What is Depression? | Causes, Symptoms, Types, Treatment

What is Depression? | Causes, Symptoms, Types, Treatment

What is Depression? | Causes, Symptoms, Types, Treatment

1) What is depression

Depression is a serious condition that negatively affects how a person thinks/ feels/acts/ behaves.

Depression invites feelings of sadness/ sorrow/ hopelessness/ loss of interest in activities (engaged earlier)

Conclusively, depression is different from the fluctuations in mood (that people experience as a part of normal life). For instance, temporary emotional responses (to the challenges in everyday life) do not constitute depression. Likewise, even the feeling of grief resulting from the death of near and dear ones  cannot be termed ‘depression’ as  it is in general not persistent.


2) Causes

Causes of depression are not fully understood. It occurs due to complex combination of factors. The causative factor behind depression is changes in brain chemistry (Clinical depression is thought to be caused by chemical imbalance in the brain. In many cases among the depressed patients, there is found reduction in the amount certain neurotransmitters—such as serotonin).

Issues like depression and mental anxiety can result from the host of factors as stated below.


2.1) Genetic factors

Having near  relatives  with  higher income level  and   better standard of living, Is  found common. This is a great risk factor for causing a feeling depression and discomfiture.


2.2) Biological factors

They bring changes in the neurotransmitter levels.


2.3) Environmental factors

They affect stress/ anxiety leading to depressive disorder. The environmental factors   include:  air/ water/ food pollution.

Other non-chemical environmental sources include: noise pollution/ electrical pollution/ natural disaster.


2.4) Psychological and psycho-social factors

Psychological factors causing depressive disorder include: loss of  parents at an early age/ loss or separation from beloved one

Psycho-social factors contributing to depression are job dissatisfaction, hostility with friends/ office colleagues/business partners.


2.5) Personal

Those having   less competence and coping strategy, are more susceptible to depressive disorder.


2.6) Life events

Bereavement on account of financial loss and problems/ loss of family member/ divorce/ medical concerns can trigger mental stress and depression


2.7)  Childhood trauma

Many  adverse  childhood  experiences  can overwhelm a child. These are: negligence/ violence/sexual abuses.


2.8) Prescription drugs

Some drugs prescribed by the doctor can cause or aggravate depression. These include:  Corticosteroids/ Beta blockers/ Interferon.


2.9) Non-prescription drugs

Abuse of alcohol and drugs like Amphetamines are strongly linked to depression.


2.10) Past head injury

Having experiences of head injuries in the past, may increase the risk of subsequent depression.


2.11) Chronic pain syndrome

Chronic pain syndrome and other chronic  conditions (that make depression more likely) include:  diabetes/ cardio- vascular disease/  COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is a type of obstructive lungs disease characterized by long  term  breathing  problem and poor air flow. The damaged lungs can burn 10 times more calories as compared to normal/ healthy lungs even if one has a good appetite. This leads to weight loss).



  1. a) The cause may also include: taking long time for recovery (from illness/ injury)/ longer time in surgery (than expected).

  2. b) Additionally, there are many other conditions that rigger the symptoms of depression. These are : reactions (on account of taking anesthesia/ antibiotics/ pain killers) / pain and discomfort during recovery/ physical, mental, emotional stress caused by inadvertent surgical disorder/ risking high probability of death caused by prolonged serious illness.

  3. C) Various research studies reveal the fact that post operative depression rate are higher in case of some surgeries as listed below.

Heart surgery/ Gastric by pass surgery (it is a surgical procedure in which the stomach is divided into a small upper pouch, and a much larger lower pouch. After that the small intestine is rearranged to connect the  both.) /Brain surgery/ Hip replacement (It is a surgical procedure in which the hip joint  is  replaced  by a prosthetic implant)/ Hysterectomy (it is the surgical removal of uterus. It may also involve removal of the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and other surrounding  structures )/ Cancer resection  (The surgical procedure  removes all or part of the tumor.)/ Mastectomy (Removing  one or both the breasts  by surgical procedure)/ Plastic  surgery (It is a surgical procedure involving the restoration, alteration and reconstruction of the human body)


3) Symptoms

The following symptoms are observed in case of the patients having depression.


3.1) Depressed mood

It is a normal temporary reaction to life events (such as,  prevention  or interference in  love affairs). Depressed mood is also a symptom of some physical disease and side effects of some drugs and medical treatments.


