According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 264 million people around the world suffer from depression. But you may be wondering, what exactly is it? And, do I have depression?

Depression is a feeling of sadness and/or emptiness that lasts for more than two weeks. It interferes with your level of motivation and ability to function in your daily activities. Depression can vary from mild to severe, ranging from a slightly “blue” mood to suicidal thinking.         

Signs and symptoms of depression

Taking an online test can be a good first step toward figuring out whether or not you’re depressed. We recommend taking the PHQ-9, a popular screener for depression.

The PHQ-9 will assess your symptoms according to the DSM-5 (the official manual of disorders that psychotherapists use) and estimate where you are on the spectrum (from “no depression” to severe). You can then bring your results to your actual psychotherapist for him or her to evaluate.

If you don’t have time to take an online test, here’s a list of widely known symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad or “empty” (i.e., emotionally numb)
  • Feeling guilty or worthless (for example, thoughts like “I’ve let everyone down”)
  • Feeling angry (having a “short fuse” or just feeling irritable or restless)
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in your sleep patterns (you can’t sleep or sleep too much)
  • Changes in your eating patterns (you eat much more or less than before)
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Lack of interest in your usual activities (suddenly you never “feel like” doing anything)
  • Suicidal thoughts

Keep in mind, however, that other possible causes of your symptoms need to be ruled out before you are diagnosed with depression. For example, taking drugs or having other medical conditions may also explain your symptoms. Or, if you also have symptoms of mania (such as an abnormally high level of energy and/or racing thoughts), that could instead point toward other conditions such as bipolar disorder.

Finally, a disturbing event or stressful situation, such as the loss of a loved one or a job, may be causing your feelings. This is not necessarily depression. Once you face and deal with those issues, your symptoms may lift.

Common types of depression

Depression can also come in many forms. Major/clinical depression, dysthymia, seasonal affective disorder, postpartum depression, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder are a few common examples of the types of depression that can occur.

  • Major depression (aka clinical depression) — You’ve consistently felt sad or empty and have experienced episodes where you cannot sleep, eat, or work for at least two weeks.
  • Dysthymia — You’ve felt “down” for most of every day for at least the past two years, but it hasn’t kept you from your daily functioning.
  • Seasonal affective disorder — Your depressive symptoms follow a seasonal cycle — typically you’ll feel depressed in the winter and “normal” in the summer, although the reverse is also possible.
  • Postpartum depression — You’ve experienced feelings of major depression either while you’re pregnant or during the first six months after your baby’s birth.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder — You feel sadness/emptiness during the week before your period. Then, it lifts during the week of menstruation and the week after that.

How to spot depression in different types of people

While depression has many common symptoms, it doesn’t always look the same in everyone. Here are some of the unique ways depression can show up in different people.

  • Men often manifest depression as irritability and not sadness, so they frequently go undiagnosed.
  • Older adults may experience memory difficulties or a decrease in desire to socialize or have sex. (For help with depression in older adults, see Kristin Kleppe or Dr. Erica Lehman.)
  • Kids may lose weight or refuse to go to school, while teenagers may become extremely sensitive, sleep too much, or use recreational drugs. (For help with depression in kids, see Carrie Kimpton Heald.)
  • New moms may experience mood swings, anger, or guilt. (For help with postpartum depression, see Pooja Sharma.)

Causes of depression

We don’t know for certain what causes depression, but several factors are said to be involved. A few of the physical factors are:

  • Researchers have isolated a gene in families where multiple people are depressed. They estimate that depression has a 40% chance of being inherited. Women also have a higher chance of inheriting it than men (a 42% chance compared to only 29% for men).
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters greatly affect your mood. When they’re not effective or not interacting with parts of your brain properly, you could experience depression.
  • A shift in your hormone balance can cause depression as well. This is often seen in women during times of postpartum and menopause, for example.

Lifestyle factors also can play a big role in depression. If you’ve experienced any of the following, you may want to pay closer attention:

  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as alcohol/drug use, poor diet, lack of exercise/sleep
  • Excessive worrying and negative thought patterns

Depression treatment options

So, after considering the question, “do I have depression?” you may think the answer is yes. Now what? First, you’ll want to make an appointment with a psychotherapist to be evaluated. Send us a message or call us for an appointment at our Irvine, California office if you are local. If the clinician you see determines you meet the criteria for depression, you have options.

Seeing a psychotherapist is highly recommended, especially for mild to moderate depression. Depending on your particular situation, a psychotherapist can help you identify and work through difficult life events and distorted thinking patterns that contribute to your depression.

Antidepressant medications can also be used to treat depression. They’re often successful with patients who are severely depressed and/or don’t respond to lifestyle changes and outside support.

When you need immediate help

A depressive episode may bring on suicidal thoughts. If you feel like you’re at risk of hurting yourself or attempting suicide, please call 911 or a suicide hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

If you are unwilling to call for professional help, please reach out to someone you know and trust.

—Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists