the word “depression” is often used to describe a passing sadness.  This is contrasted with clinical depression, a psychiatric disorder characterized by long-term sadness, lack of interest in activities, and a reduced ability to enjoy life. Clinical depression is a serious, even disabling, condition which can affect all aspects of a person’s life. It is a major risk factor for suicide, and those who suffer from clinical depression also have increased mortality from other causes.

The length of time someone suffers from clinical depression varies widely among individuals.  It may occur only once, or there may be many recurrences; it can come on suddenly or gradually; it may last for a couple of months or the rest of a person’s life. Clinical depression can occur on its own.  However, it can also be a result of other medical conditions like chronic pain or bipolar disorder. Patients are usually treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Symptoms of clinical depression vary among individuals.  Most patients feel very sad, show a definite change in mood, and lose interest in favorite activities.  Other symptoms may include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness;
  • change in appetite, either loss of appetite or over eating;
  • sleep disorders, including insomnia;
  • irritability and restlessness;
  • feelings of pessimism, helplessness, inappropriate guilt, and hopelessness;
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions;
  • thoughts of suicide, perhaps linked with suicide attempts;
  • decreased energy and increased fatigue;
  • persistent physical problems like headaches, chronic pain, digestive problems, and more which do not respond to treatment and do not have an obvious cause.

Symptoms will vary between individuals, and not everyone will have all the symptoms.  If these symptoms persist for two weeks or more, or if you have suicidal thoughts or tendencies, you may be suffering from clinical depression.

There are several types of depression, and some last longer than others.  One of the most commonly known forms of depression is postpartum depression, commonly called the “baby blues”.  It is common in women in the first weeks after childbirth, usually caused by fluctuating hormone levels.

Diagnosing clinical depression in children and teens is a challenge.  Often, symptoms of depression in children are ignored, believed to be normal childhood moodiness.  Children also show different symptoms than adults. Children who are suffering from depression may withdraw from friends and social activities, lose interest in school, show poor academic performance, and drastically change their appearance at times.  Drugs and alcohol may compound this problem, especially in children over the age of 12.  Although rare, children suffering from major depression may have suicidal thoughts even before their 12th birthday. While adults may be treated with antidepressant medication, these medications are not recommended for those under the age of 18.  They have been shown to increase the risk of suicidal behavior and thoughts in children and teens.

The causes of depression are still being sought.  There may be a genetic predisposition, and there is some evidence that depression may run in families.  There is also a physiological component, and modern antidepressant drugs are used to combat this.

Before diagnosing clinical depression, a physician will complete a medical examination on the patient.  This is used to rule out physical causes for depression. If no other physical abnormality is present, the patient is often referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further study. From there, the patient is tested to determine whether clinical depression exists.

If you suspect that you may be depressed, a depression test may help you to identify problem areas, making it easier to discuss with your physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist.  There are several tests available online which may help with self-diagnosis.  An example can be found at the following:

On the Threshold of Eternity. In 1890, Vincent van Gogh painted this picture seen by some as symbolizing the despair and hopelessness felt in depression. Van Gogh himself suffered from depression and committed suicide later that same year. Courtesy Wikipedia.