Depressive disorders come in many forms, with many variations and a variety of symptoms. Overall, a depressive disorder is an illness that affects the body, moods, and thoughts. Depression changes the way a person feels about him or herself and the way a person thinks. And, unfortunately, if a person with a depressive disorder is not properly treated, symptoms can last for months or even years.
Major depression is evident by a combination of symptoms that interfere with one's ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy previously pleasurable activities. This type of depression can occur only once but more commonly occurs several times in a lifetime.
A less severe type of depression, dysthymia, is manifested by long-term, chronic symptoms that do not necessarily disable a person, but they do prevent one from functioning well or feeling good. Many people with dysthymia will also experience major depressive episodes at some point in their lives.
Not everyone experiences every symptom of depression. Some people experience only a few, others, a long list. The severity of each symptom also varies.
Below is a brief list of the symptoms of depression:
• Constant sad, anxious, or "vacant" mood
• Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
• Decreased energy and increased fatigue
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
• Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
• Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
• Rest lessness, irritability
• Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
Some types of depression can be inherited. In fact, in some families, major depression appears to occur generation after generation. However, family history is not a prerequisite for major depression, which can occur to people with absolutely no family history of depression. Whether inherited or not, major depression is often associated with changes in brain structures or brain function.
People who have low self-esteem, are chronically pessimistic, who are regularly overwhelmed by stress are prone to depression. In addition, physical changes in the body can be accompanied by the onset of depression. Medical illnesses such as stroke, heart attack, cancer, Parkinson's disease, and hormonal disorders can cause depressive illness. In addition, a serious loss, difficult relationship, financial problem, or any stressful change in life patterns can trigger a depressive episode. Very often, it is a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors that trigger the onset of a depressi ve d i sorder.
Depression in Women
Many hormonal factors may contribute to the increased rate of depression in women-particularly such factors as menstrual cycle changes, pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, pre-menopause, and menopause. Many women are also particularly vulnerable after the birth of a baby. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can be factors that lead to postpartum depression in some women. While transient "blues" are common in new mothers, a full-blown depressive episode is not a normal occurrence and requires active intervention.
Depression in Men
Men are less likely to suffer from depression than women, although it is important to note that men are also less likely to admit to depression, and doctors are less likely to suspect it. Men's depression is often masked by alcohol or drugs, or by the socially acceptable habit of working excessively long hours. Depression typically shows up in men as being irritable, angry, and discouraged (whereas, with women, feelings of helplessness and inconsolable sadness are most common)
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