, depression can cast a cloud of negativity over the experience, like this good feeling will never last.
People with depression often feel anger, shame, and irritation. Sometimes these emotions can show up in the body as aches, nausea and a lowering of the immune function. These feelings can also lead to weepiness.
Other times, depression causes people to feel emotionally “numb.” It is common for people to feel as if they never have energy. In severe cases, a person may not care if they live or die.
WHAT DEPRESSION IS NOT
There are many myths surrounding therapy. Though it is important to know what depression is, it can be equally important to know what depression is not.
Depression is not simple sadness. Most people get upset when life doesn’t go their way. But someone with depression can feel so bad they struggle to do everyday activities like eat or bathe. To count as depression, the sadness must be a constant, long-lasting feeling.
Depression is not a sign of weakness. Although depression can sap one’s energy or motivation, having the condition does not meant one is lazy. In fact, many people with depression put forth double the effort to simply get through their day.
Depression is not forever. People with depression can feel hopeless about recovery, especially if they’ve had the condition for a long time. Yet most forms of depression are very treatable. There are many therapies used to treat depressive symptoms. A mental health practitioner can help you decide which type best fits your needs.
WHAT CAUSES DEPRESSION
Depression can be caused by one’s body or one’s circumstances. Sometimes it can be caused by a mixture of both.
Most mental health experts agree brain chemistry plays a major role in depression. The brain has chemicals called dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals affect our ability to feel pleasure and well-being. If the brain does not make enough of these chemicals, or if it doesn’t process them right, depression can result.
But no person is an island. Just as brain chemistry can affect life, life can cause changes in the brain. Any stressful or traumatic event can contribute to depression. Common triggers include divorce, financial instability, chronic illness, social isolation, bullying, abuse and domestic violence.
Depression is not to be confused for the typical mourning process. Grief after loss is normal, and it usually fades over time. One’s sadness or guilt is often limited to thoughts of the deceased. But depression’s symptoms tend to be persistent and less tied to any specific thought.