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Depression

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Depression

Explicit themes image, StudySmarter

The DSM-5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) classifies depression as a persistent mood disorder. Depression is the second largest cause of suicide among youth aged 1529 years, and women are more likely to suffer from depression than men. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015, approximately 4% of the world’s population suffered from depression, which is increasing.

In this article, we will be looking closely at depression as a diagnosis. Focusing on the theories of Beck and Ellis, two prominent researchers of cognitive behavioural therapy, we will also explore possible causes of depression.

What are the symptoms of depression?

What is the definition of depression? What symptoms characterise it?

Depression and depression symptoms are characterised by a low mood and reduced activity for prolonged periods. It is a mental illness with severe mental, behavioural and physical symptoms that typically last for two weeks or more.

Depression definition StudySmarterDepression, Flaticon

Behavioural depression symptoms

Behavioural symptoms or characteristics are the signs you observe in the behaviour of a person who is suffering from depression.

These include:

  • Loss of sleep (insomnia) or hypersomnia (depends on person to person)

  • Loss of energy for daily activities

  • Disturbed appetite (some eat less and some eat more)

  • Withdrawal from others

Emotional depression symptoms

Emotional symptoms or characteristics are the signs you observe in the emotions of a person who is suffering from depression.

These include:

  • Intense sadness

  • Loss of interest in pleasure activities (apathy)

  • Feeling worthless

  • Feeling irritable

  • Exhibiting anger towards oneself and others

Cognitive depression symptoms

Cognitive symptoms or characteristics reflect the thought patterns of a person suffering from depression.

These include:

  • Disturbed concentration and focus

  • Low self-esteem and confidence

  • Affected memory

  • Negative thought patterns

  • Suicidal thoughts

Negative thoughts are typical cognitive characteristics of depression. They are sometimes irrational and create self-fulfilling prophecies (i.e., a person believes they’re going to fail at something, so they do not try as hard, resulting in a lower score or failure).

It can be difficult to diagnose depression as it has a lot of comorbidities (two illnesses existing within one person at a time). Symptoms of depression and anxiety are quite similar. Going to the doctor or approaching a medical professional is the best way for a person to assess if they have depression. Therapists and clinical psychologists are also extremely knowledgeable. There are several free self-assessment tests available for identifying depression, but these are not an official way to diagnose oneself.

The best way to overcome depression is to seek professional/medical help. Cognitive therapies are a common treatment plan for people with depression. Self-help counsellors can also help alleviate some symptoms. The symptoms and root cause of depression can also be treated with medication and therapies. Treating depression is an ongoing process that needs to be reviewed frequently. You should always consult a professional when trying to treat a disorder.

What are the two main types of depression?

Depression is an affective mood disorder, a type of mood disorder that can be divided into:

  • Unipolar (major depression)

  • Bipolar (manic depression) depression.

We will focus on these two types of depression, including their symptoms and definitions.

According to the A-level curriculum, there are many types of depression in general, but you need to focus on unipolar and bipolar depression.

What is unipolar depression?

Unipolar depression, also known as major depression, is characterised by:

  • A constant state of sadness.

  • A lack of energy for any enjoyable activity.

  • A lack of manic symptoms and happiness.

Symptoms of unipolar depression are categorised into three groups: behavioural, emotional, and cognitive.

Behavioural symptoms

  • Loss of energy: fatigue, inactivity in daily life and social withdrawal

  • Deteriorating hygiene due to a lack of motivation to do anything

  • Noticeable weight change due to disturbed appetite

Emotional symptoms

  • Lack of motivation to work on tasks or chores

  • Feelings of worthlessness reduce self-esteem and self-confidence

  • Feelings of pessimism and despair

Cognitive symptoms

  • Thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm

  • Slower mental processes: poor memory, reduced focus, and indecisiveness

Angelina Jolie, a renowned actress, suffered from severe unipolar depression in her teenage years.

The character of Eeyore, from the cartoon series Winnie the Pooh, is easily relatable to unipolar disorder. One of the quotes that highlight Eeyore’s symptoms are:

Thanks for noticing me.

What is bipolar depression?

Bipolar depression, also known as manic depression, is characterised by two-way mood swings. These two-way moods vary from intensely depressed to intensely manic (joyful, full of energy) over regular cycles for days or weeks. This type of depression can be confusing and sometimes hard to understand or control.

What are the characteristics of bipolar depression?

  • Extreme moods: happiness or sadness for days or weeks

  • Aggressiveness: people with this trait can be dangerous as they may self-harm or behave aggressively towards others. This is more pronounced in bipolar depression.

