Depression is a serious mental health disorder. It is a true condition that differs from occasional short periods of sadness in that it is consistent and interferes with daily functioning. This illness takes several forms including "major" depression, which is generally episodic and often recurring. Major depression is extremely debilitating, rendering patients unable to perform many basic work and social tasks. Dysthymia is another type of depressive disorder that differs from major depression in that it lasts much longer, often two or more years, but does not impair functioning as greatly. Other forms of depression include postpartum depression, which is sometimes experienced by new mothers, and seasonal affective disorder, which is a depressive response to the winter season when sunlight is limited.
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An overwhelming sense of despair is a major symptom of depression. Feelings of sadness, perhaps coupled with helplessness, are persistent in those diagnosed with depression. This state of unhappiness is often accompanied by a feeling of low self-worth and ill defined guilt. A person suffering from these symptoms may begin showing a lack of regard for personal safety. Also, suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts can occur in depressed people due to extreme sadness. Any extended period of unhappiness, two weeks or more, should be reported to a physician.
Loss of Feeling
Those suffering from depressive disorder my experience a loss of emotions. Rather than feeling sad, the hallmark emotion of depression, some feel nothing at all. This "emptiness" can render the sufferer unable to perform basic tasks including those related to work and social activities. Those with this symptom often neglect basic self care by not showering, wearing deodorant or brushing their hair. A complete lack of interest in activities that have been previously pleasurable is a major sign of depression.
Lack of Focus
Another sign of depression is a person's inability to focus. This is most often noticed in vocational situations in which the individual fails to complete tasks or makes many mistakes in work due to being unable to concentrate for sustained periods. This lack of focus extends to other areas of life as well. Depression sufferers often cannot follow the plot of a film or work a crossword puzzle. This impairment can range from mild to severe.
Depression affects the body as well as the mind. Many depressed individuals complain of a lack of energy and unrelenting tiredness. The presence of this serious mental health issue robs the body of its vigor. Depressed people often become "couch potatoes," preferring sedentary activities to those involving physical motion. Unfortunately, this symptom only works to deepen depression. Those with depression actually need physical exertion to cause the body to produce the mood-lifting chemical serotonin. Depressed individuals, however, usually resist exercise due to feelings of fatigue.
Again, the body as well as the mind is affected by depressive disorder. Depressed people often experience nagging body aches and painful conditions such as headaches, backaches and joint pain. The mental illness works to gnaw away at an individual's health. Family and friends should not dismiss the physical discomfort reported by depressed loved ones as being "all in the head," as the pain experienced is real and requires appropriate treatment for the associated mental illness to be alleviated.
Changes in Appetite
Changes in appetite can be a major sign of depression. In general, a depressed person either overeats or does not eat enough. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can co-exist with depression. Depressed individuals may gain or lose weight rapidly. Those close to an individual showing a marked weight change should be alerted to the possibility that the person is suffering from depression.
Similarly to appetite changes there may be sleep abnormalities in people suffering from depression. A person with this mental illness may sleep too much in an effort to escape their sadness or in reaction to a lack of motivation or fatigue or the person may be unable to sleep due to feelings of sadness, worry and guilt. Those suffering from insomnia may take sleep-inducing medicines to promote sleep but certain depressants should be avoided if depression is suspected as this can make the condition worse.