therapy square logo

What is Depression ? Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Risk Factors



As human beings, we are prone to different moods. Our perspectives and reactions differ, tailored according to existing situations. As is obvious, our behaviour is often greatly influenced by our gamut of moods.

Short spells of sadness, depressing thoughts or grief are the expected reactions to the challenges and dead-ends that crop up in the course of life. However, when feelings of despondency and dejection continue for a long amount of time without any respite in terms of their severity making the whole outlook towards life stained with negativity, it can significantly hamper an individual’s ability to function in day-to-day life. It may cause a general disinterest and loss of motivation that may further lead to a slew of emotional and physical problems. This is depression, a legitimate medical condition most commonly described as a serious mood disorder.

General Definition

As a medical condition, depression is referred to as clinical depression. Persistent depressive disorder is depression of mild to moderate intensity that continues over a long period of time. In its more severe form, it is known as major depression. The occurrence of depression is fairly common, with every one in six to ten people having experienced it at some point in their lifetime. Most people first experience depression as young adults or on the cusp of adulthood. Generally thought to affect mostly adults, occurrence of depression is now being identified in children and teenagers as well, masked generally as irritability.

Depression can be a seriously debilitating condition wherein a person might find it difficult to carry out small, daily tasks such as getting out of bed, bathing and dressing. A person might find it extremely difficult to carry on with even daily life due to poor coping skills, and might feel very helpless and lonely as a result. This can further escalate and snowball into a continuous state of negative attitude maintained towards all aspects of life.

Symptoms of Depression

There is a plethora of symptoms that depression can manifest it through. The main indicators are feelings of intense sadness and dejection and a loss of interest and pleasure from activities that were once enjoyable, even including sex. There are are variety of other symptoms; they are listed below-

  • Emotional states that evoke feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness and emptiness. Emotions such as tension and anxiety, fear, restlessness, irritability, anger, guilt, shame and demotivation may also be experienced.
  • Continued state of lethargy and fatigue without any respite.
  • Changes in appetite and body weight not related to any exercise, illness or dieting.
  • Disrupted or changes in sleeping patterns such as experiencing insomnia, early morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping.
  • Repeated movements like hand-wringing, pacing or having trouble sitting still; or on the contrary, slowed movements and sleep.
  • Difficulty experienced with thinking, concentration and decision-making.
  • Physical conditions like aches, pains, headaches, nausea, cramps or digestive problems without any apparent physical cause and which does not heal even with treatment.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide, attempting suicide.

Diagnostic Requirements

For depression to be correctly diagnosed, it is prescribed that such symptoms last for at least two weeks either daily or almost everyday, done so after eliminating other causes such as substance abuse and other medical conditions e.g. hypothyroidism, brain tumours, vitamin deficiency, etc. as they could produce symptoms that imitate those of depression. A person can experience any number or combination of symptoms; and the nature of the symptoms themselves like the intensity, frequency and duration of persistence depends on the general disposition of the person, the stages of the illness.

Risk Factors

A person’s biochemistry and genetic predisposition to the condition of a person; personality traits such as pessimism, low self-esteem and poor stress- related coping skills; and environmental factors such as continued exposure to violence, abuse, neglect and poverty also increase the chances of a person experiencing depression.

Symptoms may be expressed differently influenced by gender roles, society’s general outlook and attitude towards the condition and even based on the person’s age. For example, irritability and agitation may be expressed by an adolescent while experiencing depression. Studies have also shown that women might also be more prone to falling prey to depression than men. This is attributed to factors such as hormonal changes, greater willingness to seek treatment for the condition and even seasonal changes.

Depression which occurs with middle-aged and elderly people may occur simultaneously with other illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer which works to significantly increase their adverse effects. In such cases, a proper treatment plan has to be formulated taking care that the medications taken for such illnesses do not cause depression in the patients.

Depression can assume dangerous proportions when it promotes thoughts of death and suicide. An individual may think about such thoughts occasionally, or occupy the mind more often. In medical jargon, it is referred to as suicidal ideation. It may lead to suicidal tendencies and suicide attempts, which may result in actual death. Therefore, a person who is suffering through such a mental state should not be ignored, and actively encouraged to seek out professional help in order to mitigate the effects of the condition.

Even now, there is a tendency among people to not take such a condition seriously and dismiss the issues associated with it. This may be especially tough due to the close likeness of symptoms of depression and sadness and grief in general. The intensity and severity of the dysfunctional emotional state and the duration of the disorder are the key points to consider in a case of depression, and it may be a wise decision to instead find a therapist who can treat it.

Read how to choose a therapist ? This guide touches upon the differrent types of therapists and what to look for in a therapist