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Depression Causes & Symptoms: An In-Depth Look

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Feeling sad or lonely now and then is something everyone experiences. However, if your sadness persists, it can signal a serious mental issue that needs to be addressed. This guide will help you determine how to get treated for depression.

Clinical depression is one of the most common mood disorders that has affected around 7.1 percent of adults in the U.S. (1) alone. It can cause you to feel hopeless or like life is not worth living. Unfortunately, not many people know the leading causes of depression, much less how to treat it. Let’s take a closer look at how someone can develop depression below.

Symptoms of Depression

Depressive symptoms can manifest in several different ways. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Feelings of constant hopelessness, worthlessness, or sadness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or other activities you once loved
  • Sleep disorders
  • Difficulty concentrating or functioning
  • Weight loss (or weight gain that can develop into an eating disorder)
  • Substance abuse (which then leads to substance use disorders)
  • Developing an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorders
  • Chronic pain

Types of Depression

No one person will have the same experience with depression. There are several different types of depression, all with unique symptoms and causes.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression can negatively impact how you go about your daily life. It is a debilitating mental disorder that can interfere with your mood, energy, productivity, and overall outlook.

Though depression can be challenging to overcome, patients with major depression will experience especially severe symptoms, including hallucinations or delusions. Additionally, if your depressive episode lasts two years or more, you may suffer from a persistent depressive disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

This disorder typically affects patients during the winter when there is less natural light around. This lack of light can make you feel hopeless, sad, or lethargic. Any depressive symptoms you exhibit may suddenly disappear once spring rolls around. Once winter comes around again, the symptoms may return with it.

Postpartum Depression

Pregnant women who have recently given birth may succumb to this depression. It is characterized by a sudden sadness, hopelessness, or exhaustion that interferes with their ability to care for their newborn baby.

Depression Causes

Depression, major depressive disorder, or any other mental illness will typically not have one sole cause. Plenty of different physical, mental, physiological, and emotional factors may intersect and weave together to trigger your depressed state. Let’s look at some of the most common causes of depression below.

Stressful Life Events

Abuse, grief and loss, and other forms of trauma can significantly contribute to your present anxiety and depression. More often than not, people with depressive disorders will have had a stressful life full of uncertainties or instability.

Even seemingly everyday stressors or life events such as marital issues, divorce, financial woes, or stressful times at work or home can lead to depressed feelings developing. You may even develop both depression and anxiety as a result of all the stress around you. Just know that there will never be just one thing that will trigger your depression. It can be a combination of events in your life that have all led up to its development.

Depression in Children vs. Depression in Adults

Depression can impact people of any age. The symptoms in children and teens tend to differ slightly from that of adults. Children and teens will display higher levels of clinginess or sensitivity, poor attendance or performance in school, and antisocial behaviors. Domestic abuse, trauma, and bullying are common causes of depression in children and teens.

Older adults will display more physical symptoms. Frequent aches and pains, fatigue, changes in appetite, and memory loss or difficulties may be some of the symptoms you may face. Additionally, older men are more likely to commit suicide attempts.

If you have any suicidal thoughts, you need to consult a medical professional immediately. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The SAMHSA national helpline also offers an online chat option if you feel too nervous to talk with a counselor on the phone.

Family Histories of Depressive Disorders

If your family has a history of depression or other mental health conditions, you may be more susceptible to developing mental health issues. However, just because a close relative of yours happens to have depression does not mean you are destined to inherit it, too.

It simply means that you are more at risk of depression developing later on in your life. If you take relatively good care of yourself and learn suitable coping mechanisms early on, you will be better able to manage any symptoms of depression you may face.

Other Risk Factors

Any chronic illness, such as heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or other debilitating medical condition, will likely play a significant role in depression. These diseases can make you feel like you have no control or agency over your health, which can easily make anyone feel depressed.

Taking certain medications for these illnesses can also exacerbate your symptoms as well. Talking with your doctor about any side effects your medications may have before taking them is always a good idea.

Living alone or isolating yourself often makes you more likely to develop depression. Without a sound support system, you can feel like you have no one to help. It can be challenging to talk to your loved ones about your problems, but opening up to them is an excellent first step. Even if you do not have anyone you trust to discuss this with, the SAMHSA national hotline is always open to you.

Treatments for Depression

Treating depressed patients is the primary goal of all mental health professionals. If you experience depressive symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible so you can go over which mental health treatments might be best for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This behavioral health treatment is perhaps the most effective treatment for depression. It is a medically-reviewed treatment option that teaches patients how to recognize their unhelpful, negative thought processes and behaviors and better cope with depression.

You do not need to worry about your therapist throwing you into a situation you are mentally unprepared for. The point of this behavioral therapy is to reduce stress. You will work with your therapist to better understand your depression and which healthy coping mechanisms work best for you.

Your therapist may first introduce relaxation techniques in your therapy sessions. This can include mindfulness meditation, which aims to calm your mind and body.

They may also encourage you to slowly implement healthier lifestyle changes, such as creating better sleeping habits, more nutritious meals, and snacks, or even something as simple as introducing more physical activity into your routine. You might be surprised how easily these tiny changes can boost your behavioral health!

Eventually, your therapist might help you face your fears in a controlled setting. This could be through roleplaying or other therapy methods. It may also help understand the differences between a therapist and a psychologist.

Reuptake Inhibitors

Your doctor may prescribe you antidepressant medication that will affect certain chemicals in your brain to boost your mood. These chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, will carry or balance out the signals that shoot through your neurons. These signals control everything in our body, from breathing to the emotional state.

Specific neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, or norepinephrine can regulate our moods and energy levels. Depression can reduce the levels of these “feel-good” neurotransmitters and make you sad or tired.

Reuptake inhibitors work to increase the concentration of these neurotransmitters so that you will be less affected by your symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), in particular, can significantly help mitigate your depression symptoms. This is because selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can target nerve cells, causing depression.

It prevents your blood from taking serotonin from your brain, allowing you to retain higher serotonin levels. This chemical helps regulate your moods, appetite, sleep, memory, and sex drive.

Light Therapy

If the lack of natural light is getting you down, then getting a light therapy box might help! This can help to prevent depression in some milder cases, and you might feel energized enough to tackle your tasks for the rest of the day! People with the seasonal affective disorder will benefit the most from this therapy.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

This depression treatment is classified as a brain stimulation therapy and is more suited for those who do not respond well to medication or other treatments. Doctors will first put you under anesthesia when electric currents pass through your brain. These currents will affect your brain chemistry and work to reverse the symptoms of your depression.



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