January 26, 2022

Depression Definition

The dictionary defines depression as a state of being depressed.  In the medical sense depression is defined as being present if a person has at least some of the symptoms of depression on a consistent basis for at least two weeks.

Depression is a medical disorder that causes overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness, as well as fatigue, low self-esteem, anxiety and a loss of interest in daily activities.  Depression affects millions of people worldwide, and can lead to suicide, self-harm and other dangerous behaviors.

Depressed people tend to experience some of the same signs and symptoms. The most common depression signs and symptoms include but are not limited to:


  • Feeling hopeless, sad or overwhelmed, belief that things will not get better
  • Sleep problems – either poor quality sleep or frequent insomnia
  • Inability to solve problems and make decisions
  • Change in appetite – either no appetite or eating constantly with the resulting weight loss or gain
  • Mood swings including feeling short tempered and/or easily irritated
  • Frequent headaches or other chronic pain that does not have a physical cause
  • Digestive issues
  • Lack of self worth, feelings of helplessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of suicide

Not all people who suffer from depression will have all of these symptoms. Some people just have one or two symptoms, while others have more. Sometimes people will have severe symptoms while others will have a more milder form of depression. Every person’s depression is different just as each person is different.

Depression can affect people of any age or gender. Women tend to suffer depression in greater numbers and length of time than men. Sometimes perfectly healthy and well-adjusted people become suddenly depressed. This can be caused by a new medication, an undiagnosed allergy or a traumatic experience, such as sudden loss of a loved one.

Causes of Depression

Many factors can play a role in depression, including the following:

Physical Reasons

The brains of depressed individuals often differ from those who don’t suffer from the disease. For example, those with depression sometimes have depleted sources of dopamine, which is a “feel good” chemical that is associated with happiness.


Hormone imbalances can bring on many symptoms of depression, including shifts in mood, sleep and eating disturbances, anxiety and irritability.

Social Factors

Studies have shown that certain social factors may help attribute to depression, such as poverty, coming from a broken home or being dissatisfied with a job or career.


Studies show that women are more apt to develop depression than men. On the same note, men may be less likely to face their symptoms of depression or seek treatment for the disease. Age can be a factor in depression, as the elderly are more apt to suffer from this condition.


Depression is often more prevalent among individuals with family members who have suffered from the disease.

Substance Abuse

Studies have shown that depression rates are considerably higher among individuals with substance abuse problems. This could be due to the extreme emotional highs and lows associated with addiction, as well as the fact that most addicts suffer from low-self esteem or it could be due to people with depression, bipolar disorder or other medical condition attempting to self medicate.

Prescription Medication

Certain prescription medication is known to have depression as a side effect.  Common prescription medications that are known for this include blood pressure pills, hormone replacement therapy and accutane.

Psychological Trauma

Traumatic events, such as childhood abuse, can often lead to depression later in life. More recent trauma can trigger depression as well.

Depression and Chronic Illness

Many individuals who suffer from chronic medical conditions, such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease, also suffer from depression as well. This is due to the debilitating nature of these diseases, which can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.


Depression is treated in a number of different ways, the most common being a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Medications used to treat depression are called antidepressants, and vary considerably in their effects, strengths and dosages.

Man with DepressionSince people and their symptoms are different, several drugs may be administered on a trial and error basis until the right one or combination is discovered.

Many antidepressants have undesirable side effects, including fatigue, sexual dysfunction and worsening of depression symptoms.

Types of antidepressants include:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Also known as SSRI’s, these medications are the most popular types of antidepressants, and are usually prescribed before any other. Side effects of SSRI’s are typically less severe than those of other antidepressants, and include sexual dysfunction, irritability, restlessness, poor digestion, insomnia and headache. Popular SSRI’s include Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro and Paxil.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors

If several types of antidepressants have been administered without providing the desired effects, MAOI’s may be prescribed as a last resort. This is due to the severe side effects of MAOI’s, which can include dangerous interactions with certain foods, beverages and other medications, insomnia, drowsiness and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

SNRI’s treat depression by reducing the absorption rate of chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Popular SNRI’s are Effexor, Cymbalta and Pristiq, and side effects include dry mouth, insomnia, headache, constipation, irritability, high blood pressure, nausea and dizziness.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Among the earliest medications used to treat depression, tricyclic antidepressants have mostly been replaced by more recent drugs. Side effects of tricyclic drugs mirror those of other antidepressants, and include insomnia, headache, nausea, dizziness, sexual dysfunction and constipation. In addition, tricyclic antidepressants can produce more serious side effects, such as seizures.

Atypical Antidepressants

These drugs are unlike any other type of antidepressants, and are sold under the brand names Wellbutrin, Oleptro and Remeron. Side effects of atypical antidepressants include anxiety, sore throat, insomnia, confusion, dizziness and nausea.

Someone with depression should contact his doctor or health care provider for a medical checkup to rule out a physical cause, such as heart disease or depression due to medication.  One of the treatments for depression that a doctor may recommend is therapy.


Many people benefit from the advice that a professionally trained psychotherapist provides.  The therapist helps the patient identify the cause of the depression and provides information to help with the management of the disorder.  Together the therapist and client will decide whether the client will benefit most from individual therapy, support group therapy or both.

When signs of depression become evident, it’s important to seek help as quickly as possible. Left untreated, this condition can worsen and lead to harmful thoughts and behaviors. The best course of action is to contact a mental health professional and make an appointment for counseling or therapy. If necessary, a doctor can prescribe medication or recommend other helpful resources, such as group therapy or a support group for depression.


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