What is one of the most common symptoms of poor mental health?

One of the most common symptoms of poor mental health is persistent sadness or depressed mood. This includes feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful most of the time.

What causes persistent sadness or depressed mood?

There are many potential causes of persistent sadness or depressed mood, including:

  • Biochemical factors – Imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine can contribute to depression.
  • Genetics – Having a family history of depression increases risk.
  • Early childhood trauma – Abuse, neglect or loss during childhood makes depression more likely.
  • Stress – High levels of stress and adversity may trigger depression.
  • Personality traits – Being overly self-critical or pessimistic can contribute.
  • Medical conditions – Illnesses like cancer, diabetes or thyroid disorders can lead to depression.
  • Medications – Some prescription drugs may have depression as a side effect.
  • Drug/alcohol abuse – Chronic substance abuse often co-occurs with depression.
  • Relationships – Going through a breakup, loneliness or isolation can trigger depression.

Often, it is a complex interaction of multiple factors that leads to depression in a given individual. The key point is that persistent sadness is not due to personal weakness or a character flaw. There are legitimate medical, psychological and social factors that cause depression.

How common is depression?

Depression is very common, impacting more than 264 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, around 17.3 million adults (7.1% of the population) experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Depression can develop at any age, but often begins in the late teens to mid 20s. Women are diagnosed with depression about twice as often as men. However, this may partly reflect that women are more likely to seek help and receive a diagnosis.

What are other key symptoms of depression?

In addition to sad mood, other common symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest – Losing interest in activities and hobbies that were previously enjoyable.
  • Changes in appetite – Increased or reduced appetite compared to usual.
  • Weight changes – Unintended weight loss or weight gain unrelated to dieting.
  • Sleep disturbances – Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping excessively.
  • Physical agitation – Restlessness or feeling tense and unable to relax.
  • Fatigue – Feeling tired and low in energy all the time.
  • Low self-esteem – Feeling worthless or excessively guilt.
  • Concentration issues – Trouble focusing, making decisions and remembering details.
  • Suicidal thoughts – Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

If five or more of these symptoms are present most of the day, nearly every day for two weeks or longer, it may indicate major depression according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

How does depression impact daily life?

Depression can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life:

  • Work/school – Depression reduces productivity and concentration. It is the leading cause of workplace disability worldwide.
  • Relationships – Irritability, social withdrawal and low libido strain personal relationships.
  • Self-care – Motivation and energy for basic self-care like bathing, eating healthy and exercising decrease.
  • Enjoyment – Loss of interest drains the pleasure from hobbies, social activities and life in general.
  • Physical health – Depression worsens chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and pain disorders.

Without treatment, depression can completely disrupt and upend a person’s life. Missed work, relationship turmoil and health decline are common. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What are the different types of depressive disorders?

There are multiple types of depressive disorders with varying severity, duration and presumed causes:

  • Major depression – Severe, episodic depression with symptoms most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks.
  • Persistent depression – A chronic, less severe form of depression lasting 2 or more years.
  • Bipolar disorder – Cycles of depression and mania (elevated mood and energy).
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Recurrent seasonal pattern of depression in winter months.
  • Psychotic depression – Major depression accompanied by delusions, hallucinations or paranoia.
  • Postpartum depression – Depression arising in new mothers within 4 weeks of childbirth.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – Depressive symptoms triggered by hormonal changes before menstruation.

A person may undergo one isolated bout of major depression, have multiple discrete episodes over a lifetime or battle persistent depression for years. There are complex brain and biological mechanisms underlying each type of depressive disorder.

When should someone seek help for depression?

If you notice five or more depression symptoms persisting for two weeks or longer, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Here are some specific signs that make seeking help more urgent:

  • Suicidal thoughts or planning a suicide attempt
  • Hallucinations or delusional beliefs
  • Catatonia – not moving, speaking or reacting
  • Severely neglecting personal care
  • Extreme weight loss from not eating
  • Manic behavior – euphoria, risky activities, excessive energy and speech

Seeking help promptly gives you the best chance of overcoming depressive episodes and preventing complications. Many different treatment options are available to address depression.

What are the treatment options for depression?

Depression is a highly treatable condition with a diverse range of effective treatment options. The most commonly used are:

  • Medications – Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs can help normalize brain chemicals.
  • Psychotherapy – Talk therapy techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provide coping strategies.
  • Brain stimulation – Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) passes electric currents through the brain to induce seizures that relieve depression.
  • Light therapy – Daily exposure to bright artificial light lifts mood in seasonal affective disorder.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise boosts mood through endorphin release and self-esteem boosts.
  • Supplements – Some supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids and SAM-e may have antidepressant properties.

Most people with depression use a combination approach. For example, medication to stabilize mood along with CBT to modify thought and behavior patterns. Treatment takes time but persistence pays off – up to 80-90% of people treated for depression experience substantial improvements.

What lifestyle changes help manage depression?

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can complement conventional depression treatments and help overcome depressive episodes:

  • Stress management – Practices like yoga, meditation and deep breathing minimize stress.
  • Balanced nutrition – Eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains stabilizes blood sugar.
  • Sufficient sleep – Aim for 7-9 hours per night and go to bed/wake up at consistent times.
  • Social connection – Spend time with supportive friends and family doing fun activities.
  • Nature exposure – Spending time outside in green spaces boosts mood.
  • Behavior activation – Gradually re-engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy.

Making incremental lifestyle improvements can substantially boost treatment effectiveness. Small steps add up.

What are some depression self-care strategies?

