Depression – Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and More

Katherine, 37, works in a departmental store. For a month, she is feeling sad, helpless and unable to concentrate on work. She also has a problem in sleeping. Her physician referred her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed the condition as depression.


According to data from authentic sources, 9.5% of American aged 18 and above suffer from depressive illness and thus increasing the burden for healthcare services and social welfare organizations. As per 2020 statistics of World Health Organization (WHO) more than 264 million people suffer from it. Around 5% of adults globally suffer from depression.

Before proceeding further let’s understand depression in detail.

What is Depression – Meaning and Definition

Depression can be defined as a feeling of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety. Sometimes it has physical symptoms as well.

In other words, depression can be defined as a mental disorder in which the sufferer feels low self-worth, sadness and an inability to enjoy life. He feels fatigue, lack of energy and reduced agility. The condition is also marked by sleeplessness.

As per the meaning given in Merriam Webster dictionary, depression is a mood disorder characterized by sadness, despair and loneliness. The disease is also marked by guilt, lack of activity and concentration and problems in sleeping. The sufferer may have suicidal thoughts.

Causes of Depression

The exact causes of depression are yet to be found but there are certain factors that may be contributing to it.


People who have suffered physical and mental abuse during their childhood are more likely to get depressed during their adulthood.

Negative Life Experiences

People who have gone through negative life experiences like breakup and death in the family have more chances to go through depression. Not everyone reacts the same to a negative life event.


Age of a person is also a deciding factor. People in higher age groups are more likely to get depressed as they live alone without a support system.

Medical Condition

Prolonged illness can also lead to depression. People suffering from diabetes and cancer have more chances to developing depression. Those suffering from heart diseases have twice the chances of depression as compared to those who don’t have heart disease.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is one of the major causes of depression. 1 in 5 people suffering from substance abuse disorder also suffers from depression.


The likelihood of getting depressed is high in women as compared to men. Several studies have shown that hormonal changes in the female body increase the likelihood of depression.


Some families have a history of depression. The body has several genes that show their effect. Several studies have shown the linkage of genes and depression. However, more research is required to establish this linkage more profoundly.


Some medicine can make you prone to depression. Isotretinoin, which is used for the treatment of acne is one such medicine. Apart from that, some antiviral drugs like interferon-alpha and corticosteroids also increase the chance of depression.

Brain Structure

In some cases, brain structure is also responsible for it. Several studies have shown a linkage between the frontal lobe of the brain and depression. People suffering from depression has a less active frontal lobe. More studies are needed to establish whether the less active frontal lobe is the cause or effect of depression.

Family Dispute

What happens in the family has a direct bearing on your mental health. People with family conflicts are more vulnerable to go under depression.

Life Changes

Major life events can also cause depression. Moving to a different city, loss of job or income and divorce could lead to divorce.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

After knowing the causes, it is relevant to know the symptoms of depression. Here it is worth mentioning that this disease has a number of symptoms. Every person could have a different set of symptoms. Here we list major symptoms.

A Feeling of Sadness

The sufferer would have a feeling of sadness. This symptom will continue for a long. He will always feel low and sad without a valid reason.


The sufferer feels hopeless and guilty. He will always think about losses and failures in his life. He would have negative feelings and he may think that he won’t get successful even after trying hard.

Lake of Interest

People enjoy even smaller things in life but those with depression may find a lack of interest in things. They stop taking part in activities like sports, movies and going out with friends.

Continuous Fatigue

A feeling of tiredness or fatigue is one of the major symptoms of depression. The sufferer always feels a lack of energy. He feels sleepy oftentimes.

Sleep Problems

Difficulty in sleeping or insomnia is one of the major symptoms of depression. Insomnia makes depression worse and vice versa. As the person fails to get quality sleep, the condition leads to anxiety and other mental disorders.

Irritability (particularly in men)

Depression has different symptoms in men and women. One such symptom is irritability which is more common in men than women. You can spot men showing risky behavior and manifesting anger.