3.2) Reduced interest and pleasure (in activities previously enjoyed)

It is known as  Anhodonia—one of the major symptoms of depressive disorder. It is the loss of interest in previously enjoyed a activities (such as, loss of interest in hobbies/friend relationship and even food and sex.)


3.3) Unintentional weight loss (without dieting)

It may be an inevitable outcome of depression. This can lead  to poor appetite and weight loss.


3.4) Insomnia (difficulty in sleeping)

It is a condition with sleep deprivation or lack of adequate sleep. The underlying causes are : anxiety/ stress/ depression and various emotional and psychological factors (such as, anger/ worrying/grief/trauma)

3.5) Hypersomnia (Excessive sleeping)

         It is a condition in which  the  person, although stays  awake during the daytime , but can fall asleep at any time.

3.6)  Restlessness (pacing up and down)

3.7) Impaired  psychomotor skills

Psychomotor skills occur when the activities of thinking and physical movement are combined. But psychomotor skills are known to be negatively affected by depressive disorder.

Greater impairment relating to psychomotor skills is observed in older people particularly having severe   depression.

3.8) Fatigue and loss of energy

Extreme tiredness and feeling less energetic are the outcome of mental as well as physical exertion.

3.9) Feeling of guilt

         Feeling  guilty  (for something  wrong done) is quite normal.  But problem occurs when one ruminates over the guilt

3.10)  Impaired ability (to think/ concentrate/ decide)

          It may involve noticeable and  conspicuous  decline in cognitive abilities (such as, memory and thinking skill)

3.11) Recurrent thought on death and suicide

         Frequent suicidal thoughts is one of the major symptoms of depression. In such case,  the patients with depressive disorder spend most of the time in wishing death


4) Diagnostic tests

Diagnosis is the procedure to identify the root cause of the disease through applying various tests (to ascertain the signs) /observing the symptoms/ interrogating the patient (about  his feelings/ family history/ personal history including the life style)

Diagnostic tests are essential for providing safe/ secure/ effective treatment. Diagnostic tests start only after freely  consulting with  the doctor/ mental health specialists and other specialists.

In order to attain and assess the diagnostic test results correctly, the medical experts have designed  some questionnaires to assess the severity of depression.

The  HDRS (Hamilton  Depression  Rating  Scale) is one of the most widely used assessment Instruments  in the world. The HDRS  contains 21 questions.

The scores indicate the severity of the depressive condition of the patient.

HDRS (Hamilton Depression  Rating  Scale)

(Patient’s  name, addres  with date of assessment )

(The score ranges from   0- 4   under varying conditions)

Depressing  Symptoms                                                                                           Score

   4.1) Depression Mood (gloomy attitude/pessimism/sadness/tendency to weep).    Absent (0)

Sadness (1)

Occasional weeping (2)

Frequent weeping (3)

Extreme weeping  (4)


   4.2) Feeling of guilt                                                                                                                   Absent (0)

                                                                                                                               Self reproach (1)

                                                                                                                                Feeling guilty (2)

Feeling that frequent illness is a punishment for guilt (3)

                                                                                                                               Hallucination for guilt (4)           


  4.3)  Suicide                                                                                                                                 Absent (0)

                                                                                                         Feeling that life is not worth living (1)

                                                                                                                                            Wishing death (2)

                                                                                                                            Suicidal ideas/ gestures (3)

                                                                                                                                  Attempt for suicide  (4)


4.4) Insomnia (difficulty in falling asleep)                                                                                Absent (0)

Occasional (1)

                                                                                                                                                     Frequent  (2)


4.5) Insomnia  (Feeling disturbed and restless during night)                                              Absent  (0)

                                                                                                                                                  Occasional (1)

                                                                                                                                                      Frequent (2)


4.6) Insomnia (waking  up during sleep and unable  to fall asleep again)                       Absent (0)

                                                                                                                                                   Occasional (1)                                                                                                                                          

Frequent (2)


4.7) Interests in work                                                                                               No difficulty (0)

                                                                                             Feeling of incapacity/listlessness to work (1)

                                                                                   Loss of interest in hobbies and work activities  (2)

                                                                                                                             Productivity decreased (3)

