Occasionally feeling depressed or blue is normal. However, prolonged feelings of sadness or hopelessness can be signs of clinical depression. Clinical depression is a relatively common mental health disorder that can have a profound impact on a person’s wellbeing and interfere with their everyday life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population, suffered from depression in 2017. While the disorder can affect people of any age, it’s most common among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Additionally, women are more prone to depression than men. According to the same source, rates of depression were 8.7% for women compared to 5.3% for men.

Depression and other mental health disorders are serious conditions that can affect individuals and their families. It’s important to know how to identify depression and to understand how it’s treated. This information can help you or a loved one find the help they need.

Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs

Depression has a large number of possible signs and symptoms. These can range from psychological to physical symptoms. The DSM-5 includes the following symptoms, five of which must persist for at least two weeks for a diagnosis:

  • Having little to no interest or finding pleasure in many daily activities or hobbies.
  • Feeling sad for most of the day.
  • A general sense of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Difficulty focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Inability to sleep or the desire to sleep too much.
  • Thoughts of death or of suicide.
  • Feeling tired or experiencing a lack of energy throughout the day.
  • Restlessness, agitation, or irritability.
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.

People with depression may experience physical symptoms, as well. Physical symptoms can include:

  • Joint or back pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Cramps.
  • Digestive problems or nausea.
  • Slowed speech or movements.

It’s important to know that not everyone will have the same symptoms. There can be differences in the exact symptoms, their severity, and their duration from individual to individual. If you or a loved one is experiencing several of these signs for more than two weeks, it’s important to speak with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis. While these are often signs of depression, they can be symptoms of other serious illnesses, as well.

What Causes Depression?

Like many mental health disorders, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of depression. Often, there can be several possible causes, ranging from genetic to biological to environmental. Common causes include:


Individuals with a family history of mental health disorders are more prone to developing depression. Researchers currently believe certain genes may play a role in inherited mood disorder traits.


Hormones throughout the body help send important signals to your brain. From insulin to adrenaline, hormones play a crucial role in regulating important body functions. They can also have an effect on your mood. When imbalances occur, this can trigger depression. Pregnancy, menopause, and thyroid problems are all common causes of hormonal imbalances.

Brain Structure and Chemistry

Both the structure of the brain and its chemistry impact mental health. Nerve cell growth, connections, and circuits throughout the brain can affect mood. Additionally, certain chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, can affect mental health. Like hormones, when these chemicals are imbalanced, it can trigger depression.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions have been linked to depression. This is especially true for chronic conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health found approximately 25% of cancer patients experience depression.

Childhood Trauma

Traumatic events or loss during childhood can have a lasting impact on a person’s life. In turn, this can lead to a higher likelihood of mood disorders. Early trauma causes changes in the brain. Important brain regions that handle stress response may experience chemical or even structural changes. These changes can decrease neurotransmitters or damage to nerve cells. Ultimately, it’s believed the long-term effects of trauma can be a potential cause of depression.

Drug Use

Drug or alcohol abuse can increase a person’s likelihood of mood disorders, including depression. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Alcohol Abuse Treatment found that 24.3% of alcohol-dependent men and 48.5% of alcohol-dependent women experienced some form of depression. This was significantly higher than individuals who did not suffer from alcohol dependence.

Types of Depression

While people often speak of depression generally, there are actually multiple identified types of depression. The two main forms of depression include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) — negative feelings, including sadness, hopelessness, and frustration that persist for weeks or longer and interfere with everyday life.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) — a chronic form of depression typically lasting for a period longer than two years. It’s come to experience episodes of major depression followed by periods of milder symptoms.

In addition to these two main types, other forms of depression include:

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — most frequently occurs during fall and winter, with symptoms alleviating during spring and summer. Experts believe SAD is most often caused by lower levels of sunlight.
  • Postpartum Depression — occurs in women after giving birth. It’s believed to be caused by hormonal changes alongside emotional issues, such as the anxiety of being a new parent.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) — a condition that typically occurs a week or two before a woman’s period starts. PMDD can cause severe depression, irritability, and tension. Generally, it’s thought that hormones alongside serotonin levels play a role in causing PMDD.

Additionally, while bipolar disorder (BD) includes symptoms of major depression, it’s considered a separate disorder. Individuals suffering from BD experience drastic mood shifts, from episodes of depression to episodes of heightened mood and mania. These dramatic shifts in mood are what differentiates BD from other mental health disorders.

Group of young adults sitting around talking in a session

Treatment for Depression

Living with depression can be extremely difficult and can have a dramatic impact on one’s professional and social life. Fortunately, there are many evidence-based treatment models to help people with depression. Similar to other mental health disorders, it’s usually treated through medication, therapy, or a combination of both.


Often, people suffering from depression will be prescribed medication to help control their symptoms. There are a number of drug types, with several available medications within each. These range from newer medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to older ones like tricyclic antidepressants. Below are several types of antidepressants.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They work by increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter chemical in the brain. Common SSRIs include:

  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the second most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. SNRIs increase the amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Both are believed to play a role in mood regulation. Common SNRIs include:

  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)
  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Pristiq (desvenlafaxine)

Both SSRIs and SNRIs are the newest and considered the safest antidepressants. While both are commonly prescribed to treat depression, in cases where they are ineffective, older medications may be prescribed. These types of medications include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Both tend to have increased side effects and are rarely used as an initial treatment for depression.


Psychotherapy is a common treatment for depression. Generally, research has shown therapy as a safe and effective form of treatment. There are several kinds of psychotherapy, and many therapists are trained in more than one type. A few types include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — Attempts to identify and change negative thought and behavioral patterns. CBT emphasizing recognizing negative patterns and developing coping methods to help alleviate them. Overall, evidence has shown that CBT is an effective treatment for many mental health disorders.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy — Focuses more heavily on past experiences that have shaped a person’s thoughts and feelings. Similar to CBT, once past experiences have been identified, therapists work with patients to develop coping methods to help resolve negative feelings.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) — While CBT and psychodynamic therapy focus more on the patient and their past, IPT emphasizes the relationships a patient shares with the people in their life. This approach tries to help the person improve their relationships and interactions with others.

Start Your Recovery

The experienced treatment staff at High Focus Centers is trained in multiple types of therapy. We utilize evidence-based treatment models to help adults and teenagers with mental health conditions, including depression. If you or someone you love is living with depression, contact our team today to start your path to recovery and long-term wellness.