Depression Definition: More Than Just “Down in the Dumps”?

While everyone gets the blues sometimes, these feelings can be more persistent for some, and can have a lasting impact. This is depression, and it’s a serious mental illness, not simply laziness or unwillingness to man up or get a grip.

Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, or guilt are among the symptoms that accompany depression.

Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, or guilt are among the symptoms that accompany depression.

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It’s not always easy for us to determine whether we’re simply down in the dumps or suffering from a form of depression. If you’ve struggled with that question, consider the depression symptoms that are most common. The list includes:

  • Persistent sadness or low mood (some people feel more numb than sad)
  • Appetite changes with weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Trouble with concentration and/or memory
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Fatigue/lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in activities that once were pleasurable
  • Agitation, restlessness, or irritability
  • Feelings of isolation or loneliness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, or guilt
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

People who suffer from depression spend a good deal of their time feeling sad, empty, or irritable. Depending on the type of depression—definition can vary—these people may also suffer a host of other physical symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • General chronic pain conditions
  • Lack of sex drive

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Depression: Definition of a Disorder

For most people, depression is experienced as feeling down or irritable most or all of the time. Most likely, these people would be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, or major depression, which is one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting nearly 15 million adults in the United States at any given time.

People who have been depressed or somewhat low all or most of their lives might also be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder. This is similar to major depressive disorder, but it tends to be longer lasting and not always as severe.

There are also some less common types of depression. In psychotic depression, symptoms of depression are combined with symptoms normally associated with psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions. People with bipolar depression or biopolar disorder cycle between episodes of depression and episodes of mania, which are episodes of being euphorically happy, energized, and often reckless, irritable, and even psychotic.

Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD disorder) is a type of depression that usually occurs only in the winter months in northern climates, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), sometimes called PMS depression, is a form of depression that affects women in the days leading up to their menstrual period.

As with PMDD, hormones are believed to be largely responsible for depression that affects women while pregnant (termed antepartum depression) and depression that occurs after the birth of a child (postpartum depression). Depression may also occur as a result of substance abuse, known as substance-induced depression.

Whatever the underlying cause of persistently low or negative feelings, there are treatments available. Generally, medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these are effective to lift low moods and give people their lives back.

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