                                                                                                    Unable to work even after treatment (4)


4.8) Retardation (Slowness in thought/ speech/activity)                                                     Absent !0)

                                                                                               Slight retardation observed in interview (1)

Obvious retardation observed in interview (2)

                                                                                                                                  Interview is difficult (3)

                                                                                                                                        Complete stupor (4)


4.9) Agitation (Restlessness associated  with anxiety)                                                     Absent (0)

                                                                                                                                                   Occasional (1)                                                                                                                                          

Frequent (2)


4.10) Anxiety (psychic)                                                                                                                Absent (0)

Tension and irritability (1)

Worrying about minor matters (2)

Apprehensive attitude (3)

Fears (4)


4.11)Anxiety(somatic: urinary, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems/indigestion) Absent(0)

Mild (1)

Moderate (2)

Severe (3)

Incapacitating (4)        

4.12) Gastrointestinal symptom(loss of appetite/heavy abdominal discomfort)           Absent  (0)      

Mild (1)                    

                                                                                                                                                          Severe (2)


4.13) Somatic symptoms (General:  fatigue/headache/backache/loss of energy)         Absent (0)                                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                      Mild (1)                    

                                                                                                                                                          Severe (2)  


 4.14) Genital symptoms (Menstrual disturbance)                                                              Absent (0)                                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                        Mild  (1)                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                          Severe (2)


 4.15)Hypochondriasis(fear of prolonged serious illnesses despite medical assurances)Absent(0)   

                                                                                                                               Self absorption bodily (1)    

                                                                                                                       Preoccupation with health (2)  

.Querulous attitude (3)

Hypochondriasial delusion (4)


4.16) Weight loss                                                                                                                          Absent (0)

Slight (1)

                                                                                                                                                          Severe (2)


4.17) Insight                                                                                                                                  No loss (0)

                                                                                                                                                 Partial loss  (1)

                                                                                                                                             Loss of insight (2)


 4.18)  Diurnal variation (Symptoms get worse in morning or evening time)          No variation (0)

Mild variation (1)

Severe variation (2)


4.19)  Depersonalization and de-regularization (feeling of nihilistic ideas)          Absent (0)

Mild (1)

Moderate (2)

Severe (3)

Incapacitating (4)


4.20) Paranoid symptoms (intense and irrational mistrust/suspicion/fear)                 None (0)

                                                                                                                                              Suspicious (1)

                                                                                                                                 Ideas of reference (2)

                                                                                              Delusion of reference  and persecution(3)

                                                                                                            Hallucinations are  persecuting (4)


4.21) Obsessive thoughts  and compulsions (against which the patient struggles)    Absent (0)

Mild  (1)

Severe (2)


5) Health complications

5.1)  Depression affects the whole body. Even milder form of depression and mood disorder can affect the quality of life. Serious health complications may arrive in the form of heart disease/ stroke/ diabetes/ cancer.

                  Additionally, depression dampens the urge for eating / sexual desire/ job performance/ quality of sleep.

5.2) The brain stores memories  and regulates  the production of hormones called  cortisols . The body releases cortisols during time of physical and mental stress including depression.  This can lead  to memory problem (such as, forgetfulness/ concentration).

           Over and above,, depression makes it difficult to concentrate and focus on the tasks/ make  correct decisions/ think clearly/ behave rationally

5.3) Depression can cause mental sufferings greatly and uncontrollably. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide


6) Types

Identifying the type is quite important. Because, treatment  procedure largely depends on the type of the disease. Various types of depressive  disorders are stated below


6.1)  Unipolar depression

Unipolar depression can involve anxiety and other symptoms, but no manic episodes. In case of unipolar depression , predominant feature is  depressed mood (it is a normal temporary reaction to life events, such as prevention in romance and love affairs.  Depressed mood is also  a symptom of some physical disease as well as side effects of some drugs and medical treatments).

6.2) Bipolar depression

                    It is a mental health condition that involves changes in moods and other mental conditions.

There may be different types of bipolar depression depending on the patterns of mood swings. The condition is characterized by both manic  as well as depressive episodes  (manic episode includes clinical depression as part of diagnosis. On the other hand depressive episode is characterized  by feeling sad and unhappy at least for 2 weeks continuously ). Bipolar depression is separated by periods of normal moods.

