Depression Symptoms and Causes: What is it? Differences and Treatment

It is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, how you think, and how a person acts.

Depression causes sadness and a loss of interest in the activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to various emotional and physical problems and diminish a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Medical conditions (thyroid problems, a brain tumor, or vitamin deficiency ) can mimic the symptoms of depression, and it is essential to rule out general medical causes.

Depression affects an estimated 15 adults (6.7%) in a year. Moreover, one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some point. Depression can appear at any time, but on average, it appears for the first time between adolescence and mid-20s.

Women are often more likely than men to experience depression. Some studies show that a third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lives.


Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and should last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. Some include:

  • I am feeling sad or having a depressed mood.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Changes in appetite, loss, or gain of weight without relation to diet.
  • Problems are sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Loss of energy or increase in fatigue.
  • Increase in physical activity without purpose (for example, hand movements) or slow movements and words (actions observable by others).
  • I feel worthless or guilty.
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

However, depending on the stage of life or the person’s age, depression can manifest itself in different ways.


Symptoms of depression in children and adolescents

The common signs and symptoms of depression in children and adolescents are similar to those in adults, but some differences may exist.

In younger children, symptoms of depression may include:

  • Sadness.
  • Irritability.
  • Clinging
  • Concern.
  • Dolores.
  • Refusing to go to school.
  • Have low weight

In adolescents, symptoms may include:

  • Sadness.
  • Irritability.
  • Feeling negative and without value.
  • Anger.
  • The low performance or little attendance at school.
  • Feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive.
  • Use of recreational drugs or alcohol.
  • Eat or sleep too much.
  • Harm to yourself
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities and avoiding social interaction.
Symptoms of depression in older adults

Depression is not a normal part of aging and should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression is often not diagnosed and treated in older adults who may be reluctant to seek help.

The symptoms of depression may be different or less evident in older adults, such as:

  • Difficulties of memory.
  • Changes of personality
  • Physical pains
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems with sleep.
  • A medical condition or medication does not cause a loss of interest in sex.
  • He often wants to stay at home instead of going out to socialize or do new things.
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings, especially in older men.

Differences between depression and grief/sadness

Depression is different from sadness or grief. Distinguishing between them can help people get the help, support, or treatment they need.

Grief can be experienced with the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the end of a relationship. They are difficult experiences for a person to endure.

It is usual for feelings of sadness or pain to develop in response to such situations. Those who experience loss can often describe themselves as “depressed.”

For some people, the death of a loved one can cause significant depression. Losing a job or being a victim of a physical assault or a major disaster can cause depression in some people. When pain and depression coexist, pain is more severe and lasts longer than without depression.

The grieving process is natural and exclusive to each individual and shares some of the same characteristics of depression. Grief and depression can involve intense sadness and the abandonment of usual activities.

Despite some overlap between pain and depression, they are different:

  • In pain, painful feelings come in waves, often interspersed with positive memories of the deceased. In major depression, mood, interest in activities, and pleasure decrease during most of the two weeks.
  • In pain, self-esteem is generally maintained. In depression,  feelings of worthlessness and self-depreciation are common and persist.


Depression can affect anyone, even someone who seems to live in relatively ideal circumstances.

Several factors can cause a triggering role:

Biochemistry:  Differences in certain chemicals in the brain can contribute to the symptoms of depression.

Genetics:  Depression can occur in families. For example, if an identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the disease at some point in life.

Personality:  People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress or generally pessimistic, seem more likely to experience depression.

Environmental factors:  Continued exposure to violence, neglect, abuse, or poverty can make some people more vulnerable to depression.

The deep emotional losses are capable of causing biochemical changes that trigger depression. These changes can cause the disease not immediately but later.

Other factors can be the loss of a job or the lack of ability to adapt to inevitable changes. It is not known exactly what causes depression, but several factors are identified as the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.


Depression is one of the most treatable mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% of people with depression finally respond positively to treatment. Almost all patients get some relief from their symptoms.

Before a diagnosis or treatment, a health professional must perform a complete diagnostic evaluation, including an interview and possibly a physical examination. In some cases, a blood test may be done to ensure the depression is not due to a medical condition such as a thyroid problem.

The evaluation consists of identifying specific symptoms, medical and family background, and cultural and environmental factors to reach a diagnosis and plan a course of action.

Medications: brain chemistry can contribute to an individual’s depression and can be a factor in their treatment. For this reason, antidepressants may be prescribed to help modify brain chemistry. These medications are not sedatives, “superior,” or tranquilizers. They are not addictive.

In general, antidepressant medications have no stimulating effect in people who do not experience depression. Antidepressants can produce some improvement within the first weeks of use. Full benefits may not be seen for two or three months.

If a patient experiences little or no improvement after several weeks, your psychiatrist can modify the dose of the medication or add or replace another antidepressant. In some situations, other psychotropic medications may be helpful.

It is important to tell your doctor if a medication does not work or if you experience side effects. Psychiatrists recommend that patients continue to take medications for six months or longer after the symptoms have improved.

Longer-term maintenance treatment may be suggested to decrease the risk of future episodes in certain people at high risk.

Psychotherapy:  Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is sometimes used alone to treat mild depression. For moderate to severe depression, psychotherapy is often used along with antidepressant medications.

It has been found that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective in treating depression. CBT is a form of therapy focused on the present and solving problems. It helps a person to recognize distorted thinking and then change behaviors and thinking.

Psychotherapy may involve only the individual but may include others. For example, family or couple therapy can help address problems within these close relationships.

Group therapy involves people with similar illnesses. Depending on the severity of the depression, the treatment may take a few weeks or more. In many cases, a significant improvement can be achieved in 10 to 15 sessions.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical treatment most often used for patients with severe major depression or bipolar disorder who have not responded to other treatments.

It involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia. A patient typically receives ECT two or three times per week for a total of six to 12 treatments.

This therapy has been used since the 1940s, and many years of research have led to significant improvements. It is usually administered by a team of trained medical professionals that include a psychiatrist, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse or medical assistant.

Self-help and coping: There are several things that people can do to help reduce the symptoms of depression. For many people, regular exercise helps create positive feelings and improve their mood.

Getting enough sleep regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol (a depressant) can also help reduce the symptoms of depression.

There is a cure

Depression is an actual disease, and there is help available. With a diagnosis and adequate treatment, most people with depression will overcome it.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, a first step is to see your family doctor or psychiatrist. Talk about your concerns and request a complete evaluation. This is the beginning of addressing mental health needs.