While it is common for people to colloquially say that they feel depressed when they are experiencing feelings of sadness, depression is actually a mental illness that is far more severe than any transient feeling. It is crucial to stress the difference between these two uses of the word, because people with depression are less likely to seek treatment when they dismiss their mental health condition as a mere mood. This mental health condition is in fact quite serious — and can even be life-threatening.
Depression, known by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals as major depressive disorder (MDD) or major depression, falls into a class of mental health conditions known as mood disorders. There are a number of mood disorders, including mania, during which an individual experiences consistently elevated mood, and bipolar disorder, during which a person cycles back and forth between elevated and low moods.
Depression is by far the most common mood disorder. People with depression experience consistently low moods, often finding themselves plagued by sadness even in circumstances they would normally find joyful. It is normal for people to feel downcast at times. However, when people find themselves unable to extricate themselves from this feeling for two weeks or more, then they are likely suffering from major depressive disorder.
People with depression can experience a wide range of symptoms, including sleep problems, loss of interest in daily activities, appetite problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of energy, and even suicidal thoughts. Many individuals with this medical condition find it difficult to work, maintain relationships, or take care of their own health more generally.
As such, people with depression are likely to develop and suffer from other conditions as well. It is common for people with depression to be drawn to drugs and alcohol, given that these substances often offer temporary relief from the symptoms of depression. Self-medicating in this way, however, is likely in the long run to worsen the progression of the disorder. When other conditions are present, such as a substance use disorder, it can also complicate the treatment process.
Depression manifests itself in manifold ways depending upon the individual and their circumstances. A major depressive episode can last for a few weeks or a few years. It can also cause unpredictable behavioral changes. Depressive episodes also vary in intensity, with some people suffering lowered quality of life and others experiencing life-threatening symptoms.
There are many types of depressive episodes. These include postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, and persistent depressive disorder. Each of these medical conditions varies somewhat in terms of its causes of origin and symptomatology. As such, treating the different subtype of depression requires specific methodologies, though most cases of depression can be effectively treated using a combination of counselings and antidepressant medication.