Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Depression

Depressive disorders can affect people of all ages, at all different stages of life. While sadness is something that everyone experiences, people who have a depressive disorder experience such profound, prolonged, and persistent feelings of sadness and despair that it leads to dysfunction in many areas of their lives. Individuals suffering from depression will find it difficult to make it through the day without experiencing overwhelming feelings of distress. These individuals are likely to isolate themselves, have difficulty sleeping, experience a change in their eating patterns, no longer care about their appearance, and lack the ability to experience pleasure. While the effects of depression can be devastating, with proper treatment, individuals can find relief from their symptoms and resume living a happy, productive life.

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As one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders, depression is believed to affect one in ten people in the United States. Yet, it is said that only 52% of those suffering from a depressive disorder actively seek treatment. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that major depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44. The CDC has also reported that 15 of every 100 adults over the age of 65 are diagnosed with a depressive disorder. Furthermore, research has shown that approximately one in every 33 children and one in every eight adolescents meets criteria for a formal diagnosis of depression.

Causes and Risk Factors for Depression

There is not any one identified cause that leads to the onset of a depressive disorder. Rather, it is believed by professionals in the field that a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors play a role in the development of depression. These factors may include:

Genetic: There is believed to be a strong genetic link in the development of depression because the illness is known to run in families. Research has shown that 40% of depressive disorder diagnoses have a hereditary tie.

Physical: Through neuroimaging studies, it has been shown that people who have depression have structural differences in the areas of the brain that regulate sleep, appetite, and behavior. Additionally, imbalances in neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that regulate emotions, are also said to play a role in the development of depressive symptoms.

Environmental: It is believed by many that experiencing certain life events, such as significant traumas or the loss of a loved one, can lead to the development of depression. Spending a great deal of time in turbulent or stressful work, school, or home environments can also impact one’s susceptibility to developing depression.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female (reports state that women are 70% more likely than men are to develop a depressive disorder throughout their lifetimes)
  • Family history of depression
  • Family history of other mental illnesses
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Presence of significant health problems
  • Chronic stress
  • Unemployment
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Death of a loved one
  • Suffering from trauma, especially during childhood

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depressive disorders will vary amongst individuals depending on things such as the person’s age, the support system available to the person, and the length of time that the depression has gone untreated. The most commonly noted signs and symptoms displayed by a person struggling with a depressive disorder include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Lacking the ability to perform appropriately at work or school
  • Chronic absences from work or school
  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Unprovoked angry outbursts
  • Self-injuring

Physical symptoms:

  • Under-eating or over-eating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Chronic headaches and other bodily aches and pains
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Digestive problems
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory lapses
  • Indecisiveness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slowed thinking

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irrational feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Poor self-image
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Depression

The effects of untreated depressive disorders can be far-reaching and long-lasting. Not only will they impact the individual suffering from the illness, but they can affect those in his or her life as well. Examples of various effects that can result from untreated depression can include:

  • Drug and/or alcohol use and addiction
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-injury
  • Social isolation
  • Familial conflict
  • Divorce / loss of significant interpersonal relationships
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Unemployment
  • Decline in physical health
  • Attempts at committing suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depressive disorders have known to exist alongside other mental illnesses. The disorders most commonly cited as co-occurring with depression include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders
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