Depressed is a commonly used term to describe how someone is feeling. In casual use, people often use the term “depressed” to describe how they feel about various difficult or disappointing events such as a favorite sports teams losing, the start of a new workweek or rainy weather on the weekend. However, the term “depression” as it is used by medical and mental health professionals refers to a longer lasting and more impairing experience of feeling sad, down or “blah,” and can be disabling. This experience is understood to be distinct from or more severe than our everyday difficulties and is often associated with physiological changes in the body as well as changes in thoughts, emotions and behaviors . The experience of being depressed has been described as wearing glasses with grey lenses that cast a dark hue over everything a person experiences. Everyone has tough days, and even tough weeks. But when there is a persistent sense of feeling sad, lonely, hopeless, worn out or disinterested, a person may be experiencing a clinical depression.
“When [depression] comes, it degrades one's self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself… In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression…. In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance….Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.”Andrew SolomonThe Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
Depression is a mood disorder that can incite feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair. There are a few types of depression caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects a person’s ability to enjoy life or even to eat, sleep and interact in social situations. This type of depression affects nearly 7% of the U.S. population and these people may have several episodes during the course of their lives.* It is more prominent in women than men, with the average age of onset being 32.5 years old. However, keep in mind this is an average, and it can affect children through aging adults. According to the World Health Organization, depression affects 350 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability for those age 15-44. So, know that you or your loved one are not alone in experiencing this and effective treatment is available. Another form of depression, persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia), indicates a significant downswing in mood that lasts for at least two years for adults and one year for children.
Other types include Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, Premenstrul Dysphoric Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder with Peripartum Onset (affects 3-6% of new mothers), Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Depressive Disorder with Psychotic Features, Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder, and Dipressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition. A slightly different presentation occurs in patients with Bipolar Disorder, which is now categorized separately by the DSM-5 where depressed moods are countered by periods of elevated mood/elation or happiness, sometimes to the extreme.
In general, there are some telltale signs that someone is suffering from clinical depression. They include, but are not limited to: feelings of emptyness, hopelessness sadness or “giving up,” changes in appetite, irritability, less interest in pleasurable activities, changes in sleep patterns, suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death, and unexplained physical aches and pains.
The good news is that even some of the most serious cases of depression can be treated, but it is always recommended to consult a doctor or mental health professional for a specific diagnosis and treatment, particularly because other illnesses are often associated with depression such as anxiety. This is called co-occurring disorder.
In terms of treatment, medications are often used in conjunction with psychotherapy. Some of the newer antidepressants are called SSRIs and include Prozac®, Zoloft® and Lexapro®. Similar drugs called SNRIs may also be effective such as Effexor® and Cymbalta®. While these newer drugs tend to have fewer side effects, older versions of depression medications called tricyclics may also be used in treatment.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, we encourage you seek professional help. Additionally, you will find a number of articles, information, and resources on WebPsychology to help you learn more.
* Anxiety and Depression Association of America
The above summary by WebPsychology.