What is Depression?

Symptoms, Causes, Assessments and Treatments

´ťâDepression is often described as the common cold of mental illness.Conservative figures estimate that one in five people will experience depression in their lifetime – one in four females and one in six males.

Despite its high prevalence in people of all ages, depression is treatable through the use of a range of effective lifestyle, nutritional, psychological and, where necessary, pharmacological options. The key is to identify the cause/s of depression and where possible, treat the cause. It is my opinion that for many people, depression is not being treated adequately because of either poor assessment, inappropriate treatment or neglect of important areas associated with a person’s specific circumstances. Although I am not against antidepressant medication to treat depression, I believe that it should not comprise of the first line of treatment. There are other treatments and lifestyle and nutritional modifications that should be tackled first (or at the very least used in conjunction with medication).

Signs of Clinical Depression

A Checklist to Help Identify Symptoms of Clinical Depression

There are many signs of clinical depression which can vary from one person to another. Identifying symptoms of clinical depression is important in the first step to recovery. This article provides a definition of depression along with many of the physical symptoms of depression and its impact on thoughts and behaviour.

Depression is often described as the common cold of mental illness. Conservative figures estimate that one in five people will experience depression in their lifetime – one in four females and one in six males.

Depression is more than having just a low mood or a period of sadness. Although its severity can range from mild to severe, it is a serious condition that can have debilitating effects on all areas of life. Common symptoms of clinical depression are outlined below:

Emotions Behaviours Thoughts Physical/Health
Sadness/ low mood


Irritability and frustration

A lack of confidence



Feeling overwhelmed

Numbness or flat affect

Stress and tension

Reduced social activities

Withdrawal from others

Increased time to complete tasks

Increased procrastination

Reduced engagement in pleasurable activities

Drug and alcohol use

Suicidal behaviours

Self harming behaviours

Although some negative thoughts may have always been present they now become more prominent. Thoughts may relate to negative descriptions about oneself, the future and the general environment. Suicidal thoughts and thoughts about death are also common. Fatigue and tiredness

Feeling run down or unwell

Headaches and muscle pain

Stomach upset or nausea

Sleep problems.

Loss or change in appetite

Significant weight loss or gain

Lack of interest in sex and/or sexual difficulties

** Along with the above, children and teens can also present with behavioural problems including aggression and behaviour outbursts, increasing opposition with parents and authority figures, school avoidance, separation anxiety, and sleep problems.

According to the psychiatric diagnostic manual known as DSM IV, a major depressive disorder is diagnosed when the criteria below is met:

  1. Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.
  2. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  3. The symptoms are not better accounted for by bereavement, i.e., after the loss of a loved one, the symptoms persist for longer than 2 months or are characterised by marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms, or psychomotor retardation.
  1. depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). Note: In children and adolescents, can be irritable mood.
  2. markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation made by others)
  3. significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. Note: In children, consider failure to make expected weight gains.
  4. insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  5. psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down)
  6. fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  7. feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick)
  8. diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others)
  9. recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

Despite many of these debilitating effects, depression is fortunately a condition that is treatable. Identifying the signs of clinical depression is an important first step, however, just being aware of the symptoms of clinical depression will not result in improvement. Depression is best treated when causes of depression are identified and targeted through effective treatment options.

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