Major Depression: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Treatment and More

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Alternate Names

Major depression is also known as clinical depression, major depressive disorder, unipolar depression or recurrent depression.

What is Major or Clinical Depression?

Major depression or clinical depression refers to a mental sickness usually accompanied by feelings of moodiness, reduced* self-esteem and lack of interests in the usual pleasures of life including hobbies. Patients with major depression find it hard to carry out their normal businesses as it affects all aspects of their lives. Your feelings, behavior, and thinking, are adversely impaired giving the sense that life not worth living.

How is Major Depression Different from Normal Stress and Sadness?

As it is usually normal to have low moods feelings at times, major depression is different from stress or sadness in that its symptoms are persistent and affects all areas of your life. Symptoms of normal stress and sadness are short-lived as compared to clinical depression. In fact, people with clinical depression find it hard to work, sleep, eat or enjoy life if they don’t get medical assistance. Unlike sadness and stress, major depression requires a lifelong treatment.

Symptoms of Major Depression

Major Depression

Although the severity of depression can vary in individuals depending on age, gender and socioeconomic factors, symptoms will mostly consist of:

Psychological Symptoms

  • Easily falling into tears and feelings of guilt
  • You become very irritable especially when provoked
  • Lack of motivation and interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Anxiety and difficulties in making decisions
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide or inflicting self-harm
  • persistent feelings of sadness, helplessness accompanied by self disrespect

Physical Symptoms

  • Altered speech and tone
  • Notable changes in appetite and hence weight
  • Pains and aches whose sources are unknown
  • You no longer find sex enjoyable
  • Altered menstrual cycles in women
  • Insomnia or oversleeping

Social Symptoms

  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Lack of participation in communal activities and spending much time in privacy
  • Abandoning hobbies you previously enjoyed
  • Frequent conflicts both at work and home

Differences by Gender

Both men and women with major depression will experience similar symptoms, but studies indicate that the patterns may differ.

Depression in Women

Women don’t hide their emotions which make symptoms of depression more vivid. Risks of depression in women range between 20 to 26%. Studies have shown that women are as twice likely to develop clinical depression as men. However, reports of suicide cases related to depression are very rare in women. In response to treatment through antidepressants, women below menopause respond differently from men. After menopause, both men and women undergoing treatments give same responses.

Depression in Men

Although clinical depression in men is common, many cases go untreated until they become full-blown. Men find it difficult to share their emotions for fear of looking inferior. Prevalence of major depression in men is estimated to be between 6 to 12%. The highest number of suicidal cases related to depression occurs in men. Men with major depression are likely to overwork themselves, unlike women who get devoted to their feelings.

Major Depression by Age Group

Popularity of clinical depression is more in individuals between the ages of 18 to 45. Moderate and mild cases of depression increase* until the age of 65 from which there is a distinct decrease*. However, cases of major depression in people aged above 65 usually go unnoticed due to physical changes and other illnesses associated with old age. Kids usually exhibit mild to moderate depression usually between the ages of 6 and 13. This could mark the onset of major depression later in life if untreated

Causes

Here are some of the most common factors that can increase* chances of developing clinical depression:

  • Death or loss. Though it is normal to grief our loved ones, the sadness that follow can spark depression.
  • Genes. You are at a higher risk of getting depressed if it has a trend in your family. Genes are responsible for passing traits associated with depression from parents to siblings.
  • Major events. Both positive and negative major events can raise the onset of depressive illnesses.
  • Childhood abuse. Chances of major depression are high in people who were physically or sexually assaulted during their childhoods. Discrimination or partiality expressed to kids by parent can lead to depression later in life.
  • Chronic diseases and medicines. A lifelong disease may co-exist with major depression. Medicines used in the treatment of some diseases such as high blood pressure can trigger the onset of depression.
  • Substance abuse. It is estimated that about a third of people who use street drugs and abuse alcohol will at one time in life suffer clinical depression.
  • Personal issues. If you are faced with financial challenges or you live in isolation, you are at a higher risk of getting depression.

Risk Factors

  • Family history. If you have an immediate member in your family with depression, you are also at risk
  • Childhood abuse. Traumatic experiences in childhood can ignite depression later in life
  • Stress. Too much pressure at work or other challenges in life can lead to depression
  • Excessive and uncontrolled alcohol consumption
  • Physical location. Your are at a higher risk of getting depression if you live in an urban area
  • Marriage. Divorced, separated or couples living in conflicts are at risk of depression

Complications

Untreated cases of depression can lead to complications which include anxiety, conflicts at home and work, poor school performances, social isolation and alcoholism. You will find it hard to cope with colleagues at work or with your spouse. Severe clinical depression can spark the urge to commit suicide.

How Is Major Depression Diagnosed?

Major depression is diagnosed through psychological tests where the physician asks you questions about your feelings. A psychotherapist may carry out a physical examination as well as laboratory tests. Your physician will have a consultative talk to assess your feelings and emotions. This will help him/her to understand the severity of your symptoms and the best treatment options for your clinical depression.

Treatment

The good news with major depression is that majority of patient respond well to treatment. Depending on your age, gender and severity of your depression, your physician will recommend the use of antidepressants and schedule counseling sessions. Common antidepressants used in major depression treatment include Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). Others include Tricyclic antidepressants or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Prevention

  • Avoid the use of recreational drugs
  • Drink responsibly and quit smoking
  • Eat balanced diets
  • Participate in social functions and share your feelings with trusted friends
  • Exercise routinely
  • Go for routine checkups
  • Ensure you get adequate rest and learn relaxation techniques

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Author

Expert Author : Joan Raynor (Consumer Health Digest)

Joan Raynor is a health researcher and expert writer specializing in mental health issues where she provides hope and support to persons with treatment-resistant depression and other chronic mood disorders.