By Emily Pierson, M.Ed., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Are there times when you feel down, blue, or sad for prolonged periods of time? Do you feel like you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, find motivation to complete daily tasks or go to work. Do you feel as though you may never be able to move past this feeling of lowness? These feelings are scary, debilitating, and may spiral as time goes on. That does not mean they have to last forever, or that you are alone in feeling this way.
Depression is, unfortunately, one of the more common disorders in the United States (3). Recent research is showing that depression can be present at any age and is caused by a variety of different factors. It can co-occur with multiple other serious mental or medical illnesses and make recovery more difficult (3). The term ‘depression’ is an umbrella term that encompasses several different symptoms and causes. It can look very different from person to person and is not have a ‘one size fits all’ type of beast. According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that leads to feelings of sadness and other symptoms, that affect multiple areas of your life. This may include a loss of interest in activities, emotional and physical problems, and possibly even thoughts of suicide (1). These symptoms are not a weakness, but you may not be able to ‘get over it’ or just ‘feel better’.
What Does Depression Look Like?
Depression can look different between adults, teens, and children. In addition to feeling sad, some symptoms may include (1):
- Hopelessness, emptiness or tearfulness
- Irritability or having a short temper
- Loss of interest in normal activities that you used to enjoy (hobbies, sex, sports, games, relationships, etc.)
- Lack of motivation to complete daily tasks
- Over or under sleeping, a general lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating, slowed thinking
- Feeling lethargic, slower body movements
- Changes in appetite (over or under eating)
- Unexplained physical problems (ex: persistent headaches)
This is not a comprehensive list of possible symptoms related to depression. The severity of symptoms may very on a case by case basis as well. In general, symptoms of depression will cause significant difficulty or distress in everyday areas of life like work, school, or within family or social relationships.
In children and teenagers, depression may look a little different. Children may be clingier to parents and loved ones, or they may be more irritable or refuse to go to school (1). Teens may voice negative feelings of worthlessness, may have poor school performance, use substances, partake in self-harm or avoid social interactions (1). Adults on the other hand, may struggle with memory, have personality changes or fatigue (1). Depression is not a normal part of growing up or growing older and is something to pay attention to.
What Causes Depression?
According to the Harvard Health, there are several factors that can contribute to depression. Mood regulation, genetic predisposition, grief and loss, medications and substances, past traumas, temperament, brain chemicals and composition, and even the weather can all contribute to someone experiencing depression symptoms (2). In other words, biological, environmental, genetic, and personal factors can all play a contributing role in the development of the disorder. In women, hormonal changes related to pregnancy or menstrual cycles may lead to symptoms appearing as well. For more in-depth information about brain chemistry and the biological factors related to depression, check out Harvard Health’s website (2).
Are There Different Types of Depression?
The short answer to this question is yes. Severity of symptoms and unique circumstances can lead to different clinical diagnosis (3). Here are five common types of depression (3, 4):
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): MDD is the ‘classic’ depressive disorder. This disorder is an all-consuming, dark mood that leads to individuals to lose almost all interest in things they used to enjoy. Relationships, work, and school performance may all suffer as a result of MDD. It is often accompanied by an inability to sleep, weight changes and feelings of worthlessness, or any of the symptoms listed above. Suicidal thoughts may be present as well.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): PDD (formerly known as dysthymia), is a low mood that lasts for at least two years. Typically, symptoms of PDD are not as severe as MDD. However, a person can experience MDD ‘episodes’, where depression symptoms become more severe for some time, and then become a little better, but are not totally alleviated. People with PDD can still function, but typically feel less happiness than normal, may have some sleep and appetite changes, a low self-esteem, or some hopelessness.
- Perinatal/Postpartum Depression: Perinatal depression is a depressive episode that affects women during pregnancy, while postpartum depression can affect women up to a year after giving birth. Dramatic changes in hormones, exhaustion, and changes to daily life with an infant, can all contribute to depressive feelings, that can affect a new mother’s ability to take care of herself. Postpartum depression lasts longer than the ‘baby blues’ which typically resolves within a few weeks after delivery. Symptoms can be more severe and look more like a MDD episode either during or after pregnancy.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): SAD is a type of depression that presents with changes in the weather. As summer months give way to colder, darker, shorter days with less natural sunlight, individuals with SAD can experience an increase in depression symptoms. This may look like needing more sleep, a withdrawal from others, weight gain or a low mood. Symptoms are usually relieved with warmer temperatures and more sunlight in the spring and summer. This pattern is typically repeated every year as the seasons change.
- Bipolar Depression: Bipolar depression is more than just a ‘mood swing’. Someone with bipolar disorder, experiences MDD episodes, but also experience manic episodes. These manic episodes are essentially the opposite of depression. Instead of low moods and low energy, they consist of high energy, high self-esteem, and an increased desire to take place in pleasure activities. These episodes usually don’t last long, and while they feel great, they can lead to serious consequences, as mania can lead to impulsivity and rash decision making.
Regardless of which type of depression a person experiences, it is important to remember that these disorders can all present differently in terms of symptoms and severity from person to person. Some people, particularly children and teens, may appear more irritable, while others seem sad. Some individuals may sleep all day, while others may struggle to sleep at all. Thoughts of suicide or death may be present in some cases but not others. Similarly, the causes of depression can vary from person to person. An individual may be more strongly affected by a trauma, a financial crisis, or stress, while others may face similar challenges and not experience symptoms at all. Just as our bodies and brain chemistries are different, how we respond to the world around us differs as well.
A Few Words About Suicide
Depression can be accompanied by thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide. If you are experiencing these thoughts, there are ways you can get help. Depression is treatable through medication, practicing wellness, therapy, and other resources. Therapists, counselors, and medical doctors are available to help. One benefit of a post-pandemic world is that telemedicine (counseling via video conferencing) is a more accessible option for folks who may feel uncomfortable seeking help in person for a variety of reasons. It also allows therapists and counselors from around the country to work with you from the comfort of your own home. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger of harming themselves, visit your local ER. Check out the below resources for suicide prevention and help.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, toll free, available 24/7: 800-273-8255or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- Resource geared towards men and men’s mental health https://mantherapy.org/.
- Depression related resources from the National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/
- Resources for youth – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
- Resource for post partum depression: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/postpartum-depression
Depression is a scary, overwhelming disorder. There are ways to help, however. Medication, therapy, exercise, monitoring diet and sleep, reducing stress, and partaking in positive relationships, can all help to improve and alleviate symptoms. You do not have to fight this beast alone.
By Emily Pierson, M.Ed., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Emily offers a holistic approach to mental health and wellness. In addition to prioritizing mental well-being, she uses a strengths-based perspective to help improve relationships and physical health. She is passionate about helping teens and adults set and meet realistic, achievable goals, while also meeting them where they are in their journey.
Emily was born and raised in Alaska, where she received her Master’s degree in counseling from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After moving to the “Lower 48”, she has been working as a therapist for the past four years.
- Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007. Accessed July 24th, 2021.
- What Causes Depression? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression. Accessed July 25th, 2021.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/. Accessed July 25th, 2021.
- Six Common Depression Types. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/six-common-depression-types. Accessed July 25th, 2021.