Are you – or is someone you care about – depressed? What are the warning signs of depression to look out for? Feeling down from time to time is a normal part of life. Everyone experiences sadness in response to life’s setbacks, but when you start to struggle with daily functioning, you may be dealing with depression.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how you feel, think, and behave, and it can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems if left untreated. People showing warning signs of depression may struggle with normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes they may feel as if life isn’t worth living.
It’s important to remember that depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out of it.” Along with anxiety disorders, depression is one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting more than 300 million people around the world according to the World Health Organization. It is estimated that 21% of the adult population will experience depression at some point in their lifetime.
What Causes Depression?
Because it is an extremely complex illness, there are many possible causes for depression. Blaming chemical imbalances of the brain oversimplifies the issue. While chemicals are involved in the process, one must look at several other factors that come into play, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, traumatic experiences, medications, and medical issues. Studying these factors can help medical professionals develop individualized treatment plans.
The following risk factors may make you more vulnerable to depression:
- Family history of depression
- Recent stressful life experiences
- Chronic illness or pain
- Early childhood trauma or abuse
- Substance abuse
- Loneliness and isolation
Types of Depression
Depression comes in many shapes and forms. Knowing what type of depression you have may help you manage your symptoms and get the most effective treatment.
- Major depressive disorder or “clinical depression” typically lasts anywhere from two weeks to six months. This may involve a single depressive episode or recurrent depression.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) is present most days over the course of a two-year period. Symptoms may not be as strong as the symptoms of major depression, but it’s not uncommon to experience major depressive episodes on top of dysthymia (known as double depression).
- Bipolar disorder or “manic depression” has mood episodes that range from extremes of high energy to depressive low periods.
- Seasonal depression typically occurs in late fall through winter.
- Postpartum depression can occur either before or, most commonly, after delivering a baby.
- Psychotic depression is major depression with symptoms that include hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is depression that occurs about a week before and at the start of a woman’s period.
- Situational depression isn’t a technical term, but if you’re having trouble managing a stressful event in your life, you may be experiencing “stress response syndrome.”
- Atypical depression is when a positive event can temporarily improve your mood, breaking the pattern of persistent depressive symptoms.
How Depression Varies with Gender and Age
Warning signs of depression may look different based on a person’s gender and age. More women than men are diagnosed with depression. This can be due to hormonal factors during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, or because women are more likely to seek treatment. Women with depression are more likely to experience symptoms such as guilt, excessive sleeping, overeating, and weight gain.
Men are less likely to acknowledge feelings of depression. Instead, they report issues with fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, and loss of interest in work and hobbies. Men with depression are also more likely to experience symptoms such as anger, aggression, reckless behavior, and substance abuse.
Symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences. For children, symptoms may include:
- Aches and pains
- Refusing to go to school
- Changes in weight; loss or gain
For teenagers, symptoms may include:
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Poor performance and/or poor attendance at school
- Feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive
- Using recreational drugs or alcohol
- Eating or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Avoidance of social interaction
In many cases, depression goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults because it’s seen as “a normal part” of growing older. This is not true - there is hope. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as memory difficulties or personality changes, physical aches or pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems, avoidance of social interaction, and even suicidal ideation – especially in older men. Many of these symptoms may be signs of natural aging, and therefore it is important to speak to your doctor about any and all symptoms you’re experiencing so you can get the treatment you need.
Am I Depressed? Questions to Ask Yourself
Answering “yes” to any of the following questions is usually enough to warrant a conversation with your doctor to discuss next steps:
- Do you have unexpected, intense sadness that lasts longer than a few days at a time?
- Do you feel hopeless, lifeless, empty, or apathetic?
- Are you using alcohol or drugs to manage your mood?
- Have you ever thought about killing or harming yourself?
- Have you lost interest in activities you used to enjoy?
Use these questions as talking points when you speak to a medical professional who can help determine if the sadness you are experiencing is due to depression.
Is My Friend/Family Member/Loved One Depressed?
If you think someone close to you may be suffering, look out for red flags and monitor them. If they haven’t opened up to you about their condition, they may be unaware or in denial. Try to talk to them about the symptoms you’ve recognized and offer nonjudgmental support and a listening ear.
Common Symptoms of Depression
- Loss of interest in things that once made them happy
- Inability to complete daily activities
- Loss of appetite or overeating (which may lead to significant weight changes)
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Fatigue/loss of energy
- Reckless behavior
- Concentration problems
- Alcohol or drug use
When experienced alone or in a different context, the symptoms listed above may be normal. But the more symptoms a person has, the stronger they are, or the longer they’ve lasted, the more likely it is they’re dealing with depression.
One other symptom that is much harder to recognize is forced happiness, also known as hidden depression or “smiling depression.” When someone lives with depression for a long time, they can become adept at hiding their symptoms in the company of others. Over time, it’s difficult to keep up with the façade, so the mask may slip during difficult moments. Be on the lookout for any signs of sadness, hopelessness, or loneliness that seem out of character.
If you or someone you know poses an immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person, call 911 and stay with the person until help arrives. Remove weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects. Look for local support groups, seek professional help, and share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which is available 24 hours a day at 1-900-273-8255.
Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles has helped people suffering from all types of mood disorders and suicidal ideation. Many patients who receive ketamine IV therapy report feeling better within hours of their initial session, with the majority showing little to no warning signs of depression after the full course of treatment. To find out if you qualify for ketamine IV therapy, schedule a meeting with our patient care coordinator to talk about your options.