Major depressive disorder, commonly known as depression, affects a multitude of individuals across countries, cultures, and personal statuses. But while this condition has been recognized and studied for millennia, symptoms of depression are often ignored or misinterpreted. For this reason, it can be helpful to gain a better understanding of the specifics that make up this diagnosis. Read on to learn more about depressive symptoms.
What Symptoms Make Up Major Depressive Disorder?
Though depression is commonly thought of as a great sadness, the official diagnosis of major depression consists of many types of symptoms and connections.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines major depressive disorder (MDD) as a mood disorder, meaning that its main effects are on the emotional realm. Together with anxiety, depression is seen as a core mental health issue, with most mental health disorders containing the symptoms of either one or both of these conditions.
According to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s fifth edition (DSM-V), major depression can combine a number of different types of symptoms:
Emotional Symptoms of Depression
- Sorrow. Unlike sadness, which is normally less intense and tends to pass on its own, the sorrow (or deep sadness) associated with depression is severe and takes up a significant portion of the day.
- Emptiness. Individuals facing depression often describe feeling empty or experiencing a vague sense that something (or someone) dear to them has been lost. Despite this, though, the sorrow associated with depression is different from grief, in that it does not necessarily stem from a recognized source of loss.
- Anhedonia. Defined as a significant difficulty experiencing happiness. Many of those battling depression are no longer able to enjoy hobbies, outings, and encounters that had previously provided them with satisfaction.
- Hopelessness. The compounding effects of depression often causes a sense of helplessness, which can drain all hope that what they are experiencing might one day pass.
- Irritability. Though depression is mostly characterized by a sense of lacking, an additional reaction to its impact on one’s life is intense frustration. Those experiencing this may also find themselves easily irritated, as they struggle to achieve even a moment of calm.
Cognitive Symptoms of Depression
- Distractibility or difficulty concentrating. Individuals with depression often find it hard to keep their minds on a certain subject, making it more difficult for them to carry out their daily chores and routine.
- Indecisiveness. Also due to a lack of focus, depression can lead to a difficulty in analyzing a given situation and deciding on a logical course of action.
- Low self-confidence and low self-worth. Individuals with this condition may begin to berate themselves for failing to “shake off” their depression. Additionally, due to their depleted mental and physical reserves, they may also experience more instances of failure within a work or social setting.
- Suicidal ideation. Wanting to end their own suffering or believing those around them would be better off without them in their lives can cause many individuals with depression to consider suicide or to ruminate on this subject.
Interpersonal Symptoms of Depression
- Guilt. The many ways in which depression can negatively impact one’s life can cause those facing it to feel incredible guilt, due to its effects on those around them. Parents, significant others, pet owners, and those in other types of relationships often describe their wish to deal with their depression on their own, without their illness harming their loved ones.
- Impaired Performance. Particularly in different social spheres, this includes a significant decrease in work efficiency, drastic drop in one’s GPA, or a neglect of familial responsibilities.
- Self-isolation. Individuals with depression often report wanting to curl up in bed and never leave their room. Many stop answering phone calls and texts and stop reaching out themselves. The resulting isolation may prove to be dangerous, as it can prevent them from receiving the mental health support they need to recover.
Behavioral Symptoms of Depression
- Neglecting personal hygiene and physical health. Depression can bring about a general disregard for health, grooming, and tending to one’s appearance. As a result, those contending with this disorder may start skipping showers or baths, changing out of their clothes, or maintaining a healthy diet.
- Self-harm and Suicide attempts. The many adverse symptoms of depression, and in particular its intense sadness, hopelessness, and frustration, can lead those experiencing it to acts of self-harm, and in extreme cases, attempted suicide. While women attempt suicide at a higher rate than men, a higher rate of men achieve suicide completion.
Physical Symptoms of Depression
- Disturbed sleep patterns. The disturbed sleeping in depression can swing in both directions, manifesting as either insomnia, hypersomnia, or a move between the two extremes.
- Significant weight change. Similar to its effect on sleep, depression can cause weight gain or loss, particularly when not dieting.
- Severe lack of energy. Individuals battling depression commonly describe feeling sapped of their energy and finding no desire or ability to participate in everyday tasks and interactions.
In the US alone, an estimated 17.3 million, or 7.1% of all US adults, suffer from this condition. Depression is thought to affect 6.7% of the global adult population (or one in 15 adults), with the World Health Organization (WHO) stating that 264 million individuals contend with this condition. Depression can be found throughout all societies, social classes, and age groups, and is much more common among women than men.
Major depression may not pass on its own, and can be much harder to withstand without professional support. The FDA has recognized several depression treatments due to their proven safety and efficacy in targeting the symptoms of this condition. They are:
Psychodynamic therapy. In an attempt to better understand what led to their depression, this form of therapy explores the links between formative events and relationships experienced by the patient, and the eventual appearance of their condition. Though found to help alleviate depression, not all patients feel comfortable with the vulnerability that occurs during psychodynamic therapy. Additionally, some find psychotherapy to only be partially effective in symptom alleviation, preferring to supplement it with another form of treatment.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This family of antidepressants helps keep the neurotransmitter serotonin active within the brain for a longer period of time. This in turn has been shown to help elevate one’s mood, negating the depressive morose symptoms of this condition. SSRIs are generally considered to be well-tolerated, though certain patients have reported adverse side effects, most notably weight gain and sexual dysfunction.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The non-invasive medical treatment utilizes electromagnetic fields to safely regulate the neural activity of brain structures found to be associated with the appearance of depressive symptoms. This treatment does not normally cause any significant or long-lasting side effects and can be combined with other treatments, such as psychopharmacology. It also does not require the use of anesthesia or an extensive recovery period, allowing patients to incorporate it into their daily schedule.
As with all medical treatments, it is highly recommended that patients considering these or other treatments for depression consult with their family doctor.
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