Definition of Depression:
In a clinical context, “depression” is defined as a mental disorder characterized by a persistent and pervasive low mood. The low mood is accompanied by lowered self-esteem, a loss of interest in hobbies and other activities, and changes in appetite and sleeping habits. This condition is not directly related to a condition or event, such as bereavement, and persists for longer than two weeks. Depression can range in severity from mild to severe, and is often accompanied by other mental health conditions like anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of Depression:
Mental health professionals use a specific set of diagnostic criteria to identify depression. Symptoms that must be met for a depression diagnosis include:
- Low mood and loss of pleasure in activities, persisting for at least two weeks. The chronic low mood and anhedonia (loss of pleasure in activities) must have persisted for two weeks or more, in order for a physician to make a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder.
- Mood changes from baseline. The low mood characteristic of depression should be significantly different from a person’s “baseline,” or typical mood and disposition prior to onset.
- Impaired function. Depression interferes with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, including work, academic performance, and interpersonal relationships.
Additionally, a diagnosis of depression requires 5 of the following 9 additional symptoms:
- Chronic depression and irritability. The person reports subjectively low or empty mood, or alternatively, irritability. This may also be noticeable to other people.
- Anhedonia. Anhedonia is a clinical term for a loss of pleasure in activities that the person normally enjoyed. Hobbies and pastimes may fail to elevate the depressed mood.
- Weight and appetite changes. A significant change in weight (5%), either upwards or downwards, is typical of depression. Patients may also report changes in appetite.
- Sleep changes. Depression often results in either hypersomnia and fatigue, or insomnia.
- Change in activity. Depression is associated with psychomotor agitation or psychomotor retardation.
- Fatigue or loss of energy. Depression, especially with psychomotor retardation, will often result in daily fatigue, in contrast to energy levels prior to onset.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness. People with depression often report feeling guilty, or having low self-esteem and self-worth. This exacerbates the low mood.
- Poor concentration. Depression can diminish a person’s ability to concentrate, leading to poor attention and short-term memory problems.
- Suicidal ideations. Patients with moderate to severe depression may often think about suicide. This can be primarily ideational, with no immediate plans to actually carry out their ideas. However, suicidal thoughts of any kind are always taken seriously, and treated with urgency by mental health professionals.
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