Conclusively, It is important to seek timely treatment as the impact of bipolar depression on health and quality of life  can  be severe.

6.3) Major depressive disorder with psychotic features

       The condition is characterized by depression accompanied with psychosis  (it is a severe mental disorder in which emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external realty).

Psychosis can involve false belief /detachment from reality/ sensing things that do not exist/ delusion and  hallucination ( Delusion  is a symptom of mental disorder with  impression maintained despite being contradicted by rational argument. And

hallucination is an experience involving apparent perception of something not present).

6.4) Post partum depression

            It is also  known  as  post natal depression which may be severe. Women having this condition experience baby blues  with new born babies.

Post partum or postnatal period begins immediately after the birth of a child.

‘Baby blues’ refer to the babies  that are born with blue eyes. The condition occurs due to lack   of ‘melanin pigment’ .

6.5) Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern

          The condition is related to  reduced daylight of winter. The depression occurs during the season and is responsive to light  therapy  (it is also known as photo therapy. It is a method to treat the seasonally affected disorder by exposure to artificial light).

Conclusively,   the patients in countries with long or severe winter, are affected more.

6.6)  Agitated Depression

        It is characterized  by  low  mood involving uneasiness and anxiety.

6.7) Mild depression

It is a condition with frequent changes in moods and behavior. The fluctuating emotions occur displaying   regularity.


6.8)  Post Surgery depression

             After surgery, it is quite common to lose hope and  feel mentally depressed.

The surgery may also be invasive (It is a surgical procedure  which is carried out by entering the body through the skin or anatomical opening allowing the  smallest possible damage to the structures. Most of the surgical procedures  administered,  are minimally invasive).

The cost of surgery ( in terms of worries caused by not having in good health) may aggravate the feelings  of  depression and despair.


7) Treatment

Depression is a treatable mental illness. There are 3 main components   in treatment plan. In addition, other treatments are also applied as stated below.

7.1) Support

       The treatment procedure ranges from discussing the problems with solution, to educating the family members

  7.2) Psychotherapy (or talking therapy)

          The treatment  procedure  includes interpersonal therapy and  CBT (Cognitive  Behavioral Therapy  is a form of psychotherapy that treats the problem affecting  mental stability. The treatment is done by modifying the dysfunctional emotions, behaviors etc).

In mild cases psychotherapies are the 1st option for treatment. CBT may be effectively delivered to the patient in several ways as stated  below :

7.2.1) Face to face

       7.2.2) In a group

        7.2.3) Over telephone

        7.2.4) Through computer

            Interpersonal therapy is used to identify the problems that affect relationships and communication.


  7.3) Drug treatment (antidepressant medications)

            Antidepressants are drugs used for the treatment of major depressive disorder. These are prescribed  by the doctor only for the adolescent (and not for the children).

A number of medications are used for the treatment which are stated below.

           7.3.1) SSRI  (Selective Serotonin Reuptake  Inhibitors)

          7.3.2) MAOI  (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors)

          7.3.3)  Tri-cyclic antidepressants

          7.3.4) Atypical antidepressants

          7.3.5) SSNRI  (Selective Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake  Inhibitors)

               Conclusively, each class of antidepressants acts as a different neurotransmitter. The drugs prescribed, should be continued even after the symptoms have improved.

  7.4) Other treatments (Exercise and therapies)

      7.4.1)    Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise help against mild depression.. Because it stimulates the neurotransmitters which is related to mood. Aerobic  exercise is also known as cardio exercise of  low to high intensity. The exercise primarily depends on aerobic energy generating process.

In contrast,  anaerobic i.e.without oxygen’  exercise is  a physical activity that causes one to be quickly out of breath, such a lifting a heavy weight.

Examples of aerobic exercises include running/swimming/walking/ hiking/ climbing/dancing/skating.

And  neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that enable the neurotransmissions. It is a type of chemical  messenger  which transmits signals across a chemical synapse  ( such as neuromuscular junctions-- from one neuron to another).

         7.4.2)   Brain stimulation therapy

                          It can play a key role  in treating certain mental disorder. The treatment procedure  involves  activating or inhibiting the brain directly  with the use of electricity. The electricity can be given directly by electrode implanted in the brain.

