Depression Symptoms, Causes and Help
A low mood can sweep in like a rainstorm on a summer’s day, blotting out the sunlight and leaving everything dark and gloomy. These summer storms often pass, however, and the light shines brightly once more. People who have depression may feel as though they live in the Pacific Northwest, where one day of rain follows another in a seemingly endless pattern. For these people, the low mood may rarely lift and the world can seem endlessly dark and hopeless. This is the world of people who have depressive disorders.
There are many forms of depressive disorders, and they may vary in severity. In most cases, the person with a depressive disorder needs medical attention in order to heal, and the person may be unable to obtain that help alone. That’s why is so important for families to be able to spot depression in those they love. When the condition is identified, the healing can begin.
Symptoms of Depression in Adults
People with major depression do not have a low feeling that comes and goes. Instead, they have a persistent feeling of sadness that significantly impacts their ability to sleep, eat, work and interact with others. This isn’t the sort of thing that someone can just “snap out of.” The depression is simply too strong for the person to overcome without help.
People who have major depression may feel:
- Extremely upset and irritable
- Distracted and unable to concentrate
- Slow and sluggish or agitated and excitable
- Disinterested in things they once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite, with weight gain or loss
- Liable to cry at any given moment
- Restless and unable to sleep
- Worthless, unhelpful or unattractive
- Frustrated when even small things go wrong
- Unable to muster the energy to get through the day
- Cut off from friends and family
- Isolated and alone
People with major depression may also feel persistent physical pain and they may visit their doctors with stomach complaints, headaches and joint pain. Those pains are often not eased with treatment, as they may be caused by the depression and the person may not even bring up their mental health with the doctor.
Sometimes, people with severe forms of depression act out in psychotic episodes. They may hear voices or see things that aren’t there. They may behave inappropriately in public places, or they may become incredibly afraid of people or places they once used to know. These breaks may come and go, and some people experience them at low levels and never discuss them.
For example, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that up to 15 percent of women who give birth experience depression after the baby is born. When a woman gives birth, her body is flooded with hormones that allow her to produce breast milk and bond with her baby. In addition, her whole life changes and she must become a mother to a small and demanding creature. Combining hormones and life changes in this way could lead to depression.
Similarly, people who have been diagnosed with a major illness such as AIDS, cancer or heart disease sometimes develop depression. In one interesting study published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience found that cancer and immune diseases often cause depression due to chemical changes in the brain. These inflammatory diseases cause the brain to release chemicals that can also regulate mood. In other words, the body’s attempt to deal with the disease causes depression. People with heart disease may be at particular risk for depression, as their arteries harden and blood flow decreases. As their brains receive less fresh blood, depression increases.
Depression in Older People
Many older adults are at increased risk for depression. They may be facing higher rates of heart disease and cancer, which could add to the risk, and they may be taking medications that contribute to symptoms of depression. Older adults who are depressed may be slightly more difficult to identify, for a variety of reasons. Often, people assume that older people should be depressed or sad about impending death, so they don’t recognize that depression in older adults is truly a problem. Also, older adults may exhibit symptoms that are slightly different than the symptoms a younger adult may exhibit. Older adults may:
- Seem angry and frustrated instead of sad
- Refuse to discuss anything having to do with mental health
- Seem confused and lost, and defensive about the confusion
- Become lethargic and unmotivated
It’s easy to pass these symptoms off as symptoms of another disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Family members who begin to coddle the adult and imply that the person is “slowing down” or “losing his marbles” may only serve to deepen the adult’s depression and force the adult into a stronger sense of isolation.
Feeling helpless and hopeless for long periods of time can take a great toll. In fact, some people with serious forms of depression that will not lift are at great risk for suicide. According to the NIMH, men older than 85 are at greatest risk for suicide, perhaps because this group is the least likely to discuss their mental health concerns, and therefore, they are the least likely to get the help they need to improve.
Any suicidal symptoms should be considered medical emergencies. People who are depressed are rarely trying to get attention and scare people. Instead, they feel as though they have come up with a reasonable solution to a problem that once seemed impossible to solve. When someone begins to show these suicidal tendencies, it’s best to call 911 right away and ask for help. Underreacting to the symptoms could cost the person his or her life.