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The Definition of Major Depression

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/23/2011

Major Depression is a serious mental illness with overwhelming feelings of sadness and loneliness. The symptoms of depression are so severe that they interfere with daily living and may lead to serious consequences, including suicide.

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    The Definition of Major Depression and Its Serious Complications

    Major depression, also referred to as clinical depression and/or unipolar depression, is a mental health disorder that affects how the person thinks, feels and behaves. The feeling of sadness, loneliness and/or loss become so severe that they begin to interfere with normal daily activities, thoughts, mood, behavior and physical health. Major depression is the most severe category of depression, symptoms are persistent, severe and in many situations may lead the person to believe their life is not worth living. The symptoms of major depression may suddenly occur following a traumatic event or they could develop slowly over time due to the build up various disappointments and/or problems.

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    Symptoms of Major Depression

    The symptoms of major depression vary among the individual. Someone who is depressed may experience symptoms that are the complete opposite of another individual for example, some individuals sleep for extended periods of time while another person may be unable to sleep for longer than a few minutes at a time. Symptoms for major depression typically last for a minimum of two weeks and include at least five of the following:

    • A loss of interest and/or pleasure in activities usually enjoyed
    • Decrease in energy as well as chronic fatigue
    • Change in appetite which could include suddenly overeating or a lack of interest in food and loss of appetite
    • Mood that is consistently sad, depressed and/or anxious
    • Feelings of emptiness ,helplessness and worthless
    • Feeling inappropriately guilty
    • Behavior appears agitated, irritable and/or restless
    • Differences in usual sleeping patterns including sleeping more often and difficulties falling/staying asleep
    • Problems making decisions
    • Difficulties in concentration
    • Pessimistic and hopeless in regards to the future
    • Frequent thoughts about death and suicidal thoughts and/or actions

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    Cause of Major Depression

    There is not an exact known cause for major depression, however, there are a variety of factors that may relate to the disorder. Possiable factors include inherited traits, hormones, biological differences, neurotransmitters, early childhood trauma and traumatic life events.

    • Traits - It appears that depression is most noticeable in those who have a biological family member that also displays symptoms of major depression
    • Hormones - a change in hormones could be the result of menopause, thyroid problems and other medical conditions. These changes in the balance of hormones may trigger symptoms of depression
    • Biological - a physical change in someone’s brain, may be related to depression
    • Neurotransmitters - the brain chemicals that play a role in mood, may have a role in the symptoms of depression
    • Childhood trauma - traumatic events that occur during early childhood such as the loss of a parent and/or child abuse may result in a change in the brain that could make someone more susceptible to the symptoms of depression
    • Life events- financial problems, divorce, death of a loved one and stress are all life events that may trigger the onset of depression

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    Serious Complications Resulting From Major Depression

    Non-confronted and non- treated depression may result in additional behavioral, health and emotional problems that can affect all areas of life. Major depression is a serious illness and may result in serious complications including but not limited to substance abuse, social isolation, physical problems, homicidal and/or suicidal behaviors.

    • Substance abuse which includes the use of alcohol and/or street and prescription drugs is common among depressed individualities in attempt to self medicate and mask their symptoms, thoughts and feelings.
    • Social isolation is extremely common for individuals suffering with depression. They begin to lose interest in all activities they typically enjoy. The depressed individual may gradually begin to isolate from family, friends and work. They may become so well adjusted to isolation that they may also stray from keeping up their personal hygiene and may neglect household cleaning.
    • Physical problems and other psychological problems may occur. Major depression in a severe form may lead to psychosis that could include auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs). Depression can increase stress, which may increase the risk of physical problems such as heart problems.
    • Homicidal thoughts, behaviors and actions may occur with someone who is major depressed. Although homicidal actions are thought to be rare occurrences among depressed individuals, an impairment in judgment could lead to their vulnerability to cause harm.
    • Depressed individuals are at a high risk of suicidal thoughts and actions due to their feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and lack of self worth. They may have continuous thoughts about death and feel as though they are better off dead than being alive. As the symptoms and the illness worsens, their suicidal behaviors and thoughts increase.
    According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, major depression affects 15 million American adults in a given year. Women experience depression twice as frequently as men and for those who experience one episode of depression, more than half will continue to have relapse episodes of depression that occur as often as once to twice per year.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic: Depression (Major Depression) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175

    Psychology Information Online: Major Depression http://psychologyinfo.com/depression/major.htm

    National Alliance on Mental Illness: Depression http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=depression