What is Depression?

The casual use of mental health terms is common. But, as central as these terms may be in our everyday vocabulary, it can help with understanding and empathy if we learn more about the specifics associated with some of the most common mental health challenges. We have previously explored anxiety as it presents in different ways. Today, we are going to develop our understanding of depression further.

How Common is Depression?

Depression (clinically known as “depressive disorder”) is one of the most common mental health challenges worldwide. It is estimated that approximately 5% of the adult population struggles with depression symptoms at a clinical level. While this percentage may sound small, globally this equates to hundreds of millions of people. Additionally, depression is also more frequently diagnosed in women than men and may be underdiagnosed in men due to variations in the presentation of the illness.

What are Different Types of Depression?

Clinical depression is most often diagnosed in a few different categories including:

  • Major depression: 2 weeks or more of low mood or loss of interest that negatively impacts daily living
  • Persistent depressive disorder (also known as dysthymia): is less intense than major depression symptoms but lasts longer, sometimes 2+ years
  • Perinatal depression: Depression symptoms that occur during (prenatal) pregnancy or after (postpartum) delivery.
  • Seasonal affective disorder: Depression symptoms that vary with the seasons, often intensifying during the darker, colder months and improving in the spring and summer.
  • Depression with psychosis: This is depression with accompanying symptoms of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations.

What Does Depression Feel Like?

There are a variety of ways people experience depression. In general, as the name suggests, depression feels like a “depressing” of one’s ability to engage in life and feel like themselves. It commonly feels like a lack of ability to enjoy oneself, sleep or eat normally, an overly critical image or thought pattern toward oneself and/or others, reduced energy or focus, and even physical pain symptoms.

Additionally, some people do experience depression with more “energized” symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, increased anger, risky activities/impulsivity, etc. Those who present in this way (more common with men) are sometimes less accurately diagnosed because it doesn’t “look” as obviously like depression. Regardless of how it is experienced, it is feeling so different from one’s normal experience, and the sadness that often accompanies depression, which makes it a risk factor for suicide and suicidal thinking.

What if I’m Concerned About Depression?

Everyone has challenging days and occasional fluctuations in mood. However, depression is different. The most important consideration is if you or the person you are concerned about is suffering at a level that they find distressing and/or is causing difficulties enjoying usual activities or completing daily tasks. It is important that a person experiencing mental illness symptoms consult with a doctor and/or mental health professional for an evaluation as the very experience of having a mental health disorder means it is difficult to accurately self-assess what is occurring.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from clinical levels of depression or even if they are simply unhappy with how they are feeling and/or functioning, there are very effective treatments available through psychotherapy, medication, or both. Please contact your local counseling office or your doctor for further discussion.

For further reading on depression:

Published January 11, 2024 by Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo

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