Depression: Symptoms and Treatments

Over 17 million Americans have experienced a major episode of depression. This is according to the National Institutes of Health’s data from 2017. However, during the pandemic, researchers estimate depression rates tripled.

Clearly, we need to recognize depression symptoms and know different treatment options. As rates keep increasing, it’s essential to educate ourselves on depression.

depression - woman holding pillow looking sad

Depressed Mood vs. Major Depression Disorder

Everyone has experienced a feeling of sadness at some point in their lives. It is a normal reaction when a person experiences a loss – a relationship, a job loss, or death.

The dictionary would define depression as sadness. Yet, for healthcare professionals, depression is more than a simple bout of the blues.

Professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose major depressive disorder (MDD). They use specific criteria to determine if someone is experiencing MDD.

Clinical Depression Symptoms

We also refer to major depressive disorder as clinical depression. It has a significant impact on the way a person feels, thinks, and behaves. It also causes many emotional and physical symptoms. MDD can interfere with daily activities such as school and work, relationships, and social life.

A major depressive episode (MDE) lasts two or more weeks. Symptoms occur nearly every day and interfere with day-to-day life. Someone with MDE experiences at least five out of the nine symptoms listed below. At least one of the symptoms is either a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
  2. Significant diminished interest or pleasure in activities
  3. Significant decrease in appetite or weight loss; or increased appetite and weight gain
  4. Sleep troubles like insomnia or sleeping too much
  5. Fatigue and lack of energy with small tasks feeling overwhelming
  6. Feeling of restlessness, anxiety, and agitation or slowed thinking, speaking, and body movements
  7. Feeling unworthy or guilty for no reason nearly every day
  8. Reduced ability to think or concentrate, make decisions, or remember things
  9. Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

To be MDD, these symptoms cannot be due to substance abuse or another medical condition.
There are three classifications of depression: mild, moderate, and severe. The symptoms and their severity determine the classification.

There are several features that can accompany depression. In some cases, there will be predominate anxiety. Others will have melancholic features, mixed features, seasonal patterns, or related to pregnancy.

depression - sad little boy in bed

Special Considerations in Children and Teenagers

While depression at a young age shares similarities with depression in adults, there may be some differences. For example, young children may not look depressed and sad. Instead, they could be more irritable, clingy, worried, and complain of physical aches. They may refuse to go to school and lose their appetite too.

Teenagers may look more irritable, negative, and feel unworthy, misunderstood, and extremely sensitive. They may skip school, use alcohol and drugs, refuse to eat or sleep, and avoid social interaction. Some may have self-harm tendencies as well.

depression - old man clutching his back in pain

Special Symptoms in Elderly

Many cases of depression in the elderly go undiagnosed. This is because they don’t always ask for help and symptoms aren’t specific. Instead of having a depressed mood, older people talk about aches and pains that come and go. Usually, these pains move from one area of the body to another.

They may experience loss of appetite, fatigue, sleeping problems, and avoid socializing. The elderly tend to lose interest in old hobbies, have memory trouble, and have personality changes. Some, especially older men, would confess to having suicidal thoughts and feelings.

depression - man lying on couch talking to therapist

Depression Treatment

Whether or not your symptoms fit the description of major depressive disorder, it’s important to seek treatment. Depression doesn’t go away on its own. Do not ignore symptoms when felt on a regular basis that interferes with your life. The earlier you start treatment, the more likely you will recover.

For free and confidential support, click here for resources to help you cope with stress.
There are some options when it comes to treating depression.


Psychotherapy is one of the most effective ways to manage depression. Talking to a licensed therapist and learning how to manage the disorder can be beneficial. Many people also combine psychotherapy with prescription drugs.

Prescription Medication

There are many antidepressant drugs on the market. These include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (citalopram and fluoxetine)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (venlafaxine or duloxetine)
  • Atypical antidepressants (bupropion or mirtazapine)

There are two older generation antidepressants still used today. The first is a tricyclic antidepressant like amitriptyline. The second is monoamine oxidase inhibitors like phenelzine or isocarboxazid.

The response to the medication varies from person to person. A doctor may switch or add a second drug if side effects develop or they do not see improvement.

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a non-drug option to treat depression. Magnetic fields stimulate brain cells to relieve symptoms.

Lifestyle Changes

Focusing on a healthy lifestyle can also help manage depression. Using mindfulness meditation and yoga can support a healthy mood. Exercise has well-documented antidepressant qualities.
Eating a healthy diet can also help. Western-type diets are full of processed foods associated with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Instead, try a Mediterranean diet and see how you feel.

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