Genetics, environment, and learning all play a role in the development and continuation of depression. It is a complex disease made up of many different symptoms. The first and most recognizable of these is depressed mood.
When we hear the word depression, most of us think of sadness. We associate sadness with a personal loss. The relative severity of the loss determines the level of sadness experienced. When a loved one dies, we expect to experience extreme sadness. When our favorite sports team loses a game, we also experience sadness to a minor degree. The depressed mood of depression doesn’t always match the severity of the loss. In fact, there may be no observable loss at all.
Under normal circumstances, we can improve our mood. Disappointments can be minimized by distractions or corrective actions. We can listen to music, call a friend, exercise, or do any number of things to ease the emotional pain. When faced with depression, our mood is not so easily changed. That sadness hovers over us like a dark cloud. We may know what to do, but still be unable to do it.
There are no physical tests or scans that can be undertaken to help in the diagnosis of depression. Depression is a complex disease and there are many different types. Doctors are guided in their diagnosis via a set of standardized criteria. These are contained within a handbook known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The American Psychiatric Association has provided a number of useful fact sheets relating to the fifth and latest edition of the DSM.
Symptoms of depression range from mild to severe. Sometimes, a life-changing event can trigger depression, but in many other cases the cause is unknown. In the example of Major Depressive Disorder, five or more symptoms must be present during the same two-week period and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms must be depressed mood, or, loss of interest or pleasure. Other symptoms may relate to changes in diet, sleep patterns, energy levels, agitation, and thought processes including worthlessness, guilt, and thoughts of suicide.
Changes in psychiatric diagnosis tend to occur fairly slowly, but refinements are being made all the time. Dysthymia, for example, only recently considered as a form of mild but chronic form of depression, is now termed persistent depressive disorder. Bereavement, once excluded within the first two months following the death of a loved one, is now included.
See more helpful articles:
Decoding Depression: Much More Than Sadness
Top 10 Depression Myths Debunked
10 Signs It’s Time to Get Help for Depression
16 Things to Know About Depression