Depression Signs, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Depression is one of the main reasons that people reach out to us at iCounseling for services. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15-44 is depression. It has affected 14.8 million Americans, or 6.7% of the population in the past 12 months. The World Health Organization notes that it is the third leading cause of illness worldwide. Women are twice as likely to have depression as men, but men are more likely to take extreme measures, such as suicide, to deal with their depression. This is a guide to tell you about some depression signs and symptoms, the various types of depression, and some treatment options you may find useful.

Understanding Depression

According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn't worth living. Depression is more than just a bout of the blues, depression isn't a weakness and you can't simply "snap out" of it.

Factors Likely to Contribute to Depression

Biological - People with depression may have too little or too much of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Changes in these brain chemicals may cause or play a role in clinical depression.

Cognitive - People with negative thinking and low self-esteem are more likely to develop clinical depression.

Gender - Women experience clinical depression nearly twice as often as men. The reasons for this are still not understood, but may include hormonal changes women go through during menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Additional reasons may include stress caused from juggling many responsibilities, as some woman do.

Co-occurrence - Depression is more likely to occur along with certain illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and hormonal disorders.

Medications - Side effects of some medications can bring about depression.

Genetic - A family history of clinical depression increases the risk for developing the illness.

Situational - Difficult life events, including divorce, financial problems or the death of a loved one can contribute to clinical depression.

Common Causes of Depression according to Helpguide.org - Loneliness, lack of social support, recent stressful life experiences, family history of depression, marital and relationship problems, financial strain, early childhood trauma or abuse, alcohol or drug abuse, unemployment and underemployment, and health problems or chronic pain.

Medical Issues that increase depression (Medicine.net)

Depression caused by chronic illness often aggravates the illness, especially if the illness causes pain, fatigue or disrupts your social life. Depression can intensify pain. It causes fatigue and sluggishness that can worsen the loss of energy associated with these conditions. Depression also tends to make people withdraw into social isolation.

The rate for depression occurring with other medical illnesses is quite high:
Heart attack: 40-65% experience depression
Coronary Artery Disease: (without heart attack): 18-20% experience depression
Parkinson’s Disease: 40% experience depression
Multiple Sclerosis: 40% experience depression
Stroke: 10-27% experience depression
Cancer: 25% experience depression
Diabetes: 25% experience depression

Depression Symptoms and Signs

You may notice the following symptoms and signs in yourself or in others:

Increased fatigue with associated sleep issues - Too much sleep, too little sleep, trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, tossing and turning all night, and daytime drowsiness.

Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed: You find yourself not participating in activities that once brought you happiness, and believe that you will not enjoy them anymore.

Isolation and pulling away from people in your life - You distance yourself from people in your life. You stop returning calls and message, you cancel plans, and you feel like telling them how you are feeling would be a burden.

Feeling helpless or hopeless - You have little to no hope for the future, and you feel like your current feelings and situation are not capable of being changed.

Lack of motivation - You find it very difficult to participate in the tasks of everyday life. You can’t imagine gathering the energy to work, watch your children, exercise, eat, or speak with those in your life.

Changes in appetite - This can be eating too much or too little. You may find yourself having virtually no appetite and losing weight. You may also find yourself binge eating unhealthy foods to fill the void depression is leaving in your life. This behavior is most common when you are bored or stressed.

Poor memory, focus, and concentration - You are finding it harder and harder to focus on tasks that need to be done. You struggle to recall information on the spot, if at all. Your concentration is significantly impacted, where you find it difficult to concentrate on a particular task or item that needs to be done.

Intrusive and negative thoughts - You struggle with negative thoughts that seem to insert themselves into your view of yourself, your abilities, and the world. You are unable to see the positive or realistically.

Changes in mood - You notice that you are having increased feelings of sadness, irritability, anger, and aggression. These were not present to this degree, or potentially at all before.

Increased substance use or reckless behaviors - You are drinking or using drugs to numb yourself and detach from the emotional pain. You are careless about your safety and well-being, as you do not have much hope for your future.

Lack of energy - Even the simplest tasks seem like they would exert more effort than you are capable of. You do not bother with the tasks due to this belief.

Physical aches and pains - An unexplained overall feeling of aches and pains, and a general feeling of not being well. Depression symptoms can manifest physically in this way.

Thoughts of death - This can range from active to passive thoughts. You could have passive thoughts of suicide, such as, "I would not care if I ever woke up." You could have active thoughts of suicide which include a detailed plan, the means to do it, and the ability to carry out the plan.

Types of Depression

Major depression

Constant symptoms, with an episode lasting up to 6 months if left untreated. This can be moderate or severe, and includes most of the symptoms listed above.

Mild Depression (also known as Dysthymia)

This affects an individual more days than not, and untreated episodes last up to two years. It is the symptoms listed above to a lesser level, but individuals with mild depression struggle to live a life where they feel like they have happiness and true meaning.

Bipolar Disorder

This is when individuals cycle between manic episodes, and episodes of depression. The manic episodes often include little need for sleep, impulsivity, flight of ideas, and rapid speech. They then come to an episode of depression that resembles a major depressive episode, as described above.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This is found in areas that experience winter weather with months lacking natural sunlight. The individual will start to feel depressive symptoms of depression as winter progress, and they can range from mild to severe. If the person already has underlying depression, it can be made worse during this time of year.

