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Major depression is a mood disorder which is characterized by a depressed mood and a loss of interest in usually gratifying activities. This condition may require long-term treatment with pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy or both.
An important point to make is that major depression, like most mental health issues, is an illness which needs to be treated effectively. This condition doesn't occur due to a patient being weak or having a poor personality and one simply can't just come out of it. These patients need treatment with medication, counseling or both.

Causes and risk factors

The causes of major depression are relatively unknown but there are theories, hypothetical situations and triggers which do seem to make sense. These include the following issues.

  • Physical changes in the brain.
  • Changes in the function and effect of neurotransmitter hormones which are produced by the brain.
  • Genetic factors seem to be an important cause as these conditions seem to be inherited.
  • Traumatic events such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
  • Having a low self-esteem, being pessimistic or self-critical.
  • Being homosexual in an environment where there's no support.
  • Alcohol abuse or using illicit drugs.
  • Being diagnosed with chronic or terminal diseases like cancer.
  • Medications used for hypertension and insomnia.

Signs and Symptoms

During episodes of depression, signs and symptoms of major depression can appear for most of the day, nearly every day the episode occurs. These signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of interest in activities they used to find pleasure in. These activities can include hobbies, sport and sex.
  • Increased irritability, angry outbursts and frustration even over little things.
  • Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, tearfulness and sadness.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss. Some patients experience cravings for sugary foods and gain weight.
  • Tiredness and a decrease in energy levels can be experienced, even for tasks that take no effort to perform.
  • Sleep disturbances which include sleeping too little or too much.
  • There's trouble concentrating, thinking properly, remembering and making decisions.
  • Increased anxiety, restlessness and agitation.
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness and thus low self-esteem.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms can occur such as headaches, chest pains and generalized muscle aches and pains.
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings as well as behaviours and attempts.

Symptoms in children

Symptoms of major depression in children are similar to those in adults but there are some aspects that are relevant to them. These would include:

  • In younger children; refusing to go to school, being clingy, unexplained aches and pains and being underweight.
  • In teenagers; poor school attendance and performance, self-harm, using alcohol or drugs and avoiding social events and interactions.
Anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts and making plans to end their lives should be seen by a doctor or seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Complications

If major depression is left untreated it can lead to major emotional, physical and behavioural complications which will not only affect the patient, but their family members too. These complications can include the following and these patients need to seek medical attention immediately.

  • Physical illness and pain.
  • Obesity due to physical inactivity and increased calorie intake. This can result in chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
  • Substance and/or alcohol abuse.
  • Conflict situations with family members, friends and co-workers.
  • Self-mutilation.
  • Suicide attempts.
  • Increased risk of morbidity and premature death.
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