What Causes a Depression Episode?
Depression episodes are a mood disorder characterized by feelings of excessive sadness, hopelessness, and low energy. Often, these episodes recur over a person’s lifetime, but some people experience single-event depression episode resulting from something like a difficult life event.
To qualify as a depressive episode, the symptoms of depression must go on for at least two consecutive weeks. Once they begin, the symptoms of a depression episode can last for weeks, months, or even longer.
Research is ongoing into the causes of depression, but we have identified these factors associated with depression episodes:
- Mild depression after childbirth is common and usually resolves quickly. However, for a minority of women, the ‘baby blues’ can evolve into a diagnosis of post-partum depression.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression triggered by environmental changes from summer to winter.
- Mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia often co-occur with depressive episodes.
- Genetics appears to play a role in how susceptible a person is to depressive episodes. However, many people experience depression without any family history of the condition.
- Traumatic early life events can alter the growth of the brain and nervous system in a child, causing chronic stress responses and resulting in depression symptoms later in life.
- Chronic medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, heart disease, chronic pain, cancer, and hypothyroidism, can cause people to experience depressive episodes.
- Personal factors, such as getting divorced, losing a job, and misuse of drugs and alcohol, can trigger depressive episodes.
Incidence and Symptoms of Depressive Episodes
Major depressive disorder strikes over 17 million adults each year in the U.S. Each of these people had at least one depressive episode in the previous year.
Many people with a major depressive disorder feel depressed and sad much of the time. However, for other people, episodes of depression are mingled with happier and more productive periods.
Depressive episodes can also be triggered by life stresses, like losing a job or the death of a loved one. In this case, the symptoms sometimes go away over time or when the stressful event is over. In other cases, a life event can trigger ongoing depression lasting longer than six months.
During a depressive episode, a person may experience many of these symptoms:
- Intense sadness and hopelessness
- Reduced energy levels
- Memory problems
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased interest in life activities
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Changes in eating habits
People who suffer from recurring depression often have difficulty recognizing when an episode is starting. Learning to identify the start of depressive episode and taking prompt action when one begins is helpful for gaining control over the symptoms.
Major depressive disorder and depressive episodes are serious mental health concerns, benefiting greatly from the help of a trained medical professional. Without help, untreated depression can lead to personal tragedies such as job loss, divorce, and even suicide.
Through treatments using medication, psychotherapies, lifestyle changes, and innovative new treatments, a person diagnosed with major depressive disorder and depressive episodes can gain control over their symptoms and life.