Depression Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

It is normal to feel sad from time to time. But if you experience feelings of sadness for an extended period of time, along with other behavior and emotional changes, you may have depression.

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What is Depression?

People with depression regularly experience a strong sense of unhappiness most of the day, most days of the week, for several weeks or longer. Depression can make it very hard for people to fully participate in life. Some people experience a single episode of depression. Most people with depression will experience multiple episodes.

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What Causes Depression?

There is no one single cause of depression. Depression typically stems from a combination of factors, including one’s:

  • Temperament
  • Environment
  • Genes and biology

Previous mental health concerns (anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder or substance use) are associated with an increased risk for depression. Additionally, some medications, illicit drugs and medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of depression. Studies also show that certain cultural factors (race, ethnicity) and sex/gender issues are associated with an increased risk for depression.

boy on phone

Temperamental Causes

Within a few weeks of birth, humans start to display unique patterns of behavior. These traits, like one’s energy level and willingness to explore, will become the foundation of one’s personality.[1] One trait related to temperament, that is strongly associated with depression, is neuroticism. High levels of neuroticism are known to increase the risk of depression.[2] Additionally, higher levels of neuroticism make people more likely to experience feelings of “negative affect.” This includes feelings like anger, anxiety, self-consciousness, irritability, and emotional instability.[3]

Environmental Causes

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a significant risk factor for depression. ACEs include childhood traumas such as:

  • Experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse, violence, instability or neglect
  • Losing a family member to suicide or having a family member attempt suicide
  • Watching a family member struggle with substance use or mental health problems

ACEs are, unfortunately, quite common. Most people in the U.S. have experienced at least one ACE. Women and certain racial/ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience ACEs.[4] Racism and discrimination are additional environmental risk factors for depression.

Genetic & Biological Causes

To understand genetic risk factors for depression, look no further than your family history. If you have a close family member (parent or sibling) that has experienced depression, you may be more likely to experience depression yourself. Women, who face disproportionate risk factors for depression throughout their lives, also face an increased risk for depression during the premenstrual, postpartum and perimenopause periods.[5]

mother hugging daughter
couple on bench

Signs of Depression

The following symptoms are commonly experienced by those with depression:

  • Sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
  • Irritability (particularly in children and adolescents)
  • Changes in appetite, along with weight loss or gain
  • Changes in sleep patterns, along with decreased energy or fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
  • Crying easily

In cases of mild depression, individuals may appear to be functioning normally, although they have a much harder time getting through each day. With severe depression, an individual may struggle to get out of bed to dress or feed themselves. This inability to engage in the world can create serious problems at school, at work or in personal relationships.

Is it Depression or Grief?

Grief is not the same as depression. Following the loss of a loved one, it is normal to feel sadness caused by grief for weeks, months or years afterwards. However, some people may experience both grief and depression at the same time. When this occurs, the symptoms of depression tend to be more severe and longer lasting.

Health Risks of Depression

One of the most serious risks associated with depression is an increased risk of death. This is partly due to an increased risk of suicide.[6] Since people with depression tend to struggle to take care of themselves: getting dressed, eating regularly, and participating in work, school and social activities, they face increased risks for mental and physical health problems. Physical health problems are also associated with depression. This includes chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.[7]

Types of Depression Treatment

If you are struggling with depression, know that treatment for depression is widely available and can be very effective. The recommended treatment for depression is typically a combination of talk therapy and medication. While it can take several weeks, several months, or more to start feeling better, depression treatment works.

Learn about transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for depression.

Get matched with the exact support you need.

With one conversation, our mental health professionals will help you better understand what you’re going through and what you need.

We will meet you where you are, listen to your story in a therapeutic setting, and match you with the level of support that meets your struggle.

Talk Therapy for Depression

People with depression often have trouble getting through the day, due to low energy or a feeling that they just “can’t” function at work, at school or at home. If you’re struggling with depression, meeting with a therapist regularly can help you identify new approaches to getting through each day as you address troubling thoughts and frustrating behaviors that are hard habits to break. Here at Pathlight, our compassionate clinicians provide therapies that are known to help people recover from depression, including:

Medication Treatment

Many medications are approved by the FDA for treating depression. These medications can take at least a month or two before they start to relieve symptoms of depression. To find relief from sleep problems, appetite issues and trouble concentrating, consider adding therapy to your medication treatment. Therapy can help you identify new tools and coping skills, boosting your recovery.