Depression Treatments

Seek individual therapy with a professional, such as those on iCounseling, who can help with overcoming depression.

  • Take part in weekly individual sessions to discuss the current symptoms.
  • Discuss the root causes of the depression.

Ask for help and support from friends and family.

  • Use the support system that has been trying to help.
  • Call and talk to someone when you are feeling distraught.

Work towards a healthy lifestyle through changes such as improved eating habits and exercise.

  • Exercise, which helps produce hormones and chemicals that regulate mood.
  • A healthy diet lets the entire body function better, including your mood.

Get appropriate sleep and practice good sleep habits.

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Go to bed at the same time and wake up the same time each day.
  • Remove the television and screens from the bedroom.
  • Do not have any caffeine after 2pm.

Reduce stressors through relaxation techniques such as:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery

Learn to challenge and change negative thought patterns.

  • Write down your worries.
  • Set a daily timeframe where you are allowed to worry.
  • Work to accept what you have control over.

Learn coping skills through therapeutic work.

  • Find skills you can turn to when depression is worsening
  • Develop a "therapeutic toolbox".
  • Speak with your primary care physician or psychiatrist to determine if an anti-depression medication is appropriate for you.

Seek psychoeducation about depression and how it affects you personally.

  • Learn about the symptoms of depression.
  • Learn coping skills to deal with depression.
  • Learn cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) skills challenge negative thoughts and actions.

Engage in social activities and/or support groups.

  • Join an in person or online support group to connect with other people suffering with anxiety.
  • Join local groups to participate in activities you might enjoy, and to make friends.

Learn to set healthy boundaries with those who impact your mood.

  • Discuss what it would mean to set healthy boundaries and stick to them.
  • Learn when you are taking on too much, and that it is ok to say no.
  • Do not continue to do things that you do not want to do.

Take nutritional supplements your physician approves of.

  • There is a great deal of research that shows promise for supplements helping to reduce anxiety. Speak with your doctor about possible options, and be sure to mention any other medicines you are taking, including over the counter medicines.

Try light therapy boxes for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

  • There is a great deal of research for the effectiveness of light boxes to help with seasonal depression. The Mayo clinic supports their use as effective.

Consider acupuncture.

  • Research is starting to come out that acupuncture has therapeutic benefits in treating depression.

Learn coping and problem solving skills.

  • You and your therapist can develop skills to meet your individual needs.
  • You can develop coping skills for when you feel your depression worsening.
  • You can learn to problem solve choices that are in the interest of reducing your depression

You can speak with your individual therapist about how you might work through these issues, practice these coping skills, and make these lifestyle changes. As you have read, depression can have a significant impact on people’s health and sense of well-being. It can make you feel helpless, and it can cause you to stop doing the things that you once enjoyed in your life. However, help is possible and available. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of incredible strength and a step toward overcoming depression. At iCounseling, we want to help you work on your depression treatment, and get you back to the life you are imagining, and want for yourself. Help is possible, and there is hope that you can have the life you envision. We look forward to working with you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Depression

What is depression?

According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn't worth living. Overcoming depression is more than just dealing with a bout of the blues, depression isn't a weakness and you can't simply "snap out" of it.

What are the different types of depression?

See "Types of Depression" for full descriptions

There are four main types of depression: major depression, mild depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What can someone do to decrease their depression symptoms?

A few things that can decrease symptoms of depression are a healthy diet and exercise, yoga, acupuncture, a massage, various other relaxation techniques, herbal supplements, individual psychotherapy and biofeedback.

Biofeedback is a technique that trains people to improve their health by controlling certain bodily processes that normally happen involuntarily, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. Many people will go to a therapist for a few sessions to learn the techniques, which they can then do on their own. However, there are now mobile apps and personal computer programs which simulate the training.

What are the most common depression symptoms?

Please see "Depression Symptoms and Signs" for complete definitions

Common signs of depression include increased fatigue with associated sleep issues; loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed; isolation and pulling away from people in your life; feeling helpless or hopeless; lack of motivation; changes in appetite; poor memory, focus, and concentration; intrusive and negative thoughts; changes in mood; increased substance use or reckless behaviors; lack of energy, physical aches and pains and thoughts of death.

Why are women more likely to get depression?

Women develop depression twice as often as men. Common causes are changes in hormone levels that women experience, pregnancy, menopause, giving birth, a miscarriage, a hysterectomy, Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

What are the most effective depression treatments?

Please see "Depression Treatments" for full descriptions

Effective treatments for depression include individual therapy with a professional, such as those on iCounseling; weekly individual sessions to discuss the current symptoms; asking for help and support from friends and family; healthy lifestyle changes such as improved eating habits and exercise; getting appropriate sleep and practicing good sleep habits; reducing stressors through relaxation techniques; learning to challenge and change negative thought patterns; learning coping skills through therapeutic work; medication if needed; psychoeducation about depression and how it affects you personally; engaging in social activities and/or support groups; learning to set healthy boundaries with those who impact your mood; taking nutritional supplements your physician improves; light therapy boxes for Seasonal Affective Disorder; acupuncture; and learning coping and problem solving skills.