Depression can be difficult to identify. If you’re concerned you or a loved one is struggling with depression, this page outlines the warning signs, symptoms, and causes of this disorder.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
Depression is a serious illness that can take a terrible toll on women and families. Signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities
- Feeling sad or down
- Feeling hopeless
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Being easily annoyed
- Feeling fatigued or weak
- Feeling worthless
- Loss of interest in sex
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Effective diagnosis and treatment can help reduce even severe depression symptoms. With effective treatment, most women with depression feel better and can return to the daily activities they previously enjoyed.
What Are the Effects of Depression?
Depression can lead to a downward spiral of disability, dependency and suicide. Depression can be associated with severe emotional, behavioral, and health problems, including:
- Alcohol abuse
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating, binge eating)
- Heart disease and other medical conditions
- Work or school problems
- Family conflicts
- Relationship difficulties
- Social isolation
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What Are the Causes of Depression?
Depression isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that a woman can simply snap out of. Depression, formally called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a medical illness that involves the body, mind and soul. It not only affects how a woman thinks and behaves, but can cause a variety of other emotional and physical problems. Sufferers typically have difficulty attending to daily activities and may feel as if life isn’t worth living anymore.
As with many mental illnesses, depression is caused by a variety of biochemical, genetic and environmental factors:
- Biochemical. The naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are linked to mood, play a role in depression. Hormonal imbalances also could be a cause.
- Genes. Some studies show that depression is more common in people whose biological family members also have the condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in a person’s susceptibility to depression.
- Environment. Environment is also thought to play a causal role. Environmental causes are situations in a woman’s life that are difficult to cope with, such as the loss of a loved one, financial problems and high stress.
As is the case for many types of cancer, it is likely that a genetic predisposition combined with certain environmental exposures (life experiences) set the stage for the onset of depression. In any given year, about 12 million adults in the United States have depression. Depression cuts across all racial, ethnic and economic divides – no one is immune from the risk of getting depression.
Depression typically begins in the late 20s, but it can arise at any age, affecting everyone from young children to older adults. Twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men, but this may be due in part because women are more likely to seek treatment for depression. It is thought to be less culturally acceptable for men to seek help for depression.
Researchers have identified certain factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression, including:
- Having other biological relatives with depression
- Having family members who have committed suicide
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one
- Having a depressed mood as a young person
- Illness, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or HIV/AIDS
- Long-term use of certain medications, such as some drugs used to control high blood pressure, sleeping pills, some drugs used for anxiety, or, occasionally, birth control pills
- Certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem and being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
- Alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse
- Having recently given birth
What Should Parents or Friends Say If They Are Concerned?
Learn more about treatment for depression and eating disorders.
Major depression is a serious medical disorder that requires professional help. Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is a leader in treating women and adolescent girls for severe depression, eating disorders, and other co-occurring disorders. Read more about our major depression treatment program.