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Depression and its Warning Signs

What is depression? It can be as large as the elephant in the room, or as small as the neurons in a brain. The general definition of clinical depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, its symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Depression can affect anybody.

Whom does depression effect? Depression occurs more often in women than men. There are some differences in how the symptoms present in different sexes. In men, depression often manifests as tiredness, irritability and anger. They may show more reckless behavior and abuse drugs and alcohol. They also tend to not recognize that they are depressed and fail to seek help. In women, depression tends to manifest as sadness, worthlessness, and guilt. In younger children depression is more likely to manifest as school refusal, anxiety when separated from parents, and worry about parents dying. Depressed teenagers tend to be irritable, sulky, and get into trouble in school. They also frequently have anxiety, eating disorders, or substance abuse.

Depression can be confusing. One of the major sources of uncertainty is the difference between having depression and just feeling depressed. Clinical depression is different than feeling depressed. You can feel gloomy after getting a bad grade or having an argument, but clinical depression is a medical disorder, and it doesn’t go away when circumstances change or seem to get better. Depression is a Mental Health Disorder that affects how someone feels, behaves and interacts. It affects people all of ages and backgrounds and can range from mild to more severe symptoms (1). Depression can last for at least 2 weeks, and it significantly interferes with someone’s ability to work, play, or love. Depression can manifest is different ways. Some people notice changes in mood, energy, appetite and sleep. For some people, the illness is debilitating and impacts many areas of their lives (2).

This is a medical condition. Depression involves changes in brain function and chemistry. Scientists have examined how neurotransmitters are involved. Medication treatment and interventions have aimed to influence the functioning of the neurotransmitters and chemical transmissions in the brain (3). The physical manifestations of depression inside the brain can include: smaller frontal lobes and hippocampal volumes, abnormal transmission or depletion of certain neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine), abnormal circadian rhythms, and hormone abnormalities (for example, high cortisol). Depression has to do with a complex interaction between a person’s genes and environment, but there is no diagnostic tool to accurately predict when and where it will show up.

Depression can have a lot of different behavioral symptoms. A low mood, a loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy, changes in appetite, and feeling worthless or excessively guilty are some of the symptoms that are commonly associated with depression. Lesser-known symptoms include sleeping too much or too little, poor concentration, restlessness or slowness, a loss of energy, and recurrent thoughts of suicide. Depression symptoms are intangible. It is hard to know who might look fine but is actually struggling. Unfortunately, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, it takes the average person suffering with a mental illness over 10 years to ask for help. If you have at least 5 of these symptoms and they last for at least two weeks, according to psychiatric guidelines, you are qualified to be diagnosed with depression.

There are treatment options. Medications and therapy together can boost brain chemicals. In extreme cases, electroconvulsive therapy can be used. This is like a controlled seizure in the patient’s brain. It can be very helpful. Another promising treatment is transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. Everyone suffering from clinical depression has a unique experience, so medications or therapy or a combination of both work better for some people than others.

If you know someone struggling with depression, be their rock. Encourage them gently to seek options and offer to help with specific tasks like looking up therapists in the area and making a list of questions to ask the doctor. These first steps can seem hard for someone with depression.

If someone with depression feels guilty or ashamed, let them know that depression is a medical condition, just like asthma or diabetes. It’s not a weakness or personality trait. They shouldn’t expect to just get over it, just like how someone with a broken arm can’t heal instantly. You should offer your help, but don’t compare it to times you’ve felt sad if you haven’t had depression. This can make them feel guilty for struggling. Encourage them and others in their community to talk openly about depression and help get rid of stigma. Make it easier for people to ask for help. Asking people about suicidal thoughts reduces suicide risk.

If you have experienced at least five of the symptoms previously mentioned in this article for at least two weeks, you might have clinical depression. There is no shame in asking for help. Depression is a real illness. It is not a sign of a person’s weakness or a character flaw. You can’t “snap out of” clinical depression. Most people who experience depression need treatment to get better. If you think you may have depression, start by arranging an appointment to see your doctor or health care provider. Other things might be causing your symptoms, such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, which mimic the effects of depression. A doctor can rule these out by doing a physical exam, conducting an interview, and running tests. If the doctor finds that no medical condition can be causing your depression, the next step is a treatment plan.

Here are some quick tips on how to make the appointment: during the first call, you can explain your symptoms. A few examples are: “I haven’t been feeling like myself lately” and “I think I might have depression, and I’d like some help.” These are small steps you can take to getting help.

Before your appointment, prepare a list of your symptoms and when they started, key personal information and context (for example, recent life changes), all medications or vitamins you take and how often you take, and any questions you have.

If you need help now, call the 24-hour, toll-free confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to

It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Living with depression can be overwhelming, so build a support system for yourself. Your friends and family are invaluable. You can talk to a trusted family member or close friend to help them understand your feelings. In addition to your treatment, you could also join a support group. Sharing experiences, feelings, information, and coping strategies can be very helpful for some people.

We are all students of the issues presented here. If you would like to recommend a correction or change, please email Also, we are not doctors, lawyers, or professionals. Please use your resources to seek help; the front pages of the Student Handbook have lists of who to go to for whatever your need.

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