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What is Depression? Types, Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 4/21/2021

Despite being one of the most widely diagnosed mental health conditions in the world, depression can . It’s a heavy, pervasive sadness that hangs over daily life. Even finding relief can feel hopeless. 

If you’re concerned that you may be depressed, there is help available. You don’t have to fight this battle alone.

What is Depression? 

Depression is a common type of mental illness called a mood disorder. More than 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization

According to the CDC, 80 percent of adults with depression report at least some difficulty with social, work, and home activities because of the condition. 

In fact, a diagnosis with clinical depression requires a distinct interference with everyday life, such as sleep, interest in normally enjoyed activities, changes in appetite, and more. 

Specifically, symptoms should be apparent most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks.

Many people with depression find some relief by seeking mental health help, such as therapy or medication.

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Causes of Depression

There is no single direct cause of depression — it is a complex mental disorder. Both negative life events and biological imbalances can contribute to the disorder.

Life Events

Sometimes, negative life events can trigger depression, including: 

  • job loss

  • sudden traumatic medical conditions

  • death of a loved one

  • Divorce, or separation from a partner

Beyond these examples, substance abuse and constant stress are also risk factors for depression. 

Biological Factors

Harvard Health reports that some genes can make people more susceptible to depression and impact how they respond to treatment. 

Additionally, the following medical problems have been identified as potential depression triggers: 

  • thyroid conditions

  • sluggish brain cell production

  • imbalance of certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters

  • size of your hippocampus

Learn more about potential causes of depression.

Types of Depression 

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, is the most common and pervasive type of depression, and when people talk about “severe depression” or “clinical depression,” this is largely what they’re referring to. 

To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, you must have experienced five or more symptoms for at least two weeks (a major depressive episode), causing distress and impairment in your normal functioning and they can not be explained away by another illness or medication.

Dysthymia

Dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. Dysthymia is very similar to major depressive disorder but is characterized a little differently. To be diagnosed with dysthymia, the patient must have experienced a depressed mood for at least two years, as well as at least two of the following five symptoms: poor appetite (or overeating), a persistent feeling of hopelessness, low self-esteem, insomnia, or hypersomnia, consistent low energy or fatigue or poor overall concentration or decision making.

Psychotic Depression

If you have depression paired with psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations, you may be suffering from psychotic depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that generally happens in the darker, winter months. It may be accompanied by increased sleep, weight gain, weight loss, and social withdrawal, and it returns every year. 

Although it happens less often, SAD may affect people in spring and summer, too.

Bipolar Disorder

While a different diagnosis than depression, people with bipolar disorder experience intense bouts of depression before swinging to extreme highs, known as mania.

Other Types of Depression

  • Postpartum depression is unique to women after giving birth. Unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression shares the same severe sadness as major depression.

  • Like bipolar disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a diagnosis separate from depression. Symptoms of PMDD include a depressed mood, irritability and anxiety that are much more severe than typical premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. 

Symptoms of Depression

Depending on the severity and type of depression you suffer from, you may experience several of the following depression symptoms

  • Persistent and pervasive sadness

  • Pessimism and hopelessness 

  • Guilty feelings 

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed 

  • Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness 

  • Low self esteem

  • Moodiness 

  • Changes in appetite

  • Changes in sleep 

  • Fatigue and loss of energy

  • Trouble focusing or making decisions

  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death

  • Distancing from family members or loved ones

It’s important to note: these feelings aren’t fleeting. Or, as the American Psychiatric Association puts it: “Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression.” Sadness is a normal emotion; depression is pervasive and life-altering.

Depression Treatments 

Depression is treatable, but the most effective treatment may be different from one person to the next. Consulting with a mental health professional can help steer you towards the best treatment options. Depression treatment may include:

Medication

There are several different types of antidepressant medications. One of the more popular is a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. 

These drugs work to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin influences mood and sleep, among other things. 

These medications are prescribed by a healthcare professional. Although SSRIs are a common recommendation from health professionals, there are SSRI alternatives (such as other types of antidepressants) if SSRIs are not for you.

Certain medications may have side effects such as weight gain or insomnia. Despite this, working with your healthcare provider to find the right medication for your mental health needs is important; taking the right medication for depression can far outweigh any possible side effects.

Get in touch with a healthcare professional with hims online psychiatry.

Psychotherapy

Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you recognize disordered thinking that may be worsening your depressive symptoms. 

Additionally, talk therapy can help you work through past trauma or relationship issues that could shape your behavior and general well-being today. 

Find out about hims online therapy options.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

In use since the 1940s, “shock therapy” is still occasionally used to treat major depression that isn’t responsive to other treatment types. 

In other words, your healthcare provider may recommend this only after trying therapy and medications, to no avail. 

It’s also specifically indicated in people with severe major depression that drastically impairs daily functioning.

Healthy Lifestyle

In addition to professional treatment, carving out a healthy lifestyle is always a good option to aid in depression relief. Some healthy changes you can make today are: 

  • Frequent exercise

  • Healthy diet 

  • Supplements and vitamins 

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule 

  • Meditation

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Vitamins and Supplements

Normal levels of vitamins and minerals in your body can be good for your overall health, including your mental health. 

Some people with depression take vitamins and supplements as an aid to other depression treatments or to try to prevent depressive episodes. These include:

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin C

  • B Vitamins

  • Zinc

  • Rhodiola

  • Saffron

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • NAC (N-acetylcysteine) 

  • St. John’s Wort

  • Creatine

  • Magnesium

  • Melatonin

Learn more about how to fight depression.

However, it’s also important for us to note that vitamin and supplements must not be used as potential replacements for treatment. The science behind the efficacy of many of these supplements or vitamins for depression is thin.

If you’re interested in vitamin supplementation to help assist in your depression treatment, your first call should be to your healthcare provider.

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. The National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/
  2. World Health Organization. (2020, January 30). Depression. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  3. Brody, D. J., et al. (2018, February 13). Products - Data Briefs - Number 303 - February 2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db303.htm
  4. What causes depression? Harvard Health. (2019, June 24). https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression
  5. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Managing Depressive Symptoms in Substance Abuse Clients During Early Recovery. (2008). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64063/
  6. Patel R.K. & Rose G.M. Persistent Depressive Disorder. (Updated 2021 July 1). In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541052/
  7. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, October 25). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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