Department of Psychiatry
Penn Behavioral Health

Center for Psychotherapy Research

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What is Depression?

Symptoms of Depression

The number and severity of the symptoms can vary from one person to another. Whereas some people experience only a few symptoms, other people experience many. Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or enjoyable activities, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Problems sleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Persistent physical complaints such as headaches or chronic pain

Causes of Depression

In some families, major depression appears to occur in each generation. However, there does not have to be a family history of depression for it to occur. People who have low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism or who are readily overwhelmed by stress, are also prone to depression. People with medical illnesses such as stroke, a heart attack, cancer, or hormonal disorders often experience depressive symptoms as well. These symptoms may then make the medical condition worse or prolong recovery. A serious loss, difficult relationship, financial problem, or any stressful (unwelcome or even desired) change in life patterns can also trigger a depressive episode. Very often, a combination of factors is involved in the onset of a depressive disorder.

Definitions adapted from:
Depression, NIH Publication No. 00-3561, May 2002, and Depression (Unipolar) August 2002

Pertinent websites

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