Incorporating daily self-care strategies is crucial for managing depression. Helpful techniques include:

  • Taking medications and supplements as directed.
  • Attending therapy and other treatments consistently.
  • Writing in a journal to process emotions.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
  • Reading uplifting books or listening to podcasts.
  • Going outside for a short walk every day.
  • Doing easy home workouts like yoga or stretching.
  • Creating a daily routine to provide structure.
  • Spending time on a creative hobby like music or arts.
  • Listening to cheer-up playlists to boost your mood.

Being gentle and patient with yourself is vital. Celebrate small accomplishments. Over time, daily self-care habits accumulate and help overcome depressive episodes.

What complications are associated with untreated depression?

Leaving depression untreated can lead to a number of complications:

  • Suicide – Depression is a leading risk factor for suicide. Suicidal ideation should always be addressed immediately.
  • Self-harm – Some people engage in cutting or other forms of self-injury to cope with emotional pain.
  • Relationship conflict – Irritability and emotional withdrawal strain relationships with partners, friends and family.
  • Job loss – Difficulty concentrating and low motivation lead to poor work performance.
  • Substance abuse – Drinking alcohol or abusing drugs is a common but unhealthy coping mechanism.
  • Health decline – Loss of motivation worsens self-care and exacerbates medical conditions.

This highlights the importance of seeking help early before depression spirals out of control. Prompt treatment helps avoid years of dysfunction and regret.

What steps maximize treatment success?

Certain strategies can help you get the most out of depression treatment:

  • See a mental health specialist like a psychologist or psychiatrist for evaluation.
  • Be completely open about your symptoms so your provider understands your specific situation.
  • Commit to following your treatment plan consistently, even if progress seems slow initially.
  • Express any concerns about medications or therapy so adjustments can be made.
  • Enlist loved ones to support your treatment efforts.
  • Make lifestyle changes to manage stress, improve diet, increase physical activity, etc.
  • Keep track of your mood and symptoms so you can gauge improvements.
  • Have patience and persist through ups and downs in your recovery.

Working closely with a skilled provider and taking an active role sets you up for depression remission. Many tools exist, so keep trying until you find your optimal treatment mix.

When are more intensive treatments necessary?

In severe or treatment-resistant depression, more aggressive interventions may be required. These include:

  • Hospitalization – For people with active suicidal intent/plans or self-neglect issues.
  • ECT – Electroconvulsive therapy can quickly lift severe, delusional or suicidal depression.
  • rTMS – Transcranial magnetic stimulation activates underactive brain areas using magnetic pulses.
  • VNS – Vagus nerve stimulation uses an implanted nerve stimulator to treat chronic depression.
  • Ketamine – Sub-anesthetic doses of ketamine via IV infusion can rapidly relieve symptoms when other treatments fail.

Treatment resistance affects around 30% of depression sufferers. A psychiatric hospital stay or one of these aggressive treatments may be required to stabilize mood in preparation for ongoing maintenance with therapy and medication.

Are there ways to prevent depressive episodes?

While there are no guarantees, certain strategies may help reduce the frequency and severity of future depressive episodes:

  • Take medications and supplements for your depression as prescribed.
  • Stay in therapy even during periods when your mood is good.
  • Make regular lifestyle improvements like exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep.
  • Learn to recognize your personal depression warning signs like isolation or changes in appetite.
  • Have an emergency plan if you experience significant worsening of symptoms.
  • Practice long-term stress management with meditation, yoga, journaling, etc.
  • Set up a strong social support network of friends and loved ones.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol since it is a depressant.

While recurrent depression can feel hopeless, long-term remission is possible. Taking prevention steps minimizes relapse risk and keeps your mood stable.

What is the long-term outlook for people with depression?

With effective, ongoing treatment and self-care, the long-term outlook for depression is very good for most people. Up to 80-90% of people achieve substantial relief from depressive symptoms when they find the right treatments and make lifestyle changes to support their mental health.

Many recover completely after one or two episodes of major depression. Others battle more stubborn persistent depression or have recurrent depressive episodes over their lifetime. Having a relapse does not mean treatment has failed. It simply indicates that adjustments to your treatment plan may be needed.

Look at depression treatment as a lifelong journey. There may be occasional setbacks, but most people enjoy decades of high mood, productivity and purposeful living while managing this condition.

What supports exist for people with depression?

There are many helpful resources for dealing with depression:

  • Online forums to exchange coping strategies
  • In-person and online support groups
  • Crisis hotlines to call if you are feeling suicidal
  • Free or low-cost mental health clinics
  • Charities that subsidize treatment costs
  • Short-term disability benefits for time off work
  • Accommodations like a modified work schedule
  • Family medical leave if needed for treatment
  • An emotional support animal to provide companionship

You do not have to tackle depression alone. Asking for help and reaching out to loved ones and resources is a sign of strength. Many people who have been through depression stand ready to listen, assist and inspire you.


Persistent sadness or depressed mood is one of the most common symptoms indicating poor mental health. Depression negatively impacts people’s mood, relationships, work performance, physical health and quality of life.

Fortunately, a wide range of treatment options exist including medications, psychotherapy, brain stimulation, lifestyle changes and self-care strategies. While depressive episodes can be extremely painful, most people respond well to treatment and go on to enjoy full and happy lives.

The key takeaway is that depression is treatable even when your mood feels hopeless. Reach out to mental health professionals and loved ones. Take advantage of resources available. With time, proper treatment and self-care, you can overcome depression and reclaim your joy.

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