  • Disinhibition: loss of control on what your actions may result in, sometimes dangerous outcomes, i.e. driving while you are drunk, which may lead to an accident

During a manic phase, a bipolar person could engage in risky behaviours with severe consequences such as drunk driving, which they would not normally do outside of a manic episode.

Bipolar depression is often characterised by either Type 1 or Type 2. Bipolar 1 often has more intense manic episodes, whereas bipolar 2 usually has milder manic episodes.

Postpartum depression

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are other types of depression, although you do not need to focus on these for your exam.

One special type of depression worth mentioning is postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is a depressive state some new mothers can fall into after giving birth to their baby. It is a form of major depression. Links to drops in hormones after giving birth have been found to explain this phenomenon.

Depression Postpartum depression StudySmarterPostpartum depression, Flaticon

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar people have symptoms of unipolar disorder when in the phase of extreme sadness. They have manic symptoms in the phase of extreme ecstasy.

Behavioural symptoms

Extreme sadness (depression)

Extreme happiness (mania)

Loss of energy: fatigue, inactivity in daily life, and social withdrawal

Talkative and fast speech, perhaps even to the point of not being understandable

Deteriorating hygiene because of lack of motivation to do anything at all.

Reckless behaviour, such as getting drunk and driving at a fast speed

Noticeable weight change because of disturbed appetite

High levels of energy cause increased sexual behaviour or social interactions

Emotional symptoms

Extreme sadness (depression)

Extreme happiness (mania)

Lack of motivation to work on any tasks or chores

Frustration and irritation may lead to reckless behaviour described above

Feelings of pessimism, despair

State of euphoria for a constant period

The feeling of worthlessness reduces self-esteem and self-confidence

Elevated or extreme moods, high irritability

Cognitive symptoms

Extreme sadness (depression)

Extreme happiness (mania)

Suicidal thoughts, thinking about self-harm and death

Irrational thought patterns lead to reckless behaviour and poor decision making

Slower mental processes, poor memory, reduced focus, and indecisiveness

Grandiosity, which is an exaggerated sense of one’s power, abilities, and self-importance

Selina Gomez, a famous singer and actress, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Speaking about her struggle with mental illness she said:

There could have been a time when I wasn’t strong enough and would have done something to hurt myself.

What are the causes of depression?

Depression does not have one definite cause. There can be multiple causes of depression, such as genetic vulnerability, stressful life incidents, medical problems, and side effects of medicines.

Researchers have established several causes of depression:

  • Some genetic factors are involved, such as a correlation between depression and lower serotonin (neurotransmitter) levels.

  • There are some cognitive factors involved. The cognitive approach implies how our thinking influences our behaviour and how irrational thinking can cause a mental illness.

The cognitive factors form a significant portion of the AQA syllabus.

According to the cognitive approach, there are two main explanations for depression, the three-stage model by Ellis (1977) and Beck’s cognitive triad (1967).

Three-stage model by Ellis (1977)

Ellis suggested one negative event does not trigger depression but that depression results from irrational thoughts triggered by negative events. Ellis proposed the ABC three-stage model that explains how depression can result from irrational thinking.

  1. Activating event

  2. Belief (irrational or rational)

  3. Consequences (beliefs lead to emotions)

According to Ellis, rational beliefs lead to happy and healthy emotions (i.e., avoiding catastrophising an issue or situation). On the other hand, irrational beliefs lead to unhealthy and unhappy emotions (i.e., catastrophising an issue or situation). A tendency towards either rational or irrational thinking leads to different consequences in behaviour.

Beck’s cognitive triad (1967)

Beck’s theory proposed a cognitive explanation of depression that consists of three components:

  • Cognitive bias (distorting information, catastrophising it)

  • Negative self-schemas (expect themselves to fail, for example)

  • Negative triad (maintained by negative self-views, negative world view, and negative view of the future)

According to Beck, cognitive bias and negative self-schemas maintain the negative triad. They occur automatically and regardless of the actual situation.

Crisis hotline information, StudySmarter

Depression - Key takeaways

  • Depression is a mental illness with severe mental, behavioural and physical symptoms consistent for two weeks or more.

  • Depression is a type of affective mood disorder divided into multiple types. For the AQA specification, the types to focus on are: unipolar (major depression) and bipolar (manic depression) depression.

  • Symptoms of depression are characterised as behavioural, emotional and cognitive.

  • Unipolar depression, also known as major depression, has just one dimension that implies a constant sadness state.

