What Is Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)?


We often use the word “depressed” as a synonym for sadness. Grammatically speaking this may be correct. However, when the word depression is used, it often refers to a clinical condition many suffer from. According to the WHO, more than a quarter of a billion people, of all ages suffer from depression. Yes, the number is alarming and unbelievable but true. Because this is the case, it is important to have information on this illness. This may go a long way to help you or your loved one take steps to get help. 

Definition (Diagnosis)

When diagnosing depression, professionals take a combination of factors into consideration. The symptoms we look out for include but are not limited to significant,

  • feelings of depression almost all day, nearly every day
  • loss of interest in seeking pleasure and engaging in usual activities
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • slowing down of thoughts and movements, noticed by others
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • consideration of suicide / a desire to end one’s life
  • interference in carrying out one’s daily tasks
  • physical pain with no physical causes

* These symptoms must occur for at least two continuous weeks.


Apart from Major Depressive Disorder (often referred to as depression), other types of depression exist:

  • Major Depressive Disorder with specifiers such as:
    • Catatonia
    • Anxious distress
    • Peri/postpartum onset
    • Mixed features
    • Melancholic features
    • Seasonal pattern
    • Atypical features
    • Psychotic features 
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder 
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)  
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder  
  • Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder  
  • Manic Depressive Disorder (Bipolar Disorder)
  • Cyclothymic Disorder

Causes/Risk Factors

While the exact cause of depression is still unknown, some factors are closely linked with a person’s likelihood to develop depression.

Genes. People with a blood relative with this disorder, are more likely to develop depression than those without one. The closer the blood relative(parent vs aunt) the higher the likelihood. However, this also does not guarantee that they will develop depression. Other factors contribute to whether or not this will happen.

Biology. Another likely cause of depression is abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are called neurotramitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine).

Trauma. Research shows that people with depression often have experienced some kind of trauma before. Examples include sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse, assault, witnessing a traumatic event, and loss of a loved one.

Medication. Some medications such as antidepressants, some corticosteroids, birth control, antibiotics, ADHD medication, and others are likely to have depression as a side effect.


Psychological – Inability/difficulty to think positively, to think happy thoughts, to see any silver linings; negative view of self, of the world and of the future; memory difficulties, decision-making difficulties, etc.

Physiological – Drastic weight loss or weight gain, fatigue, lower interest in sex, weakened immune system, higher risk of death after a heart attack, etc.

Financial Loss – Medication, addictions, loss of employment, cost of treatment.  

Social – Loss of relationships, inability to form new relationships, inability to function optimally at work.


Medication (antidepressants)


Electroconvulsive Therapy (Only in extreme cases)

NB. It is important to note that there are cultural differences in the expression and experience of depression. For example, in some parts of the world, people with depression seek help mainly for physical symptoms such as physical pain, lack of sleep, appetite problems, and fatigue. In such cultures, depression is not seen as an illness. They believe that sadness is something you can get over. This is common in Africa. If you or anyone you know may be struggling with depression, try to get the help that is needed.

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