While depression is often first diagnosed in adolescents and adults, it can occur at any age. Rather than involving fleeting sadness, hallmarks of the disorder like depressed or low mood and loss of interest or pleasure must continue for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression to be made.
Symptoms for major depressive disorder can be mild to severe and may include:
Depression is often accompanied by anxiety as well, requiring individuals to manage both at the same time.
Studies indicate that a number of different genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors can raise a person’s risk for developing depression.
As outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health, these can include having a personal or family history of depression, experiencing major life changes, trauma, stress and certain physical ailments and medications. These include drugs prescribed for everything from controlling high blood pressure to treating asthma to helping with smoking cessation. Serious and chronic medical illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, are also associated with higher rates of depression. So-called early life adversity like childhood trauma – including physical or sexual abuse – has also been linked to higher rates of depression not only around the time of the trauma but later in life as well.
In addition to major depression, or major depressive disorder, and the variation in how long symptoms last and their severity, there are a number of other types of depression. NIMH lists several examples:
Experts advise people who suspect they or a loved one are suffering from depression to seek professional help so they can be properly diagnosed and treated. In particular, anyone who is having suicidal thoughts, experiencing psychosis or whose safety might otherwise be compromised is urged to get help immediately.
Treatments vary based on factors ranging from the depression type, symptoms and severity, and individual preference.
Most commonly major depression is treated with psychotherapy, or talk therapy – like cognitive behavioral therapy – or medication, and often the combination is recommended. Whether a person is selecting a therapist or therapeutic approach or trying different medications, it can take time to find the right fit. Even then, as with medications, results aren’t instantaneous. For example, it generally takes at least a couple weeks before antidepressants begin to work.
Besides medication and therapy, other approaches are also sometimes recommended depending on depression severity and type, from light therapy for seasonal affective disorder to exercise, which research has shown to be effective in preventing and treating depression, particularly for those experiencing milder depression symptoms. Alternative treatments from yoga to vitamin D supplements to meditation have also shown some promise but require more research.