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What are the symptoms of depression?

Learn to recognize the symptoms of depression.

It is not uncommon for those suffering from depression to feel hopeless and empty. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
It is not uncommon for those suffering from depression to feel hopeless and empty.

Depression is a serious condition that affects more than 20 million people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Depression often begins between the ages of 15 and 30, though its onset can come at any age. There are a variety of treatments available for depression, so it is important to recognize the symptoms and seek help if necessary.

Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression can vary greatly from individual to individual, and no two people will experience the disease in the same way. Someone who is depressed may experience only one, a few, or many of the common symptoms of depression. If you suspect that you are depressed or that someone you know is depressed, it is important to seek help from your health-care provider.

The symptoms of depression can include changes in feelings and behaviors and a range of physical complaints. Someone who is depressed may experience general feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability, restlessness, emptiness, guilt, helplessness and worthlessness. Depression can cause people to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have difficulty focusing and making decisions. Depressed people often feel themselves becoming isolated from the people around them, cry for no obvious reason and have thoughts of harming themselves or committing suicide.

Physical symptoms of depression often include insomnia or sleeping excessively, loss of appetite or overeating, recurring aches and pains that are not responsive to treatment, low libido and feeling fatigued. These symptoms of depression can seem situational, or may seem to have no apparent cause. Either way, if one experiences the various emotional and physical symptoms for two weeks or more, he or she may be depressed.

Types of Depression

There are different types of depression that can be identified by the severity and duration of symptoms, including major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. People who suffer from major depressive disorder experience symptoms that prevent them from being able to function normally in their daily lives. Major depression might occur only once, but it more often resurfaces over the course of a sufferer's life.

Dysthymic disorder differs from major depressive disorder because its symptoms rarely interfere with the sufferer's ability to lead a normal life. It can, however, last for years and leave the sufferer feeling as though they are never quite well. Dysthymic disorder can also recur throughout a person's life.

Certain forms of depression occur when the symptoms of depression combine with other factors such as childbirth, seasonal changes, psychosis or mania. Women who have given birth within a month of being diagnosed with major depressive disorder are often diagnosed with postpartum depression, which an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of new mothers experience, according to the NIH. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), occurs when an individual experiences depression during the dark winter months and then improves during spring and summer. When symptoms of depression also include forms of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations, a person may suffer from psychotic depression.

Bipolar Disorder

Depression is also an element of bipolar disorder, in which sufferers cycle from major depression to mania. The symptoms of mania include poor impulse control often resulting in dangerous choices, irritability, an inflated sense of one's abilities, less need for sleep, an increased urge to talk and increased energy. Because bipolar disorder involves a combination of depression and mania, it is possible to misinterpret the symptoms and assume that a bi-polar individual is suffering from depression only. 

To establish whether someone is experiencing the symptoms of depression, consider the frequency and severity of negative feelings and behaviors. You can find more information about the symptoms of depression through the National Institute of Mental Health or by calling your health care provider.

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