What is Depression (or Major Depressive Disorder)?

What is Depression (or Major Depressive Disorder)?

Depression (or major depressive disorder) is a mental illness that negatively affects a person’s emotions, thought process, and activity. Though it is one of the most common mental health conditions, it’s also one of the most serious. As people with depression can find themselves developing other mental illness (such as anxiety or suicidal ideation).

Types of Depression

It’s important to understand depression is unique to everyone and no two people will experience it the same. In fact, there are multiple forms of depression, each with their own circumstances. These include:

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder – Sometimes known as dysthymia) is when your negative feelings last for more than two years. People who are diagnosed with a persistent depressive disorder may experience depression in episodes, where symptoms are strong for a period of time.
  • Postpartum Depression – After a woman’s given birth, she may feel a state of depression following her delivery. Some medical professionals may refer to this as “the baby blues”, a depressed state many women experience after giving birth which lasts for around two weeks. However, postpartum depression carries on much, much longer. For some, it can be so intense, it’s difficult to complete the activities required by a new baby. Often, women with postpartum depression will experience heavy symptoms while pregnant.
  • Psychotic Depression – If you experience severe depression, it’s possible to also manifest a form of psychosis. Symptoms of psychosis including developing falsified beliefs (delusions) and hearing/seeing sounds/images that aren’t really there (hallucinations). These extra symptoms tend to take on a depressive “theme”.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder – Some are affected by depression only during certain parts of the year. Typically, these are during the winter months as there’s less natural sunlight in the air, but some people will experience them in the summer as well. This kind of depression will usually fade away when spring returns, however, can be expected to return the following year.

People with bipolar disorder also experience episodes of severe depression. Unlike those who suffer solely from depression, these episodes will be followed by or advanced from a mania (hypomania) episode. These episodes are opposite from depression and will leave people feeling very active.


The following symptoms are something each of us is bound to feel at some point in our lives. The difference is, people with depression have felt these symptoms most of the day, almost every day, for a minimum of two weeks.

These symptoms include:

  • Aches or pains
  • Continuous feelings of sadness, emptiness, and anxiousness
  • Cramps
  • Decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Digestive complications
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Lack of sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Slurred speech
  • Suicidal attempts/ideation
  • Weight changes

Not everyone with depression should expect to feel every symptom. The number of symptoms and which particular symptoms you feel depend on many different factors (discussed below). In order to get a better sense of your symptoms, you’ll want to speak to a medical professional.

What Causes Depression?

Depression is a complex disease. There are a number of factors which could have caused a person to end up with the illness. In order to discover the root for you, you’ll need to seek out proper treatment and discuss the specifics of your condition with a medical professional.

One of the most common ways people receive depression is through genetics. It’s highly possible someone in your family had the illness. Yet, it’s unlikely you’ll go through the same kind of depression as they did.

This is due to your unique personality. Some people will find themselves having low self-esteem while others tend to worry all too much. Everyone experiences depression differently and much of our experience has to do with who we are as individuals.

However, no matter our personality, depression might not appear until something certain happens to us. This can be a serious long-term medical illness, such as chronic pain, or a life event which has been very detrimental, such as going unemployed for a long period of time. Furthermore, some individuals experience depression after developing drug or alcohol problems.

What Are the Risks?

People who face depression (or major depressive disorder) face a number of risks that are important to be aware of.

The most concerning of these is the risk of suicide. Many people who have depression face suicidal thoughts, attempts, or behaviors. If you or a loved one is in this position, it’s vital you either CALL 911 or get to your local emergency room. When it comes to suicidal ideation, getting help from a medical professional is absolutely necessary. You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Though depression is most common in adults, it can happen at any age and is now acknowledged as also a problem for children and adolescents. Over time, depression can lead to a number of physical medical illnesses, including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

This is primarily due to the amount of stress a person experiences when they are depressed. This stress can falter with many important life factors, including family, relationships, school, and work.

Can You Prevent Depression?

It needs to be noted that doctors aren’t sure whether or not it’s possible to prevent depression. Yet, they are away there are ways to lessen symptoms or prevent strong episodes.

One of these ways is through a treatment known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). This is a combination of cognitive therapy and mindfulness.

Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy which seeks to change the way you think. For example, when it comes to depression, a therapist will seek out any irrational thoughts within their patient which makes them negative emotions (such as unhappiness). Once that thought it identified, the therapist will then teach their patient how to dismiss this thought and replace it with a more correct and happier thought. This isn’t an overnight process and can take a long time to fully help the patient.

When you add mindfulness to this therapy, you aim to focus set focuses on things happening within the present. Therefore, keeping in mind cognitive therapy’s goal of changing, mindfulness may pinpoint certain positive areas of the patient’s life.

Besides therapy, there are things you can do in your day-to-day life to decrease depressed thoughts. These include:

  • Eat the right amount every day.
  • Get enough exercise regularly.
  • Get the right amount of sleep at night.
  • Learn different strategies of handling stress.
  • Regularly getting check-ups from a medical professional.
  • Talking to family and friends when times get tough.

Depression Treatment

Even though you can’t always prevent depression, there are a variety of ways to treat it. It’s important to enter treatment as soon as you begin to notice symptoms. The longer you wait, the more of a chance symptoms have of worsening.

There are two main ways in which people reduce depression; medication and psychotherapy. Sometimes these are used together and sometimes only one is necessary. If these forms of treatment, there is one more alternative known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies.

It’s important to note there’s no definitive way to treat YOUR depression. In the same way, depression affects everyone uniquely, treatment is distinctive to you. It may even require some experimental approaches to find out the best treatment option for you.

When it comes to medication, a doctor will prescribe antidepressants. The purpose of this is to boost the chemicals in the brain responsible for mood and stress. It’s vital to understand that this medication can be addictive if not taken properly. Addiction can cause more problems than depression in itself.

At Bedlamite, we stress you seek alternative ways of treatment before medication. Though there’s a chance both medication and psychotherapies can help people with depression, we often see people falling into a harder struggle. And for that reason, we ask simply that you consider receiving therapy prior to medication.

These therapies are known as psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy). There are three main types of psychotherapies one can expect to receive for depression treatment. These are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – The purpose of this therapy is to retrieve negative thinking patterns and change them towards positive thinking patterns. CBT has been extremely valuable to those struggling with depression. It usually takes about 8 to 16 sessions.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) – This therapy seeks out specific areas of your life which contribute to depression. Particularly, those of personal relationships. A therapist will then teach you how to better your way of interacting and relating to other people.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy – If you believe your depression is caused by an experience of your past, you’ll want to consider psychodynamic therapy. Its purpose is to understand this past event and the negative thought patterns it left you with and seek to rectify them. You may also explore unconscious processes.

Psychotherapies are a great way for you to better understand why you think in such a negative manner. And once you have this understanding, a therapist will give you the opportunity to work towards a healthier mindset.

However, if psychotherapy isn’t enough, a medical professional will suggest a couple of brain stimulation therapies. These can include repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).

Still, the most common form of brain stimulation is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This requires transmitting brief electrical impulses through your brain. The hope is you’ll boost chemicals. However, there are some side effects, such as memory loss. ECT comes with both risks and benefits.

Depression is a very personal disease. Therefore, treatment is also very personal. Talk to a medical professional and to see which is right for you.

Your Questions

Still have questions? We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have more information or advice on depression you’d like to share, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment in a timely and personal manner.

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