What is Depression

At some point in our lives, we all experience sadness. Depending on our specific circumstances, we may even feel as if our life does not have meaning or that we are a failure. However, when these feelings become constant and debilitating, an individual may be suffering from depression.

What is the Definition of Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a state of low mood in which a person feels hopeless, helpless, worthless, lethargic, and they are unable to enjoy the things that used to bring them happiness and pleasure. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, when left unmanaged, depression impacts how an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. In the most severe cases, it can impact the quality of life and lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

Unlike normal feelings of sadness, which pass after a period of time, feelings of depression go beyond feeling sad. An individual battling depression can not simply “rally through it.” Depression, like other mental illnesses, requires professional help.

Here are some numbers shared by different health organization that reflect the extent of this mental health disorder:

  • More than 264 million people worldwide are affected by Depression disorder (according to the World Health Organization).
  • 11.5 million adults had a major depressive episode with severe impairment in 2018 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, 2018).
  • The rate of moderate to severe depression rose from 23.2% to 41.1% from 2007 to 2018 (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2019).
  • Two-thirds of those who commit suicide struggle with depression (American Association of Suicidology, 2009).

Common Causes of Depression

Depression is an extremely complicated mental illness, and it can develop for a variety of reasons. Some people may experience depression once in their life, while others battle depression many times throughout their life. However, there are a variety of factors that increase the chance of developing depression, including:

  • Genetics: family history of depression may increase the risk of developing depression;
  • Environmental factors: abuse, major life events (such as retirement or divorce), death or loss, and even specific medications can contribute to periods of depression;
  • Emotional or physical abuse: individuals who have suffered from past sexual, physical, or emotional abuse have an increased vulnerability to clinical depression later in life;
  • Substance abuse: a history of alcohol or drug misuse can increase the risk of depression;
  • Medical conditions: certain medical conditions can increase the risk of depression, such as chronic pain, chronic illness, insomnia, cancer, etc.;
  • Brain structure: There is a link between depression and a less active frontal lobe in the brain. However, it is unknown whether or not this happens before or after the onset of depression.

depression causes, signs and symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

While depression can present itself at different times in life, individuals battling depression tend to have depressive episodes. During these episodes, common characteristics and symptoms occur and may include:

  • Overwhelming and unrelenting feelings of sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • A change in eating habits, such as a loss of appetite or cravings for food
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating, agitation, or restlessness
  • Slowed speaking, thinking, or body movements
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in things that once brought pleasure
  • Unexplained physical symptoms including headaches or chronic pain
  • Frequent and recurring thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal attempts


How Long Can Depression Last?

Depression is among the most treatable mental disorders and typically consists of depressive episodes. During an episode, an individual exhibits symptoms of depression. While some people have one episode, triggered by a specific event or trauma, most people struggling with depression have recurrent episodes throughout their life. When left untreated, like any other illness, the symptoms of depression can get worse over time.

How is Depression Treated?

The first step in depression treatment is to receive a diagnosis from a health care professional, such as a doctor or psychologist. Typically, a physician conducts an interview, physical examination, and lab tests to rule out any other health conditions. A thorough examination will help to identify specific symptoms, family and medical history, and environmental factors that may lead to depression.

Once diagnosed, depression can be treated by medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Between 80% and 90% of people suffering from depression eventually respond to treatment.

When Should You Seek Professional Help for Depression?

It’s natural to experience periods of sadness in life. However, when these periods are recurrent and impact the quality of your life, it may be time to seek professional help. In particular, a doctor or psychologist can help when the symptoms of depression create obstacles with relationships, family, or career.

At Be Psychology, we believe that no one should have to face their depression alone. Using a combination of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication (when applicable), we work with individuals to help treat their depression.


reem shaheen counseling psychologist


Reem Shaheen – LMHC