  • Bipolar depression is characterised by two-way mood swings, from intensely depressed to intensely maniac, over regular cycles for days or weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions about Depression

Depression does not have one definite cause, there can be multiple causes such as genetic vulnerability, stressful life incidents, medical problems, and side effects of medicines.

Try to help those with depression by encouraging them to seek professional help, whilst also offering friendship, support, and kindness. Be understanding and show patience to their mood spells. The best you can do is to guide them to a professional. 

Going to the doctor or approaching a medical professional is the best way for a person to assess if they have depression. Therapists and clinical psychologists are also extremely knowledgeable. There are several free self-assessment tests available for identifying depression, but these are not an official way to diagnose oneself.


Five common symptoms associated with depression are:

  • Disturbed sleep (insomnia or heavy sleeping)

  • Disturbed appetite (too much or too little)

  • Inactivity in daily life

  • The feeling of irritability and moodiness

  • A constant state of sadness

The best way to overcome depression is to seek professional/medical help. Cognitive therapies are a common treatment plan for people with depression. Self-help counsellors can also help alleviate some symptoms. However, you should always consult a professional when trying to treat a disorder.

The symptoms and root cause of depression can be treated with medication and therapies. Treating depression is an ongoing process that needs to be reviewed frequently.

Final Depression Quiz

Question

Which one of the following is not a characteristic of depression?

Show answer

Answer

Unconsciousness 

Show question

Question

Disturbed sleeping pattern is a _________ symptom of depression.

Show answer

Answer

Behavioural

Show question

Question

A person can be diagnosed as depressed if they suffer from some symptoms for ________.

Show answer

Answer

Two weeks

Show question

Question

Define depression.

Show answer

Answer

  • Depression is characterised by low mood and reduced activity for prolonged periods.
  • It is a mental illness with severe mental, behavioural, and physical symptoms, which are consistent for two weeks or more.

Show question

Question

What is apathy?

Show answer

Answer

Lack of interest in pleasurable activities.

Show question

Question

A constant state of sadness is a major characteristic of which mood disorder?

Show answer

Answer

Unipolar disorder

Show question

Question

What are the behavioural symptoms of depression?

Show answer

Answer

  • Loss of sleep (insomnia) or hypersomnia (depends on person to person)
  • Loss of energy for daily activities
  • Disturbed appetite (some eat less and some eat more)
  • Withdrawal from others

Show question

Question

What are the cognitive symptoms of depression?

Show answer

Answer

  • Disturbed concentration and focus
  • Low self-esteem and confidence 
  • Affected memory
  • Negative thought pattern sometimes suicidal thoughts

Show question

Question

Define unipolar depression.

Show answer

Answer

Unipolar depression, also known as major depression, is characterised by a constant state of sadness.

Show question

Question

Define bipolar depression.

Show answer

Answer

Bipolar depression, also known as manic depression, is characterised by two-way mood swings. These two-way moods vary from intensely depressed to intensely manic over regular cycles for days or weeks. This type of depression can be confusing and sometimes hard to understand or control.

Show question

Question

What is the difference between the symptoms of unipolar and bipolar depression?

Show answer

Answer

The unipolar disorder only has symptoms of extreme sadness, whereas bipolar disorder has symptoms of both extreme sadness and extreme happiness (manic).

Show question

Question

Explain the disinhibition symptom of bipolar depression.

Show answer

Answer

Disinhibition is a loss of control over what your actions result in, which may sometimes have dangerous outcomes. For example, a bipolar person may end up playing their entire wealth in the casino.

Show question

Question

What are the emotional symptoms of depression?

Show answer

Answer

Emotional symptoms reflect the type of feelings you experience when you have depression. These include: 

  • Intense sadness

  • Loss of interest in pleasure activities (apathy)

  • Feeling worthless

  • Feeling irritable and, in some cases exhibiting anger towards others or yourself.

Show question

Question

Eeyore is an example of ______ depression.

Show answer

Answer

Eeyore from the cartoon series Winnie the Pooh exemplifies unipolar disorder. One quote that highlights Eeyore’s symptoms is: ‘Thanks for noticing me’.

Show question

Question

Salena Gomez was diagnosed with _______ disorder.

Show answer

Answer

Selina Gomez, a famous singer and actress, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Speaking about her struggle with mental illness, she said: ‘There could have been a time when I wasn’t strong enough and would have done something to hurt myself.’

Show question

Question

What are the cognitive explanations for depression by Ellis (1977)?  

Show answer

Answer

Ellis proposed the A-B-C three-stage model that explains how depression can result from irrational thinking. He suggested one negative event does not trigger depression but that depression results from irrational thoughts triggered by negative events.

Show question

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