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What Is Depression?

By HERWriter
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Have you felt worthless, suffered from low self-esteem, had difficulty getting out of bed, felt tired all the time or experienced major changes in appetite over a period of time? These are just some symptoms of the condition people refer to as “depression.”

There are several different types of depression, and clinical depression is considered a mental disorder. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), there is a section devoted to mood disorders, and a subsection of depressive disorders. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and is a guide for mental health professionals to use in order to diagnose patients with the correct mental disorder.

When most people think of depression as a mental disorder, they are thinking of depressive disorders, which include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder and depressive disorder not otherwise specified. There is also a major depressive episode that involves depressive symptoms. The word “depression” can be used in everyday language to imply feeling sad, unhappy or “down” for a short period of time, but being depressed in this sense doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental disorder.

The National Institute of Mental Health’s website states that there are three main types of depression: major depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorder. In the DSM, these are called major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder is considered a mood disorder. The website adds that general symptoms of depression include feeling sad, anxious or lacking feeling, having problems concentrating and remembering, feeling restless and irritable, having headaches and digestive issues, and losing interest in activities you enjoyed before. Suicidal thoughts or attempts can sometimes occur with depression.

The main differences between the various types of clinical depression involve severity and time frame of symptoms and levels of functioning. In major depression or major depressive disorder, the DSM states that there can be a single episode or recurrent major depressive episodes. These episodes have to last at least two weeks, and they include depressive symptoms like a low mood, loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities that were previously enjoyable, and four other symptoms that can include any mentioned above.

During episodes, these symptoms have to last for almost the full day and close to every day for at least two weeks to be considered a disorder. The episode or episodes also impair daily functioning in social relationships, work or school, or they can cause major distress for the individual. Some episodes might still allow for functioning, but it’s more of an effort for the individual. Anxiety oftentimes co-occurs with this disorder and episodes.

Fortunately there are treatments available. An article on the National Center for Biotechnology information website lists different treatments for major depression, such as antidepressant medication, talk therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation and light therapy. Although the cause of depression is unknown, many researchers think there is a genetic link and brain chemistry changes involved. Stressful events could trigger depression, and you can help reduce symptoms by avoiding alcohol and drugs, taking medication, getting proper sleep, exercising, making time for fun, and socializing with positive people. Other experts suggest having a healthy diet as well.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder: Fourth Edition: Text Revision. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH – Types of Depression. Web. August 23, 2011.

National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH – Symptoms of Depression and Mania. Web. August 23, 2011.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Major depression – PubMed Health. Web. August 23, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001941

Reviewed August 24, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.