Causes, Signs, & Effects of Depression

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with depression? Learn about the causes, signs, and effects to identify whether professional treatment may be necessary.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

Everyone is going to experience periods of sadness in their lives. While feeling sad can be upsetting, this type of emotional reaction can be healthy for those events that are sad and can move us towards change and growth. However, normal sadness is much different from clinical depression, because when sadness begins to interfere with everyday life, comes with additional symptoms, or lasts for weeks, months, or years, an individual might be suffering from a depressive disorder.

Depression is much more than just feeling down or struggling with the blues. Depressive disorders are a group of mood disorders that dramatically impact one’s life with symptoms of irritability, emptiness, and sadness, as well as physical symptoms and changes in thinking. The three most common forms of depressive disorders include major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

These three forms of depressive disorders and their symptoms include:

Major depressive disorder: Individuals who have major depressive disorder can go through periods that include lack of pleasure, sadness, loss of energy or motivation, weight and appetite changes, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, sleeping changes, thoughts of death or suicide, and decreased ability to think or concentrate for weeks, months, or years at a time.

Persistent depressive disorder: Those who grapple with persistent depressive disorder will suffer from similar symptoms to those of major depressive disorder, though symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are chronic, last longer, and are generally less intense.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: This type of depressive disorder includes symptoms similar to that of major depressive disorder. However, symptoms are linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle. These symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, dysphoria, depressed feelings prior to menses and mood changes. These symptoms lessen after menses has occurred.

All depressive disorders are hard to manage and can significantly impact an individual’s life. Many of these disorders start off slowly, and many individuals do not realize that a disorder of this kind has taken over their everyday lives until symptoms grow worse.

While symptoms of depressive disorders can be challenging to manage, there is treatment available. With appropriate care and support, those who are grappling with a major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder can move on to living happy, healthy lives.


Depression statistics

Depression impacts approximately 14.8 million adults within America, or roughly 6.7% of those above age 18. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that depression most often starts between ages 18 and 25. Rates of depression spike again after age 50, and adult women are more likely to report depression than men are. To be exact, women are 1.4 to 3 times more likely to report major depressive disorder than men.

Causes and Risk Factors

Learn what is known about the causes of depression

There are many risk factors and causes of depression. Some of the most common risk factors for depressive disorders can include:

Genetic: There is a profound tie between genetics and depression. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that those who have close family members with depression are 400% more likely to suffer from this disorder.

Environmental: Depressive disorders can be brought on by hard, stressful, or traumatic events. Those who have had trouble in childhood, such as abuse or bullying, might also be at a greater risk for developing a depressive disorder later on in life. If an individual’s environment is frequently without hope or involves a number of upsetting experiences, that individual’s risk of depression will increase.

Risk Factors:

  • Age (depression is more common within the 18-29 age group and becomes more common again later in life)
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Substance use disorders such as alcoholism
  • Negative thinking or negative cognitions
  • Family history of depressive disorders
  • Past trauma
  • Gender (women report more depression than men)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

Each individual will experience a depressive disorder differently. The type of depressive disorder, the individual’s history, and his or her personality will all impact that individual’s signs and symptoms of depression. Some common symptoms of depressive disorders include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slowed movements and speech, or a decrease in movement or speech
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Anxiety or jittery behavior
  • A decline in work or school performance
  • Less attendance in social activities or pleasurable activities
  • Crying or tearfulness

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue or listlessness
  • Oversleeping or inability to sleep
  • Somatic pains such as headaches or stomachaches

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Racing thoughts
  • Slowed cognitions
  • Distractibility
  • Trouble making decisions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Shame, guilt, or sadness
  • Thoughts of suicide or giving up
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Irritable affect


Effects of depression

Without obtaining the appropriate treatment, depression can become very dangerous. Depressive disorders can lead to a number of issues, such as:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Family conflict
  • Risky or dangerous behaviors
  • Substance use
  • Difficulty keeping up with work or responsibilities
  • Sleep problems and exhaustion
  • Job loss
  • Self-harm
  • Relationship conflict and strain

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

Those who have depressive disorders might be at an increased risk for developing other mental health problems, including:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
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