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Depression: How To Overcome It

What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 15:40

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Symptoms of depression can vary widely - and they don't always involve the sadness or weepiness that people commonly associate with it. Many people will experience intellectual or psychological changes that affect their thinking, sleep, or energy level.

In addition, different types of depression may produce additional symptoms:

Major Depression

Experts generally agree that a person has clinical depression when he or she experiences some or all of these symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks:

  • Depressed mood
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Slowed behavior (the feeling of "dragging oneself around ")
  • Reduction or loss of pleasure in life
  • Decreased motivation
  • Negative or pessimistic thinking
  • Loss of interest in friends, activities, hobbies or work
  • Change in eating habits; weight gain or loss
  • Sleep problems, including waking up early
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Irritability
  • Being anxious or worried a lot
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Suicidal Thinking or suicide attempts

Understandably, depression can affect all aspects of a person's life (and the lives of family and close friends, too) because it puts a damper on one's overall ability to function. Clinically depressed people often becomes unable to enjoy anything, even things they once enjoyed (a condition called "anhedonic").

  • Most people are substantially disabled during a bout of major depression.
  • Others may continue to function in the sense of holding down a job and meeting other obligations - but just being alive becomes a chore.
  • Depression is believed to contribute to more than 70% of all suicides.

In addition to having the general symptoms of depression, a person experiencing an episode of major depression, also known as melancholia, typically has:

  • Severe sleep disturbances (insomnia)
  • Marked loss of appetite/weight
  • Incapacity to be motivated or to experience pleasure
  • Severe guilt/self-criticism

In children and adolescents, other signs of depression are often present in addition to the above symptoms. They include:

  • Falling grades
  • Irritability
  • Conduct problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Complaints of physical problems such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Low energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

Need To Know:

Experts estimate that 2% of children and between 4% and 8% of teenagers suffer from depression. Most likely to be depressed are girls after the onset of puberty.

In the elderly, depression may be accompanied by a focus on physical ailments, such as stomach upset or aches and pains.

Nice To Know:

Q: My 70-year-old grandfather lives alone, has been active in his retirement community, and generally gets along fine. But lately he seems sad and has been behaving strangely, forgetting things, and not getting dressed. What could be wrong?

A: In the elderly, depression is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as confusion, forgetfulness, and inattention to personal hygiene and appearance. These problems are sometimes mistaken for dementia, but they may be masking depression. Be sure that your grandfather receives medical attention immediately and that he is properly diagnosed and treated accordingly. In addition, general medical problems can cause depression, such as thyroid disease, endocrine disease, diseases of the central nervous system, and some cancers.

Bipolar Disorder

A person with bipolar disorder, or manic depressive illness, has severe mood swings that soar to mania, or with extreme elation, and then plummet to depression. During the depressive phase, the symptoms are the same as those of clinical depression, though the risk of suicide is higher. During the manic phase, the person may exhibit some or all of these symptoms:

  • Increased energy
  • Racing, disconnected thoughts
  • Increased talking and physical activity
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Extreme feelings of excitement, joy, agitation or irritation that may be inappropriate to a given situation
  • Impulsive behavior and poor judgment; classic manic behavior includes excessive spending or rash business decisions
  • Increase in impulsive sexual activity
  • Odd or improper social behavior
  • Grandiosity, an elevated belief in one's own importance

A person with bipolar disorder may also:

  • Hallucinate, seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Experience paranoia, feeling they are in danger
  • Harbor false, unshakeable beliefs about such things as wealth, power, or "super" abilities

A person with severe mania may need to be hospitalized until his or her mood and behavior are stabilized. Mania can last up to three months if not treated. Some people exhibit hypomania, which involves milder episodes of mania.

Bipolar disorder may follow different patterns.

  • The person may experience normal moods in between the two extremes.
  • The person may plummet rapidly into depression within a few days of mania (this is called rapid cycling).

Dysthymia

A Chronic form of depression, dysthymia often begins in childhood or adolescence and typically lasts for many years into adulthood if not treated. People with dysthymia:

  • Feel emotionally numb; they exist in a state of perpetual, low-level melancholy, going through the motions of everyday life with very little enthusiasm or interest
  • Tend to be negative thinkers, usually seeing the proverbial glass as half-empty instead of half-full
  • Are unable to savor or enjoy anything (anhedonic), even things they once enjoyed
  • Often subsequently develop episodes of major depression

Because dysthymia is so chronic (ongoing), existing in this way becomes so familiar that the sufferer, family, and friends may believe it is simply the person's nature or personality. Many sufferers do not seek treatment because they do not realize they are clinically depressed. Recovery from dysthymia is often incomplete, and there is a high risk that the person may sink into major depressive episodes throughout life. When this happens, he or she is suffering from double depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression thought to be triggered by a decrease in exposure to sunlight. Besides depressed mood and general symptoms of depression, symptoms may include:

  • Cravings for sweet and starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • A need for more sleep

This type of depression may be less severe than major depression. The condition usually disappears in the spring.

Depression: How To Overcome It