Virtual Treatment

Since people with depression have a hard time leaving the house, virtual treatment for depression offers a convenient way to participate in treatment from the comfort of home. Growing in popularity, online depression treatment provides connection and intensive support to help you manage life’s many stressors, build resilience, and find new coping skills. While virtual outpatient therapy is one option for depression treatment, virtual intensive outpatient programs offer more support than outpatient therapy can provide. Virtual treatment is an ideal option for those who are:

  • Hoping to remain enrolled in classes as a student
  • Dealing with significant responsibilities as a parent or caregiver
  • Unable to take time off work for treatment
  • Unable to travel or have time constraints/other obstacles
  • Struggling to make progress with outpatient providers
  • Feeling isolated
  • Located far from in-person mental health treatment programs

Residential Treatment

For those living with severe depression, residential treatment offers 24-hour support in a highly structured environment. Residential treatment for depression includes medical, psychiatric and emotional support as well as:

  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Community meetings
  • Medication treatment
  • Medical supervision and care

Residential depression treatment is available for adults, children and adolescents.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

People with depression who are struggling at work, at school or in their personal lives may also benefit from a partial hospitalization program (PHP). At Pathlight, our PHP provides care and support for seven full days a week. Participants in our PHP programs return home at night, making it different from a 24-hour residential program. In PHP, you will find:

  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy, including addiction groups, peer support and skills-based groups
  • Art therapy, psychodrama and yoga

Intensive Outpatient Programs

For those who need mid-level support for depression, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) may be the best fit. Empowering patients to become active participants in their lives again, IOP is a more flexible option that provides support and care up to four days a week, typically after school or work. In IOP you can benefit from individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy. Virtual IOPs help many people recover from depression from the comfort of home.

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Find Help for Depression Today

At Pathlight, we offer effective, evidence-based treatment for depression and related mental health conditions. With treatment, you can learn how to manage your symptoms, and prevent new ones, so you can create a more healthy and balanced life. In treatment, you will learn:

  • What depression is and why it occurs
  • The causes and triggers of depression
  • How to change your thoughts and behaviors so depression isn’t so distressing
  • Skills to help you regulate your thoughts, feelings and reactions
  • How to move toward your life dreams and goals

With medications, talk therapy, peer group support and more, Pathlight is here to light your way toward recovery from depression.

Can I Recover from Depression?

When you begin treatment at Pathlight, if you’re like most of our patients, you will soon notice a significant increase in the following areas:

  • Feeling more accomplished
  • Noticing an increased quality of your relationships
  • Finding more meaning in your life
  • Feeling more positive emotions

You may also experience significant decreases in these areas following treatment:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dysfunctional attitudes
  • OCD
  • Trauma

Other positive outcomes noted by patients in our care include:

  • 84 percent of patients who completed our partial hospitalization program reported feeling satisfied with their treatment.
  • 89 percent of patients who completed our intensive outpatient program reported feeling satisfied with treatment.
  • 86 percent of patients completing PHP and 90 percent of patients completing IOP said that they would refer a friend or family member to our treatment center.

From your first call until you leave our care — and beyond — we can help to guide you on your own healing journey so you can start to feel better. We are very proud of the work we do every day as we support individuals towards better mental health and greater engagement and fulfillment in their lives.

Please call us at 877-711-1878 for a free, confidential consultation with a Master’s-level clinician or to learn more about treatment options for depression.

