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Understanding the Characteristics of Major Depression

written by: AmyDawn • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/29/2011

The characteristics of major depression (also known as clinical depression, unipolar depression, or major depressive disorder) can sometimes be difficult to notice, especially since the onset of symptoms is often gradual.

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    Common Characteristics of Major Depression

    The common characteristics of major depression include thoughts and behaviors that have lasted almost constantly for a period of two weeks or more. A sudden loss of interest in hobbies, activities, or social events that were previously enjoyed by the individual is a very common characteristic. Individuals often describe this as a feeling of numbness or detachment. Friends and family might also notice the individual separating from others, giving away items that were once meaningful, and rarely laughing.

    Fatigue, irritability, and the feeling of just "not being good enough" tend to accompany feelings of hopelessness or despair. While energy levels frequently drop with major depression, irritability of the individual seems to increase. It is common for a patient to over-react or snap over petty things. Unplanned significant weight loss or weight gain, often due to anxiety related to the depression, or loss of appetite, is an important characteristic to be aware of in conjunction with other characteristics, since it is often mistaken for simply a change in diet or activity level.

    Often an individual suffering from major depression displays feelings of misplaced guilt or worthlessness. Feeling as if one is to blame or is at fault can increase the intensity of this characteristic. This characteristic of major depression is often noted when the individual has suffered abuse or trauma.

    Other characteristics include a posture that is commonly described as being slouched or bent with the head pointed downward. Lack of eye contact and minimal or sluggish movement is also noticed in some individuals.

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    Increased Severity

    Many people experiencing major depression have marked difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions. Assignments go unfinished, purchases aren't made, and even simple decisions like what to cook for dinner can be trying. Often times frustration builds, and these symptoms worsen. Lack of self-confidence, self-trust, and low self-esteem play a large role in the cause of these symptoms, and they are commonly accompanied by self-loathing behaviors such as acting out in various ways that cause self-harm or harm to others. Thoughts of death, suicidal ideations or suicide attempts are also commonly associated with severe cases of major depression.

    Insomnia (lack of sleep), or sleeping more than usual are also characteristics of major depression. Many times individuals will comment that they just "don't feel like getting up", or "can't sleep". And when they do nod off their sleep is restless or disturbed by nightmares.

    It is rare for these characteristics to display themselves individually when a person has major depression. They tend to present themselves in groups or pairs, helping to distinguish major depression from a minor depressive episode.