What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
· Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
· Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
· Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
· Irritability, restlessness
· Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
· Fatigue and decreased energy
· Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
· Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
· Overeating, or appetite loss
· Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
· Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
What illnesses often co-exist with depression?
Depression often co–exists with other illnesses. Such illnesses may precede the depression, cause it, and/or be a consequence of it. It is likely that the mechanics behind the intersection of depression and other illnesses differ for every person and situation. Regardless, these other co–occurring illnesses need to be diagnosed and treated.
Anxiety disorders, such as post–traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive–compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder, often accompany depression. People experiencing PTSD are especially prone to having co-occurring depression. PTSD is a debilitating condition that can result after a person experiences a terrifying event or ordeal, such as a violent assault, a natural disaster, an accident, terrorism or military combat.
People with PTSD often re–live the traumatic event in flashbacks, memories or nightmares. Other symptoms include irritability, anger outbursts, intense guilt, and avoidance of thinking or talking about the traumatic ordeal. In a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)–funded study, researchers found that more than 40 percent of people with PTSD also had depression at one-month and four-month intervals after the traumatic event.
Alcohol and other substance abuse or dependence may also co–occur with depression. In fact, research has indicated that the co–existence of mood disorders and substance abuse is pervasive among the U.S. population.
Depression also often co–exists with other serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, hiv/aids, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. Studies have shown that people who have depression in addition to another serious medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both depression and the medical illness, more difficulty adapting to their medical condition, and more medical costs than those who do not have co–existing depression. Research has yielded increasing evidence that treating the depression can also help improve the outcome of treating the co–occurring illness.
What causes depression?
There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors.
Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.
Some types of depression tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic link. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression as well. Genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of multiple genes acting together with environmental or other factors.
In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Subsequent depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 083561, Revised 2008. All material in this document is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from the NIMH.
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This content was last modified on: 10/19/2010