Although the term “depression” is often used to describe how one feels on an “off” day, clinical depression is quite devastating. Depression is a medical diagnosis which should be approached like any other medical condition or illness. Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave, and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.
Depression may require long-term treatment. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychotherapy or both. It’s not known exactly what causes depression. As with many medical conditions, a variety of factors may be involved, such as brain chemistry, biological differences, hormones and inherited traits.
Although depression may occur only once during a lifetime, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others.
Depression symptoms in children and teens
Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.
In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.
Depression symptoms in older adults
Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as memory difficulties, personality changes, fatigue, sleep problems, physical aches, appetite changes and suicidal thoughts.
Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Anxiety has an impact on one’s ability to focus or go about one’s day.
There are a variety of anxiety disorders – all of which are considered medical diagnoses. As with other medical conditions, you should be evaluated when feelings of anxiety or panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time.
Common symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- An increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Sleep issues
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor. For some people, anxiety may be linked to another underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, they may order tests to look for signs of a problem.
A few types of anxiety disorders
- Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
- Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events and even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
- Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
- Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
- Get help early from a healthcare or mental health professional.
- Stay active. Participate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Enjoy social interaction and caring relationships, which can lessen your worries.
- Avoid alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety.
When to see your doctor
If you feel like you are depressed, you’re worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life, or your worry or anxiety is difficult to control, see your health care provider.
If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, call 911. You can also call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 998, or chat online with a trained crisis counselor.