What Is Clinical Depression?

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Depression is something that affects more than 17 million adults in the United States. The onset may be caused by a variety of life stresses and have symptoms that go well beyond a person's feeling of the blues. Symptom can be mental, emotional and even physical. This disorder is only worsened when friends and family dismiss it as oversensitivity. Left untreated, clinical depression can lead to serious health issues and even suicide.

Definition

  • Clinical depression is a mood disorder recognized by the American Psychiatiric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Revised. To be diagnosed as being clinically depressed, a patient must exhibit at least four of the associated symptoms for more than two weeks. Depression is often not recognized or treated and comes in different forms.

Symptoms

  • There are eight major symptoms associated with depression. They are broken into three areas: physical, behavioral and emotional. Physical symptoms include disruptions in sleep, changes in appetite, loss of energy and stomachaches. Behavioral symptoms affect a person's attitude such as losing interest in activities, concentration difficulties and lack of hygiene. Emotional symptoms include a sense of worthlessness, crying bouts without explanation, agitation and suicidal thoughts.

Forms of Depression

  • Clinical depression comes in three major forms. Major depression combines symptoms that interfere with normal life activities such as work, school or social engagements. Its duration is limited to weeks or months. Dysthymia is a long-term chronic form of depression that is not as intense as major depression but limits a person from fully functioning. It is diagnosed if symptoms persist for more than two years. Another form of depression is associated with bipolar disorder, where the patient experiences period of mania followed by periods of depression.

Life Causes

  • Depression may onset suddenly or develop gradually. It can be created by a variety of reasons, including positive life events such as marriage, that increase stress levels. Ultimately depression onsets with high stress. Alcohol and drugs can increase a person's likelihood for depression. The association can become a catch-22 with the use of alcohol being an escape from depression increasing the level of despair.

Biological Factors

  • Depression is attributed to imbalances in the brain and the function of neurotransmitters. Of particular interest are the level and interaction of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine within the limbic system. The chemical nature of depression suggests a genetic predisposition, yet many who suffer from clinical depression have no family history of it.

Left Untreated

  • Left untreated, clinical depression can dismantle a person's life. Jobs are lost, health deteriorates and friends stay away. Without proper treatment, the sense of hopelessness and worthlessness can lead to suicidal thoughts that, without treatment, may lead to suicide.

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