Marked Shift in Appetite and Weight

Those suffering from depression can see marked changes in appetite and weight. It differs from person to person. Persons who face increased appetite can gain weight while those with a decreased appetite can lose weight.

No Control Over Emotions

People suffering from depression have no control over their thoughts. In a moment they will laugh, in another, they will cry. They experience mood swings.

Suicidal Tendency

Some people suffering from depression may have suicidal tendencies. They often talk about it. They often make plans for it and even attempt suicide. If you are spotting such behavior in any depressed person, you should call for emergency help.

Apart from that there are several other symptoms of depression. Moving or talking slowly, difficulty in concentrating and making decisions and headaches and cramps are prominent among them.

Diagnosis of Depression

Symptoms may hint toward depression but you should go to a doctor who will diagnose it properly to ensure whether it is depression or something else. Here is how a doctor may diagnose you.

Physical Examination

Your doctor may conduct a physical examination. He will ask questions related to health. Sometimes depression may be the sign of a physical problem.

Lab Test

Your doctor may prescribe physical examination. The purpose of these tests to get an understanding of your health statistics.

Psychiatric Assessment

Your doctor will conduct a psychiatric assessment. He will ask several questions related to your thoughts, emotions, feeling and other things. Some psychiatrists may ask you to answer a questionnaire to assess you better.

DSM -5

Your psychiatrist may assess you on criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Here it is worth mentioning that DSM-5 criteria are suggested by the American Psychiatric Association.

Common Types of Depression

The types of depression have been named after its symptoms. Here we list the major depression types along with their brief information.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder is also referred to as a clinical depression. Such depression interferes with day-to-day life. Sadness in mood, sleep problems and suicidal tendencies are major symptoms.

Bipolar Depression

Bipolar depression or bipolar disorder is characterized by low mood and high mood alternatively. People with this disorder may be showing symptoms like lack of energy (during low mood), wild ideas and making ambitious plans.

Psychotic Depression

People with psychotic depression experience delusion and hallucinations. Their thinking is unreal and they are getting affected by things that are not there.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Do you believe that change in season can lead to depression? Yes, it is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This depression starts affecting during late fall and early winter but disappears during the spring and summer seasons.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a variant of Premenstrual Disorder that affects women. This disorder is more common in days before the menstrual period. This depression is characterized by extreme fatigue, sadness, anxiety, mood swings and irritability among other.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

This disorder is also referred to as dysthymia. Its symptoms are less severe but long-lasting. In some cases, the symptoms last for two years or even more. The sufferer always feels down. The disease can be better handled with psychotherapy and medication. TMS therapy and lifestyle changes.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is also sometimes called as perinatal depression. This depression occurs around pregnancy and continues up to a year post-delivery. The sufferer experiences mild sadness, worry or stress during it. Social withdrawal, mood swings and change in appetite are other symptoms. 

Read more on postpartum depression

Therapy and Treatment of Depression

Depression takes a toll on our lives making us less or nonproductive. But it can be treated. Here we list the major therapies and treatment options available.


Most of the time a doctor prescribes antidepressants to control the symptoms. Antidepressants take a week or two to show results. Some antidepressants have side effects that reduce with time. If they persist, you should talk to your doctor.


Psychotherapy or counseling is a therapy in which a patient talks to a doctor. The psychotherapist talks to the patients about underlying problems and suggests solutions. He also suggests coping skills. The duration of therapy depends upon the seriousness of depression. Psychotherapy may use techniques like:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy

Also Read

10 Self-Help Books on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Alternative Medicines

A large number of people suffering from depression also find respite through alternative medicine. Herbal therapy, acupuncture and meditation are major therapies. Yoga, deep breathing and massage have also been proven effective in treating depression.

Self-help Methods

Some self-help methods also help get relief from depression. Doing regular exercise, positive thinking and good company also helps. Reading self-help books on depression also helps to a good extent.

Brain Stimulation therapy

People with severe depression are treated with brain stimulation therapy. Some of the major brain stimulation therapies are as follows.


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