Major Depressive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Depression is a serious, complex, and often debilitating mental illness. 

Like most other mental disorders, depression occurs on a spectrum. It can manifest itself in different forms. For some, it is an ugly voice that rears in their head. For others, it can include hallucinations or drag on for as long as two years or even more.

The definition of depression is not one-size-fits-all. It affects different people in different ways. Understanding these different ways helps us understand and comprehend the vast spectrum of depressive disorders, thereby allowing us to distinguish the condition better and provide much more adequate and personalized medical support to effective individuals.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most severe forms of depressive disorder. It accounts for around 7% of individuals in the country, with a two to three times higher prevalence rate in females. 

As a mental health issue, major depressive disorder is extremely debilitating and can leave the person feeling exhausted and isolated. This is why it is essential to raise awareness around education.

On that note, let us dive deeper into major depressive disorder, its symptoms, causes, and available treatment options.

Major Depressive Disorder

What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

According to Harvard’s Beverly Merz, MDD is a persistent dark mood that consumes a person’s existence and makes them lose all interest in activities, especially the ones that previously excited them. It is widespread, with research showing around 21 million adults in the US having at least one major depressive disorder in 2020. The prevalence of the disorder was higher in females, with a rate of 10.5%. Prevalence rates in males stood at 6.2%.

Major depressive disorder is not something that passes without proper help. Even though the symptoms of the disorder are outlined and prominent around two weeks, the length of a depressive disorder can extend up to several weeks, months, or even years. 

Symptoms Of MDD

The symptoms of major depressive disorder can vary from person to person. However, the common symptoms of the condition include the following:

  • constant depressed mood,
  • changes in sleep patterns,
  • losing interest or pleasure in activities that previously interested you,
  • persistent feelings of guilt and worthlessness,
  • feeling exhausted constantly,
  • diminished focus or concentration,
  • significant appetite changes that can induce weight loss or gain (5% or more fluctuations in body weight)
  • feeling restless or mentally retarded by the end of the day, or
  • recurrent and persistent thoughts about self-harm or suicide. 

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V (DSM-V) Criteria

According to DSM-V, the criteria for diagnosing major depressive disorder include the following:

  • presence of any five of the above-listed symptoms for a period of two weeks or more,
  • at least one of the symptoms among the five, including depressed mood or loss of interest in activities.

Read more: How Are Compulsive Spending And Depression Related?

Causes of MDD

MDD can occur at any particular age. However, according to the American Psychiatric Association, the average age of onset peak is mid-20s. In addition, the appearance of symptoms among people varies significantly. While some people might have chronic illness symptoms, others might have mild to no symptoms with few depressive episodes.

Chronic symptoms are much more likely to occur in individuals with substance abuse disorders. While the exact cause of MDD is not known, researchers point toward several reasons, including:

  • genetics, 
  • neurobiology, 
  • brain chemistry, and 
  • hormones.

Treatment Options

Major depressive disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is typically the first line of treatment. Along with it, medications such as antidepressants are also prescribed depending on the type of case.

For people whose symptoms are not alleviated with psychotherapy and medications, transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also used. ECT is a safe form of electric current therapy used for MDD, severe psychosis, etc.

Read more: Diabetes And Depression: Understanding The Connection


Major depressive disorder is a challenging and debilitating mental health condition defined by persistent low mood and lack of interest in activities that previously interested you. Living with MDD is tough, exhausting, and isolating. Early detection and treatment are keys to proper recovery for individuals dealing with it.

If you or someone you know has been dealing with MDD, it is important to seek help. Access to help is now easier than ever with the advent of online therapy platforms. To learn more, click here

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