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Identifying and Treating Major Depression

Symptoms of Major Depression

Five or more of the following nine symptoms must last for two weeks or more for a person to be diagnosed as suffering from major depressive disorder:

  • Depressed mood for most of the day, nearly every day (adolescents and children tend to show depression as irritability and anger rather than the sadness and withdrawal of adults);
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities the person once found enjoyable;
  • Insomnia (too little sleep) or hypersomnia (too much sleep);
  • Suicidal feelings or frequent thoughts of death;
  • Feelings of either being slowed down or restless for most of the day;
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt;
  • Pervasive fatigue or loss of energy;
  • Significant but unintentional weight loss or weight gain or decrease or increase of appetite; and
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions.

It Isn’t Always Depression

Medical conditions can cause symptoms that look like depression. These include diabetes, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, head trauma, hepatitis, AIDS, or other infectious diseases. Use of steroids or withdrawal from cocaine, alcohol, or amphetamines can also produce depressive symptoms. Finally, normal bereavement after the loss of a loved one can look very much like depression. A careful assessment includes screening for medical problems and questions regarding what else may be going on in a person’s life that might produce symptoms that look like depression.

What To Do if You Are Depressed

  • Don’t isolate. Get help! Fight the impulse to withdraw under the covers and shut out the world. Use whatever energy you have to find treatment. Very few people are able to handle this alone. The suicidal feelings may be only a symptom of the illness but they are powerful nonetheless. Find the help and support you need to keep you from acting on impulses to hurt yourself (either actively—by purposefully doing something self-destructive—or passively—by not doing something you need to do to keep yourself out of danger and in good health). Family, good friends, and helping professionals can lend you some of their optimism and energy when your own are flagging.
  • Get rid of guns and other destructive things. If you feel suicidal and there are guns, pills, or any other means for committing suicide in the house, get rid of them. It’s been found that when people don’t have access to a means to kill themselves, the impulse to do so usually passes. If there is a means readily available, it is difficult to resist the impulse to self-harm. Confide in friends or family members and ask them to hold your gun, medicine, or whatever else you feel you might use to hurt yourself.
  • Identifying and Treating Major Depression

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Identifying and Treating Major Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.