Depression Causes, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Often times the signs of depression can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of depression.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

We’ve all had those days where nothing seems to go right. We get yelled at by our boss, we run late getting home, and we burn dinner, or yell at our kids. We go to bed that night feeling low about ourselves. Generally, this depression doesn’t last and it doesn’t affect our life very much. Soon, things look brighter. Depression is more than just having a bad day or a couple of bad days. Depression is a serious mental illness that involves being sad and depressed for weeks or months on end and needs prompt treatment and management to overcome.

Depression is a chronic disorder that can impact every part of our lives. Some days, we may not feel it’s even worth it to try and get out of bed in the morning. We’re instilled with a sense of helplessness and see a bleak future and wonder if it’s even worth it to continue trying to fight the horrible feelings inside us. When depression begins to impact our life in negative ways, it’s time to accept that it’s more than a bad mood.

Depressive disorders run the spectrum of types of mood disorders. Depressive disorders include major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, all of which have different symptoms and treatments.

Major depression is the form of depression most commonly experienced when people discuss depression. The grouping of symptoms that a person suffering major depressive disorder feels significant and disrupts their ability to properly work, go to school, eat, sleep, and enjoy hobbies and other recreational activities. A disabling episode of depression may occur once or many times during your lifetime.

Dysthymia is another depressive disorder that involves chronic symptoms of depression but does not fully disable one from living his or her life, however does keep that person from functioning well or feeling happy. Many who have dysthymia also experience an episode of major depression during their lifetime.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a very intense and often disabling form of premenstrual syndrome that can cause such extreme shifts in mood that you’re unable to properly work or maintain relationships. Symptoms of PMDD often begin seven to ten days after the beginning of a woman’s menstrual cycle and continues for the first few days of her period.

Depression can begin at any age but the likelihood of onset increases immensely during puberty, with incidence of depression peaking in the 20’s. The presentation of symptoms can begin in such forms that it may not be immediately recognizable which is why individuals must take their emotional “temperature” now and again to assess how they are functioning.

While depression is a common disorder, many people who suffer from depression do so without ever seeking help because they don’t feel things will improve for them. Depression isn’t a character flaw, a weakness, or caused by something inherently wrong with us. It’s an illness like diabetes that can be treated and managed with proper care and help.


Depression statistics

In a twelve-month period in the United States the prevalence of major depressive disorder is about 7%. There are marked differences in age groups that are affected, with the highest prevalence occurring in individuals between the ages of 18-29. Women experience 1.5-3 fold higher rates of depression beginning during adolescence.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

As is the case with many illnesses, there’s likely not one specific reason that causes one person to develop depression while another does not. It’s likely that depression is a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors working together.

Genetic: Certain types of depression do tend to run in families, although people who have no familial history of depression can develop depression. Current research suggest that certain genes working together with other factors may increase the risk for a person developing depression.

Biological: Brain scans of people who have depression have indicated that areas of the brains of people who have depression appear different than those without depression. In particular the areas of the brain responsible for mood, cognition, sleep, appetite, and behaviors do appear different. Also, the levels of certain neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating mood may be lacking in some individuals with depression.

Environmental: One of the triggers for the development of depression is a traumatic event. This traumatic event can be the loss of a loved one, job or child, moving, divorce, or other events that cause great agony. Depression does occur without a traumatic trigger in some instances.

Psychological: Many people who are experiencing depression may attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to reduce the feelings they’re experiencing. This can lead to addiction and alcoholism. In addition, other mental health disorders may increase the likelihood that major depressive disorder will develop.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

Many people who have depression experience similar symptoms, while others may not recognize their experiences as depression. Common symptoms of depression include:


  • Anger
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Periods of anxiety
  • Feeling empty inside
  • Hopelessness
  • Pessimism about the future
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Agitation


  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Restlessness
  • Distractible
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Challenges in recalling details of events or instructions
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Social isolation
  • Slowed thinking
  • Decreased participation in activities once enjoyed
  • Crying jags without reasons
  • Feeling that even the smallest tasks are insurmountable


  • Decreased energy
  • Slowed movements
  • Exhaustion
  • Overeating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased in sex
  • Suicide attempts
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss or weight gain


  • Guilt
  • Frustration
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anger
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling worthless


Effects of depression

Depression is a very serious illness that can cause massive problems in every area of a person’s life. If untreated, depression can cause health, behavioral, and emotional problems that can affect everything in your world. Effects of depression include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Problems at work or school
  • Conflicts within the family
  • Problems with romantic relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Self-mutilation
  • Premature death from health conditions
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

Depression is commonly complicated by the addition of other mental illnesses which can make treatment more complex. However, treatment of depression is almost always successful. Other disorders that occur with depression include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Alcoholism
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Social phobia
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease