About Depression

Depression is more than just feeling sad or blue. It is a common but serious mood disorder that needs treatment. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. When you have depression, you have trouble with daily life for weeks at a time. Doctors call this condition “depressive disorder,” or “clinical depression.”

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.

Not a Normal Part of Aging

Depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is NOT a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. Important life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress, and sadness.

For instance, the death of a loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a serious illness can leave people feeling sad or anxious. After a period of adjustment, many older adults can regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression.

Symptoms May Be Hard To Recognize

Depression in older adults may be difficult to recognize because they may show different symptoms. For some older adults who have depression, sadness is not their main symptom. They may have other, less obvious symptoms of depression or they may not be willing to talk about their feelings. Therefore, doctors may be less likely to recognize that their patient has depression.

Sometimes older people who are depressed appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem grumpy and irritable. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. Older adults also may have more medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, or cancer, which may cause depressive symptoms. Or they may be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression.

Is It Grief or Depression?

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish grief from major depression. Grief after loss of a loved one is a normal reaction and generally does not require professional mental health treatment. However, grief that is complicated and lasts for a very long time following a loss may require treatment.

Depression in Men and Women

Men and women often experience depression differently. Men are more likely to be very tired, irritable, lose interest in once-pleasurable activities, and have difficulty sleeping. They may turn to alcohol or drugs when they are depressed. They also may become frustrated, discouraged, irritable, angry, and sometimes abusive. Some men may throw themselves into their work to avoid talking about their depression with family or friends, or behave recklessly. And although more women attempt suicide, many more men die by suicide in the United States.

Depression is more common among women than among men. Biological, lifecycle, hormonal, and psychosocial factors that are unique to women may be linked to their higher depression rate. While women with depression do not all experience the same symptoms, they typically have symptoms of sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt.

Types of Depression

There are several types of depressive disorders.

  • Major depression: Severe symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: A depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for 2 years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.

Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. They include

  • Psychotic depression, which occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false, fixed beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
  • Postpartum depression, which is much more serious than the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer.
  • Bipolar disorder is different from depression but is included in this list is because someone with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of extreme low moods (depression). But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high moods (called “mania”).

You can learn more about many of these and other disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health.