This is the most serious form of depression in terms of number of symptoms and severity of symptoms. It is a medical illness that involves the mind and the body and affects how a person thinks and behaves. Although suicidal thoughts or gestures are part of major depression, a person does not have to be suicidal to be clinically depressed; you may not be able to go about your usual daily activities, and depression may make you feel as if life just isn't worth living anymore. Although some people experience only one episode of depression, most have repeated episodes of depression symptoms throughout their life.
Symptoms of major depression
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities
- Feeling sad or down
- Feeling hopeless
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Being easily annoyed
- Feeling fatigued or weak
- Feeling worthless
- Loss of interest in sex
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
The severity of symptoms differ from person to person. In some people, the symptoms are obvious to those around us, even if we don't recognize them in ourselves. Sometimes, a depressed person may just feel miserable or unhappy without knowing why.
What causes major depression?
It isn't known exactly what causes depression, but it is felt to be a combination of factors.
Biochemical: It is felt that naturally occurring chemical uptake to the brain (called neurotransmitters) may be interrupted or faulty. These affect mood and thought and are felt to play a part in depression. Hormonal imbalance can also be a factor.
Genetic: Some studies show that depression is more common in family groups and therefore is hereditary to some degree.
Environment: Life events can trigger depression. Loss of a loved one, financial problems, periods of high stress and marital issues are some of the major environmental factors in depression.
Risk factors for depression
Although the exact causes or triggers for depression aren't known, there are certain factors and life events that seem to increase the risk of developing depression. Being aware of these triggers can help you identify your own depression.
- Having other biological relatives with depression
- Having family members who have taken their own life
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one
- Having a depressed mood as a youngster
- Illness, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's or HIV/AIDS
- Long-term use of certain medications, such as some drugs used to control high blood pressure, sleeping pills or, occasionally, birth control pills
- Certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem and being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
- Alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse
- Having recently given birth
- Being in a lower socioeconomic group
Seeking medical advice
Many people don't recognize their own depression and therefore don't seek help. If you recognize yourself in any of the above, you are taking a step in the right direction. Once you recognize the symptoms, you can then also recognize that you don't have to live like this.
It's normal to occasionally upset or unhappy with situations in your life. With depression, however, these feelings hang onto you for a long period of time. Your friends and family may tell you to "get over it," but you find yourself unable to do that. These feelings are more intense than just "feeling blue," and interfere with your life, work and enjoyment of daily living.
If you are feeling suicidal or having thoughts that life just isn't worth living, seek medical attention immediately. If you are having suicidal feelings right now, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). This is a free service.
If you don't want to or are unable to for some reason, you have other choices for reaching out for help, such as contacting family members or friends, a doctor or mental or health care provider, a spiritual leader, or someone in your circle with whom you feel a strong connection. You can also go to your local emergency room or call a crisis center or hotline.
Helping a loved one
You may be visiting HandlingDepression.com because you feel someone you love is suffering from depression and you wonder what you could be doing for them.
Have an open and honest discussion with them. As stated above, many times people don't realize they're depressed. For them, depression is "normal," and they don't recognize the severity of their condition. They believe that everyone feels the way they do. You may not be able to force someone to get professional help, but you can be supportive and offer encouragement.
Sometimes, someone who is depressed just needs someone to demonstrate to them that their presence in the world does matter, that there are people who care about them enough to help them make the first step in the right direction. It can be very helpful to them if you get a referral for them to get professional help, assist them in making the appointment and getting to it. Even these simple tasks can be daunting to someone who is severely depressed. Often, they require assistance in getting the help they desperately need because they are incapable of taking care of the things the rest of us take for granted.
If your loved one is suicidal, do not attempt to help them on your own. That is not to say don't help them - just don't try to handle it without professional help. Take them to the emergency room or call for emergency help.