What is depression?
Everyone goes through tough times at different points in their lives, and we all feel sad every now and then. It’s important to understand that feeling sad temporarily is very different from being depressed or having depression.
Depression is a mental disorder that is more severe and longer-lasting than normal sadness. Depression interferes with other aspects of your life like work, school, or relationships. With the right kind of treatment, many people can overcome it and lead happy, healthy lives.
What causes depression?
Sometimes depression has no apparent cause. However, in other cases, it may be caused by one or a number of factors, which include:
- Genetics: If there’s a history of depression in your family, it could be that there’s a genetic or biological link that makes the illness more common among your relatives
- Biochemical: In certain cases, the chemicals in the brain that control your moods might be out of balance
- A stressful event: Or chain of events, such as a family divorce or conflict, physical or sexual abuse, bullying, rape, the death of a loved one, or a relationship break-up
- Personality: Certain personality types are at a higher risk of depression than others. This includes people who tend to be anxious, shy, perfectionistic, or those who have low self-esteem.
Symptoms of Depression
People experience depression differently depending on the type of depression and individual differences. Common symptoms across all types of depression include:
- Sadness that won’t go away
- Feeling irritable or anxious
- Loss of interest in usual hobbies and activities
- Loss of appetite
- Irregular sleeping habits
- Unexplained outbursts of yelling or crying
- Reckless or risky behavior like alcohol and drug abuse
Everyone feels or acts like this from time to time. But for people experiencing depression, the feelings might be more severe and constant, meaning they don’t go away over time, and they’re not easily explainable.
Types of Depression
There are different types of depression, and each of them has its own symptoms, causes, and treatments. However, it’s important to remember that depression affects people differently, and not all scientists agree on how these illnesses should be defined. Although this is not a definitive list of all the different kinds of depression, you can still explore some of the most common diagnoses below.
If you think you might be experiencing depression, talk to your doctor, counselor, or other mental health professional. These professionals can help you sort through your feelings, make a diagnosis, and provide you with support for managing your depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is a type of depression that surfaces during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight. People with SAD typically come out of their depression during the spring and summer months. If you struggle with this disorder, try talking to your medical provider to see if “light therapy” is right for you.
Persistent Depressive (Dysthymic) Disorder
This is a type of depression that may not completely prevent someone from functioning normally but keeps someone in a constant low mood. Dysthymic disorders are chronic and long-lasting-sometimes for up to two years at a time.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder is a severe form of depression that interferes with a person’s ability to eat, sleep, work, study, or participate in daily activities like they usually would. Those who suffer from this may also:
- Have difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Experience low energy, keeping them from doing small tasks such as brushing their teeth or leaving their bed
- Have frequent thoughts of suicide, or attempts to take their life
Major depressive episodes typically last at least two weeks. A major episode of depression will occur only once for most people. For some, they may have reoccurring bouts of depression throughout their lifetime.
Bipolar Disorder is a form of manic-depressive illness characterized by extreme “highs” (mania or hypomania) and “lows” (depression) in a person’s mood. Both mania and depression can impact a person’s energy, reasoning, sleep patterns, behaviors, and activity levels. For more information, check out our Bipolar Disorder article.
Postpartum Depression is a type of depression that occurs in the birthing parent within one month after they give birth. Significant shifts in hormone levels after delivery likely cause postpartum depression. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health, several factors can contribute to postpartum depression, including:
- A history of depression
- Young age
- Little support from family and friends
- Going through stressful events in the past year, such as job loss or pregnancy complications
- Your baby having health complications
- Being sleep-deprived
- Going through an identity crisis as you transition into caring for a child and not just yourself
Depression and Suicide
For some people, depression may lead to thoughts of suicide. We can’t stress enough how normal this actually is. If this is something you’re experiencing, you’re not alone. It’s okay to have the thoughts and it’s important to recognize that you don’t need to act on them—no matter how overwhelming they might be.
If you’re considering ending your life, it’s important that you talk to someone right away. If you’re in a crisis, call the Youthline from Lines for Life at 877-968-8491, text teen2teen to 839863, or chat online here. You can also call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to get immediate help. You can also check out our Crisis Support Resources page to find additional support options.
For more information, check out the Suicidal Thoughts: Wanting to End Your Life article for what you can do to keep yourself safe and get the help that you need. If you know someone who is thinking about taking their own life, encourage them to get help.
If you’re experiencing depression, what is one thing you wish friends and family knew so they could support you and your mental health better? Share your answer in the comments below!
Information for this article was provided by:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
National Institute of Mental Health, Depression
National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Illness in America
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us. ReachOut.com
About Youth Era
Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.