Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by the following:
- persistent depressed or low mood
- diminished interest or pleasure in activities
- significant increase or decrease in appetite or weight
- insomnia or sleeping too much
- fatigue or loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- problems with thinking and concentration
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
The above list is not an exhaustive list of depressive symptoms, but it is similar to the diagnostic criterion used by clinical psychology professionals to diagnose depression. However, it is rarely so cut and dry. The vast majority of clients that seek treatment for major depression don’t have all of these symptoms in the way they are presented. In addition, they may have other symptoms that you can’t find on this list, but still point to depression. For example, men are far more likely to have bouts of anger during a depressive episode, while women will be likely to be more anxious or weepy.
Psychological clinicians have years of education and training in diagnosing mental disorders. This is necessary, as depression looks different for every person, and may also come alongside other mental disorders with a myriad of other symptoms. Clinicians are trained to tease out the most important symptoms and make diagnoses for their patients. Correct diagnosis is very important as it allows for correct treatment.
In the following section we will discuss mental disorders that are often found alongside depression.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Generalized Anxiety disorder, or GAD, is characterized excessive and uncontrollable anxiety and worry. This anxiety and worry happens every day, or nearly every day and interferes with normal life. Having difficulty sleeping and being easily fatigued during the day are also symptoms of GAD, both of which overlapping with symptoms of major depression. In addition, generalized anxiety and worry are common features associated with major depressive disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder commonly co-occurs with major depression, as chronic worry can cause depression, and depression can cause chronic worry.
Panic Disorder: Panic Disorder is characterized by intense, unexpected episodes of overwhelming terror and dread, which reoccur without warning. During these episodes sufferers have rapid or pounding hearts, dizziness, shakiness, sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, nauseousness and derealization. During a panic attack, sufferers worry that they are going crazy or having a heart attack. Although the symptoms of panic attacks and depression rarely overlap, it is common for people who have panic disorder to become depressed after having to deal with the constant fear of having another panic attack.
Eating Disorders: On the surface, eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder seem to have little to do with depression. However, it is understood by psychologists that eating disorders are accompanied by feelings of worthlessness or self-doubt. Some psychologists believe that eating disorders can be a way for sufferers to deal with their depression and anxiety by taking control of what they eat. In major depression, severe weight loss may also occur. However, most people with major depression do not have the obsessive thoughts about weight and weight loss.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse Disorder: Alcohol and drug abuse are commonly comorbid with major depressive disorder. The overuse and misuse of alcohol and use of drugs are frequently used to self-medicate. This means that people turn to drugs and alcohol to get relief from symptoms from other disorders such as major depression. Therefore, it is often very difficult for clients and their clinicians to tease out what is truly going on with the client.
If you feel you may have a disorder alongside depression, it is important that you bring your concerns to the attention of your clinician as quickly as possible.