What is Depression?
Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.
While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time (weeks, months or even years) and sometimes without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious condition that affects your physical and mental health.
Types of Depression
1. Major depression
Major depression is sometimes called major depressive disorder, clinical depression, unipolar depression or simply ‘depression’. It involves low mood and/or loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities, as well as other symptoms. The symptoms are experienced most days and last for at least two weeks. Symptoms of depression interfere with all areas of a person’s life, including work and social relationships. Depression can be described as mild, moderate or severe; melancholic or psychotic (see below).
Melancholia – This is the term used to describe a severe form of depression where many of the physical symptoms of depression are present. One of the major changes is that the person starts to move more slowly. They’re also more likely to have a depressed mood that is characterised by complete loss of pleasure in everything, or almost everything.
Psychotic depression – Sometimes people with a depressive disorder can lose touch with reality and experience psychosis. This can involve hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) or delusions (false beliefs that aren’t shared by others), such as believing they are bad or evil, or that they’re being watched or followed. They can also be paranoid, feeling as though everyone is against them or that they are the cause of illness or bad events occurring around them.
Antenatal and postnatal depression -Women are at an increased risk of depression during pregnancy (known as the antenatal or prenatal period) and in the year following childbirth (known as the postnatal period). You may also come across the term ‘perinatal’, which describes the period covered by pregnancy and the first year after the baby’s birth.
2. Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is different from depression, but it is included in this list is because someone with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of extremely low moods that meet the criteria for major depression (called “bipolar depression”). But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high – euphoric or irritable – moods called “mania” or a less severe form called “hypomania.”
3. Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)/Dysthymic disorder
Dysthymic disorder is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.
4. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
SAD is a mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern. The cause of the disorder is unclear, but it’s thought to be related to the variation in light exposure in different seasons. It’s characterized by mood disturbances (either periods of depression or mania) that begin and end in a particular season. Depression which starts in winter and subsides when the season ends is the most common. It’s usually diagnosed after the person has had the same symptoms during winter for a couple of years. People with SAD depression are more likely to experience a lack of energy, sleep too much, overeat, gain weight and crave for carbohydrates.
Depression commonly affects your thoughts, your emotions, your behaviors and your overall physical health. Here are some of the most common symptoms that point to the presence of depression:
- Angry outbursts
- Loss of interest in friends, family and favorite activities, including sex
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble making decisions
- Trouble remembering
- Thoughts of harming yourself
- Delusions and/or hallucinations can also occur in cases of severe depression
- Withdrawing from people
- Substance abuse
- Missing work, school or other commitments
- Attempts to harm yourself
- Tiredness or lack of energy
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Changes in appetite
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Changes in sleep – sleeping too little or too much
- Sexual problems
Your doctor may determine a diagnosis of depression based on:
- Physical exam. Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask questions about your health. In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem.
- Lab tests. For example, your doctor may do a blood test called a complete blood count or test your thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly.
- Psychiatric evaluation. Your mental health professional asks about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions.
- DSM-5. Your mental health professional may use the criteria for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is. Depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. If these treatments do not reduce symptoms, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies may be options to explore.
Quick Tip: No two people are affected the same way by depression and there is no “one-size-fits-all” for treatment. It may take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best for you.
You Are Not Alone
The following famous people have suffered from Depression.
- Princess Diana – Before Kate Middleton married England’s Prince William in 2011, she received counseling to prepare herself for life with the royal family, according to the Daily Mail. The counseling was likely meant to be preventive: William’s mother, Diana, after all, had experienced loneliness and depression in her role as a prince’s wife. Diana suffered from postpartum depression as well as an eating disorder. According to the BBC, her unhappiness worsened as her marriage fell apart, and she received little emotional support from her new family.
- Johnny Depp – Actor Johnny Depp may be a chameleon on screen, but watch him during any interview, and you’ll see only a man whose facial expressions, droopy posture, and mumbled words give away what was once a big secret: Depp suffers from severe anxiety. Indeed, the actor’s anxiety has been a major source of depression and unease, so much so that Depp has access to therapists at all times, even on film sets, who help advise him on how best to deal with his anxiety and keep it from dragging him into severe depression.
- Eminem – In his memoir, The Way I Am, Eminem goes into detail about his battle with depression more than a decade ago. Though the rapper grew up through tough circumstances, in 2006 he found himself reeling after the murder of his close friend and D12 member Proof. His continuously rocky relationship with his ex-wife wasn’t helping either. Eminem recalled, “I have never felt so much pain in my life. It was tough for me to even get out of bed and I had days when I couldn’t walk, let alone write a rhyme.”
- Anne Hathaway – Anne Hathaway’s success has hardly slowed down since age 19, when she first found fame in Disney’s The Princess Diaries. But in a 2007 interview with Tatler magazine, Hathaway revealed that in the years before her big break, she suffered from depression and anxiety. During that time, Hathaway insists she was able to work through her anguish without assistance from medication. Thinking back to her troubled younger self, Hathaway has said, “I am sorry she was hurting for so long. It’s all so negatively narcissistic to be so consumed with self.”
- Angelina Jolie – Before she was an Oscar winner, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, writer, director, and mother of six, Angelina Jolie-Pitt was a seriously depressed teenager. Jolie-Pitt, who has always been very open about her bouts with mental illness, has even revealed that her depression included cutting herself and hiring a hit man to kill her. Though things improved for the actress after finding Hollywood success and becoming a mother, Jolie-Pitt found herself engulfed in another depression in 2007, after losing her mother to cancer. This time, she took another route back to good health, accepting the lead role in the action flick “Wanted” in order to do “something physical” and get out of her own head. Jolie-Pitt stated, “I felt I was going into a very dark place, and I wasn’t capable of getting up in the morning, so I signed up for something that would force me to be active.”