Depression Signs and Symptoms

The category of depressive disorders contains several types of episodes that feature symptoms such as:

  • Pervasive sadness
  • Diminished mood
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Reduced ability to experience pleasure

Other characteristics of depressive disorders include disturbed or disrupted sleep patterns, diminished appetite, and decreases in sexual desire and functioning. Most people will experience temporary versions of these symptoms at various times in the course of a normal and healthy life, but for people with depressive disorders the symptoms can be so severe and distressing that they infringe upon the individual’s ability to function at an acceptable level.

When a person experiences a depressive episode, the experience may be classified according to the intensity and persistence of the symptoms. The following are the three most common types of depressive episodes: Depressive episodes may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending upon the amount and severity of the symptoms.

  • Mild depressive episodes will typically consist of two or three symptoms that, while causing some distress, do not render a person incapable of meeting their daily obligations
  • Moderate depressive episodes typically feature four or more symptoms of a severity or intensity that make it difficult for a person to meet the responsibilities of everyday life
  • Severe depressive episodes feature especially intense symptoms as well as profound diminishment in self-esteem, a general sense of self-loathing and/or worthlessness, disturbed sleep, and thoughts of suicide

Depressive disorders and depressive episodes can be difficult to endure and can have a profoundly negative impact on the quality, productivity, and satisfaction of a person’s life. However, it is important to understand that depressive disorders are treatable conditions. With effective professional care, people who struggle with mild, moderate, and/or severe depressive episodes can experience relief from their symptoms and can make the lifestyle changes that will empower them to avoid or overcome the onset of future depressive episodes.


The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has reported that about 25% of adult women and about 10% of adult men in the UK will require treatment for symptoms of depression at least once in their lives. The Office for National Statistics reports that about 10% of adult population in the UK will experience a depressive episode in any given year. A study that was published in the journal Psychiatry in the Elderly estimates that about 4 out of 10 older adults who reside in care homes and about 2 out of 10 older adults who live in the community will develop a depressive disorder.

Causes and risk factors for depressive disorders

The onset of depressive disorders may be influenced by several factors, such as the following:

Experts estimate that genetics are responsible for about 40% of the risk variance for developing a depressive disorder. People whose parents or siblings have a depressive disorder are as much as 400% more likely to also develop a depressive disorder than are people whose close family members have never experienced depression.

Two of the strongest environmental influences on the development of a depressive disorder are adverse experiences during childhood and exposure to stress.

Risk factors:

  • Gender (women are more likely to experience depression)
  • Being elderly, especially if living in a care home
  • Family history of depressive disorders
  • Prior mental illness
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Stressful life events
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Signs and symptoms of depressive disorders

The following are among the common signs that may indicate that an individual is struggling with a depressive disorder:

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
  • Expressions of sadness, worthlessness, and/or self-hatred
  • Diminished performance at work or in school
  • Multiple unexplained absences from responsibilities and obligations

Physical symptoms:

  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Problems with focus or concentration
  • Impaired judgment
  • Inability to make healthy decisions
  • Continued thoughts of death

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sense of worthlessness
  • Unwarranted guilt

Effects of depressive disorders

Depressive disorders can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, such as the following:

  • Substandard performance at work
  • Job loss
  • Unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Financial problems
  • Misuse of alcohol and other drugs
  • Decrease in physical activity
  • Failure to follow a healthy diet
  • Decline in physical health
  • Onset of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Exacerbation of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Isolation
  • Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts

Co-occurring disorders

Depressive disorders may put individuals at increased risk for the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Substance use disorders
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