Major Depression: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments


Major depression, also known as unipolar or major depressive disorder, is a serious mood disorder characterized by a feeling of sadness, loss, anger, frustration or a lack of interest in outside stimuli.

Depression has been observed as a disruption of a normal lifestyle. Countless people in the throes of depression often feel worthless, lack of any appetite, withdraw from friends and family, have difficulty sleeping, and become agitated or lethargic. Most worrisome of all, people who are depressed can often run a high risk of suicide.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 6.7% of the population in the United States suffer from major depressive disorder in any given year. Younger adults and individuals with low incomes have a higher 12-month prevalence of the disorder.


Some common triggers or causes of major depression include:

  • Genetics and Biology

Twin, adoption, and family studies have linked depression to genetics. A change in brain activity is also associated with major depressive disorder. There is decreased activity in the left frontal lobe during the depression and a rise in activity following stabilization of mood. These discrepancies between over-active and under-active regions of the brain are the biological cause of major depression.

  • Brain Chemistry

Neurotransmitters in the brain are involved in mood regulation. Recent research indicates that changes in the function, number, and effect of neurotransmitters may play a significant role in depression.

  • Hormones

Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may cause or trigger depression. Women are especially prone to depressive disorders during times when their hormones are in flux, such as around the time of their menstrual period, pregnancy, and perimenopause.

  • Poor Nutrition

A poor diet can contribute to depression in several ways. A variety of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and diets high in sugar have been associated with depression.

  • Physical Health Problems

The stress of having a chronic illness may trigger an episode of major depression. In addition, certain illnesses, such as thyroid disorders, Addison’s disease, and liver disease, can cause depression symptoms.

  • Drugs

Drugs and alcohol can contribute to depressive disorders. Even some prescription drugs have been linked to depression.

  • Stressful Life Events

Stressful life events, such as losing a loved one, taking a high-stress job, and facing tough financial situations, are all known as causes of depression.


Major depression may occur during different episodes of a person’s life. Its symptoms mainly include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Irritability or frustration
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide

If depression is very severe, you may have hallucinations and delusions (false beliefs). This condition is called depression with psychotic features.


A diagnosis of depression is primarily based on:

  • Physical exam

In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem. Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask questions about your health.

  • Lab tests

Your doctor may order a complete blood count test or test your thyroid to make sure if it’s functioning properly.

  • Psychiatric evaluation

Your mental health professional may ask about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns.

  • DSM-5

Your mental health professional may use the criteria for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.


Fortunately, major depression is well understood in the medical community and is often easily treatable through a combination of medication and talk therapy.

  • Medications

Antidepressants include: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
(SSRIs) such as escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine(Prozac) and paroxetine(Paxil)

Medications such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety, and stimulant medications may be added for short-term use.

  • Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a general treatment by talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health professional. It can help the patient deal with the illness and ease some of the potential stresses.

  • Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy focuses on correcting current social dysfunction, primarily the “here-and-now” factors that directly interfere with social relationships.

  • Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy involves activity scheduling, self-control therapy, social skills training and problem-solving.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy

CBT depression treatment attempts to reverse irrational beliefs and distorted attitudes in a patient.

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

In ECT, electrical currents are passed through the brain to impact the function and effect of neurotransmitters to relieve depression.

Keywords: major depression.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.