           7.4.3)  RTMS  (Repetitive Trans-cranial  Magnetic Stimulation)

                     Till date, several randomized   controlled trials have shown the efficacy of  RTMS  in the treatment of major depressions. The treatment procedure  has been proved effective in patients with resistant unipolar depression.

           7.4.4) Electro-cardiovascular therapy                  

                       It is one of the safest, cheapest and yet effective therapeutic treatment in psychiatry. It is the most consistently effective treatment for severe depression.

   7.4.5) Sticking to sleep schedule

                    Sleep is important for every living being (including man and animal) to stay healthy and energetic. For an adult, daily 7- 9  hour sleep  is essential to stay active and energetic. However, it does not mean that one should sleep longer than needed. Neither under sleep nor oversleep is good for health.

It is essential to set a sleep schedule and adhere to it .  Maintaining a regular schedule (for bed time and waking up) may help the patient  to feel better and free of stress and anxieties. More importantly, it is  recommended  to follow a healthy life style through consuming healthy foods and drinks  (in addition to avoiding the  unhealthy foods as well as  expensive bad habits like  smoking and alcohol)


8) Key global information

8.1)    Globally, 350  million  people are affected by depression.

       8.2)   Depression is twice as common among women (as compared to men)

      8.3)  About 20% of women will experience at least one episode of depression across their life time.

        8.4) Suicidal thoughts result mostly from depression. Suicide is the  2nd  leading cause of death among the youths  (15- 29  years)

8.5) Depression is the most common illness worldwide . It is the  leading cause of disability (according to the report of the World Health Organization).


9) Popular questions and answers on depression (Q =   A = Answer)

9.1)  Q (What is the most important symptom of depression)

         A (A  patient  is diagnosed with depression if at lest  5 symptom are experienced for 2 consecutive weeks. Of the 5 symptoms, 1 must be either depressed mood or loss of interest  and  pleasure )

9.2)   Q (Why is  depression more  prevalent in women than men)

        A  ( After  attaining  puberty, girls become more likely to experience depression than boys. Biological/ psychological / hormonal factors operate uniquely in  girls  during puberty. This leads to increasing rate of depression in women )

9.3)   Q (What happens concerning depression during  menopause)

          A     (Menopause is the time  in  most women’s lives when menstrual period stops permanently.  Women with menopause are no longer able to bear children. Menopause occurs in 49- 52 years of age.  Such women experience increased risks of depression)

9.4)  Q (What is about depression in old people)

         A (Old people suffer from restricted blood flow called   ischemia . At this stage, the changes in brain/ body may occur. Overtime blood vessels become less flexible. This may harden and prevent blood from flowing normally to the body organs including brain. The condition may result in vascular depression in old people).

9.5)  Q (Can brain condition guide treatment for depression)

         A (Brain imaging  has confirmed the biological nature of many psychiatric illnesses over the past 30 years. In mid 1990s, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging was used to identify structural brain changes in depressed people).


10) Concluding remarks

10.1) To be called ‘depression’, the symptoms must be persistent (lasting 6-8 months)

10.2) Depression can’t be dealt with overnight. In addition to applying all treatment procedures, the family members need to play a key role to understand and help the patient to stay motivated and mentally strong till the full recovery.

10.3) Though depression mostly affects mind, it can also lead to physical illness. Again physical health is an important foundation of mental health. People lacking in physical fitness are at increasing risk for developing depression.

10.4) It is also essential for the patients to keep record of all questions coming to mind and regularly consult the doctor. This can greatly reduce the stress.




  • D = DEPRESSION (is more common in women than men)

  • E =ENVIRONMENTAL (factors like air/water/food pollution cause depressive disorder)

  • P= PSYCHOTHERAPY (is the 1st option for treatment of mild depression)

  • R=RISK(of developing depression is high in people lacking in physical fitness)

    5)E=EVENTS(like financial loss/divorce/lack of adjustment with family may cause depression)

     6)S=SLEEP(for 7-9 hours daily is essential to stay away from depressive effects)

      7)S=SUICIDAL (thoughts result mostly from depression)

      8)I=INTERPERSONAL(therapy is used to identify and treat problems affecting relationships)

      9)O=OBSTRUCTIVE(lungs disease with diseased lungs trigger depression/cause weight loss)

10)N= NEGATIVE(impact  on feelings /thoughts/ behavior patterns result from depression)

Add Comments