It’s not uncommon to feel sad, blue or down from time to time; this can happen to anyone at any phase of life. However, depression differs in that it is a mood disorder where feelings of sadness persist and interfere with daily life. Clinical depression lasts for an extended period of time and can come in different degrees of severity, from minor to major as well as some specialized types.
• A persistent low or irritable mood
• Loss of enjoyment and pleasure in activities that are usually enjoyed
• Changes in appetite that cause weight loss or gain
• Fatigue, tiredness and a general lack of energy
• Difficulty in sleeping (insomnia), or sleeping too much
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or self-hate
• Difficulty concentrating
• Low self-esteem
• Chronic frustration and/or sudden bursts of anger
• Lack of social or physical activity and avoidance of these activities
• Feelings of helplessness and hopeless
• A change in reflexes and movement (slower or faster)
• Chronic or persistent thoughts about suicide and death
Children who are depressed may not show the same symptoms as adults. In children, watch for changes in school performance, behavior and sleep patterns. If you suspect that your child could be depressed, talk with a health care provider.
The main depression types include:
Major depression. If you have 5 or more of the symptoms listed above for at least 2 weeks, you could have major depression. major depression can continue for 6 months or even longer if it is left untreated.
Minor depression. Minor depression is similar to major depression, but it only has 2 to 4 symptoms. Minor depression is characterized by having less than 5 depression symptoms for 2 weeks or more.
Dysthymia. This is a mild, low-grade depression that can persist for years if it is left untreated.
Atypical depression. Symptoms of atypical depression include overeating, oversleeping, feeling sensitive to rejection and feeling heavy or weighted down. This type of depression occurs in about one-third of patients.
Other more specialized types of depression include:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Occurs during the autumn and winter months and is triggered by a lack of exposure to sunlight.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Depression symptoms will start about 1 week before the menstrual period, but go away after the cycle is over
Postpartum depression. Women can experience severe depression symptoms as with major depression after having a baby.
Depression can alternate with manic states referred to as “mania.” If it does, this is known as manic depression or bipolar disorder. Depression overall seems to be more common in women than men, but this may be because women seek help for depression symptoms more actively than men. Minor depression can lead to more serious types of depression if left untreated, so all symptoms of depression should be taken seriously.
Depression often runs in families through heredity/genes, but it can also come from behaviors picked up in the family home. Even if someone is genetically predisposed to depression, they may never get the disease; however, a stressful life event can trigger an episode of depression even in those who are not predisposed to it.
Other factors that can cause or exacerbate the symptoms of depression include:
• Stressful life events, including:
– A breakup with a significant other
– The death of a family member or friend
– Illness in the family
– Divorce, including parents’ divorce
– Some types of cancer
– Job loss
– Failing a class
– Social isolation
• Alcohol and drug use/abuse
• Medical treatments, conditions and medications, including:
– Certain types of cancer
– Long-term/chronic pain
– An under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
– Sleep pattern issues
– The use of steroids
Depression Symptoms: Self-Care
If you experience the symptoms of depression for more than 2 weeks, contact a health care professional, as symptoms could get worse. Regardless of the level of depression you are experiencing, the following lifestyle changes and self-care steps can help to relieve the symptoms of depression:
• Get enough sleep each night
• Eat a healthy and nutritious diet that includes omega-3s
• Take breaks from work/do not overwork
• Avoid alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs
• Exercise daily, even if just a short walk
• Spend time with your family, friends and loved ones
• Spend time in nature
• Participate in activities that make you happy
• If you are depressed during winter months and suspect Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), try using a light therapy lamp that mimics sunlight. Fifteen to 30 minutes of exposure per day is usually sufficient.
• Get a massage or try an alternative therapy such as acupuncture, aromatherapy or EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)
• Try meditation, yoga, qigong, tai chi or other types of relaxation/stress-relief
• If you are religious or spiritual, talk to your clergy or spiritual advisor
Moderate to severe depression symptoms will likely require a combination of approaches including talk therapy, lifestyle changes and medication and/or alternative treatments/supplements. Minor depression symptoms can in some cases be relieved through a self-care program using the steps above.
When to Contact a Professional
If you have thoughts of harming self or others, dial 911, call a suicide hotline or find an emergency room where you can receive immediate help.
Contact a medical professional if:
• You have three or more symptoms of depression
• You cry often and/or without cause
• You hear voices and/or see things that aren’t really there
• You have issues with alcohol and/or are using it to self-medicate
• Depression symptoms have been affecting your performance at work/school or disrupting your relationships for over 2 weeks
• You suspect that a medication you’re taking now might be making you feel depressed. (DO NOT stop taking any medications before consulting with a doctor.)
Discuss with the doctor what you suspect might be the causes of your depression symptoms. Treatment will depend upon the exact nature and severity of your depression symptoms.