Nowadays, people may use the word depression to colloquially describe several different feelings. These may include sadness, feeling down or upset, lethargy, or even a loss of motivation or care. Unsurprisingly, many people make these complaints, as the literature suggests that 20% of people experience some period of significant low mood at some point in their life, whether that be once in their life, sporadically or regularly.
What is Depression?
In a clinical setting, the term depression can refer to several different disorders, some of which may sound more familiar than others – e.g., Major Depressive Disorder (aka. Major Depressive Episode), Persistent Depressive Disorder (aka. Dysthymia) or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). The common feature of all the disorders within this group include the presence of sad, empty or irritable mood, as well as physiological, somatic and cognitive changes, which have a significant impact on a person’s ability to function day-to-day.
This blog will take a closer look into Major Depressive Disorder and the symptoms that we may not have been aware of that were indicators of disordered mood.
Factors that Contribute to Depression
A common misconception about depression is that it is a choice – something that we can just ‘snap out of’ or ‘go for a walk’ to get rid of. However, many factors can increase a person’s vulnerability to experiencing depression, and it is often a combination of these factors that lead to depressive episodes.
- Genetics: Some people may inherit genes that predispose them to experience low mood and increase their vulnerability to depression.
- Hormones: The literature indicates that our brain undergoes changes throughout depressive episodes, which can lead to over- or under-production of certain hormones, accounting for some of the depressive symptoms.
- Neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters are how our brain cells communicate with one another to regulate and control our whole body – including sleep, appetite, mood, libido etc. Research indicates that throughout a depressive episode there are reduced neurotransmitters, leading to dysregulation of normal functioning.
- Thinking: Throughout a depressive episode our way of thinking and perceiving information tends to change. We adopt a more negative pattern of thinking – overstressing the negatives, self-blame, ruminating on past events and having difficulty perceiving hope for the future.
- Stressors: Significant events such as bereavement, separation, a break-up, loss of a job/promotion, failure to obtain a goal, interpersonal conflict, health concerns, financial strains etc. can all contribute to, perpetuate or increase depressive symptoms.
Symptoms of Depression
Given the name, many people are aware of the mood changes that are associated with depression, however, given the biological and psychological factors at play, individuals suffering from a depressive episode also experience somatic/physiological, cognitive and behavioural changes.
- Disturbed Sleep: Depression can impact our sleeping patterns in many ways. Whether that be in difficulty falling asleep, frequently waking up throughout the night or earlier than intended or even overly sleeping and having difficulty staying awake.
- Weight Changes: Individuals may find that they are unintentionally losing or gaining weight due to fluctuations in their appetite – eating or snacking more, or loss of interest in food.
- Energy: People often complain of feeling constantly fatigued or lethargic, regardless of the amount of sleep or rest they are getting. People around them may also begin to point out that they are increasingly agitated or restless or more slowed down.
- Negativity and Pessimism: Depressed individuals often perceive themselves and their choices in a negative light – often viewing themselves as ineffective, worthless or unlikeable or loveable – which impacts their self-esteem and can lead to excessive guilt.
- Recurrent thoughts of Death: A common and distressing symptom of depression is recurrent thoughts of death. This can range from suicidal ideation such as “it’d be less of a burden if I wasn’t here” to a specific plan for committing suicide.
- Withdrawn: The cognitive changes experienced throughout a depressive episode can lead to people being more withdrawn or isolating themselves due to beliefs that they are “stupid”, “dumb”, “broken”, “a burden”
- Diminished Enjoyment: Individuals may find themselves losing interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, daily activities and usual hobbies nearly every day.
If you or anyone around you has experienced these symptoms, know that you are not alone. There are several services available to support you, including crisis lines, a GP, a school counsellor, or an Employment Assistance Program (EAP) through your workplace. To engage with one of our friendly psychologists at Your Mind Matters Psychology, feel free to reach out to our admin team for further information on 9802 4654.
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Lifeline Text: 0477 13 11 14
Our Blog Author
This blog was written by Simone Chaochalakorn – Psychologist at YMM.
To learn more about Simone, check out the “Our Team” page on our website! https://yourmindmatters.net.au/our-team/