Depression Facts & Statistics

Depression increases the risk of death by suicide. In females with depression, one percent will die by suicide. Seven percent of men with depression will die by suicide.[8]

In adults, depression is most commonly experienced by those aged 18-29 in the United States.[9]

Around one in five adults in the U.S. have experienced depression in the past two weeks, with most experiencing mild symptoms.[9]

Asian adults (non-Hispanic) are least likely to experience depression when compared to other groups in the U.S. [9]

Females are more likely to experience depression than males. [9]

Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause are known to trigger mental health conditions, including depression, in women.[5]

In 2020, 17% of people aged 12-17 in the U.S. experienced depression. This number was higher in females (25.2%) than males (9.2%). One in four females in the U.S. aged 12-17 was depressed in 2020.[10]

Adolescents who identify as two or more races (multi-racial) had the highest rates of depression in the U.S. in 2020, at 29.9%.[10]

Depression treatment is most effective when started early.[10]

Depression FAQs

How do you know if you have depression?

If you are concerned that you might have depression, make an appointment today with a mental health professional. Psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists can ask you questions to determine if you have depression, and they can make recommendations for treatment and recovery.

Are there different types of depression?

Major depressive disorder, commonly known as depression, is one type of depressive disorder. Other depressive disorders include:

  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
  • Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder
  • Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition
  • Other Specified Depressive Disorder
  • Unspecified Depressive Disorder

What age groups are most at risk for depression?

In the U.S., young people aged 18-29 have the highest rates of depression. Rates of depression in the U.S. include:

  • 21% of people aged 18-29
  • 17% of people aged 12-17
  • 18.4% of people aged 45-64
  • 18.4% of people 65 and over
  • 16.8% of people aged 30-44[9,10]

What are three major signs of depression?

Depression can bring dozens of challenging symptoms that can be grouped into these three categories:

  • Changes in one’s thoughts and feelings (sadness, anxiety, irritability, worthlessness)
  • Changes in one’s energy, appetite or sleep habits (insomnia, weight changes, loss of interest in daily activities)
  • Having thoughts of suicide, death or dying

What is depression caused by?

There is no one single cause of depression. Sometimes, stressful or traumatic experiences in childhood or in one’s later years can contribute to depression. Other factors increasing the risk for depression include:

  • Genetics
  • Temperament
  • Sex/gender
  • Hormone changes
  • Race/ethnicity

What are signs of depression?

Depression symptoms are different for each individual. Five of the most common signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, worthless or irritable
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in one’s daily activities
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Thoughts of suicide, death or dying
  • Experiencing frequent physical ailments or chronic pain

Is it depression or anxiety?

Many symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap. Here is a brief comparison:

  • Depression — affects thoughts, feelings, sleep, appetite; may experience less interest or desire in normal life activities
  • Anxiety — affects thoughts, feelings, sleep, appetite; primary symptoms include excessive worry, phobias or fears; can make it difficult to manage one’s responsibilities

What happens if you don’t treat depression?

One of the most serious complications of untreated depression is suicide risk. It is estimated that 2-6% of people seeking treatment for depression die by suicide. This rate is higher in males than females. Depression also increases the risk for serious physical health problems including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

What causes depression to worsen?

Depression can worsen if you avoid treatment. Prompt treatment leads to the best outcomes. In women, depression can worsen during periods of hormonal change, such as during menstruation, postpartum and perimenopause. Age increases one’s depression risk. Depression is most common in those aged 18-29, as well as during adolescence.


[1] American Psychological Association: APA Dictionary of Psychology: Temperament. Accessed December 5, 2022.

[2] Kendler, K.S. & Gardner, C.O. (2011). A longitudinal etiologic model for symptoms of anxiety and depression in women. Psychol Med, 41(10): 2035-45.

[3] Widiger T.A., Oltmanns J.R. (2017). Neuroticism is a fundamental domain of personality with enormous public health implications. World Psychiatry, 16(2):144-145.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Violence Prevention. Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences. Accessed December 5, 2022.

[5] Altemus, M., Sarvaiya, N., Epperson, C. (2014). Sex differences in anxiety and depression clinical perspectives. Front Neuroendocrinol; 35(3): 320-300.

[6] American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs. Accessed December 5, 2022.

[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About Mental Health. Accessed December 5, 2022.

[8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Does depression increase the risk for suicide? Accessed December 5, 2022.

[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Symptoms of Depression Among Adults: United States, 2019. Accessed December 6, 2022.

[10] National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression. Accessed December 5, 2022.

Source: American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.).