Key Takeaways

  • Severe depression is a commonly used term used to refer to the clinical mental health condition known as major depressive disorder. 
  • Severe depression involves something called a “depressive episode” which causes a decrease in mood that lasts for over two weeks.
  • If you or someone you care about is living with severe depression, know that help is available. A combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication can help you manage your symptoms and live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Please note that the following article focuses on the causes, signs, and symptoms of severe depression. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 from any phone for 24/7 crisis support. Severe depression is a depressive episode that causes a decrease in mood lasting over two weeks. There are many ways to talk about the feelings of sadness that come from severe depression. Some people might say that they have a case of “the blues” while others may just say they’re feeling “low” during a depressive episode.  It’s important to be aware that some of the words used to refer to major depressive disorder may unintentionally reinforce the stigma around mental health. For example, the term “crippling depression” likely comes from the deep and profound impact mood disorders can have on a person’s ability to live their lives. But this term is often considered offensive to folks in the disability community. 

What is severe depression?

Severe depression is a common term used to refer to the clinical mood disorder known as major depressive disorder. Everyone experiences bouts of low mood, a loss of motivation, and decreased energy once in a while. But people living with severe depression experience something called a “depressive episode” which lasts for weeks (or more) at a time.  These episodes cause a significant decrease in mood that negatively impacts the individual’s day-to-day life in serious ways. Without treatment, most people who experience severe depression will go through recurrent depressive episodes that can last various amounts of time.  If you’re wondering if you might have severe depression, talking to a mental health professional can help. They can listen to your concerns, conduct an assessment, and provide an accurate diagnosis to shape your treatment plan. Many people living with severe depression find relief from lifestyle changes, therapy, and in some treatment-resistant depression cases, medication. A qualified mental healthcare provider can help you decide what’s best for you.

Signs and symptoms of severe depression

The signs and symptoms of severe depression can vary, depending on the individual and their situation. In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a person must exhibit five or more of the following symptoms during a single two-week period, with two of the symptoms being low mood and a loss of interest in activities.
  • Persistent sadness and low mood most of the day, almost every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy 
  • Unintentional changes in weight or appetite
  • Slowing down or reduction of physical movements (to the point of being noticed by other people)
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or self-harm
For a person with severe depression, these symptoms will be significant enough to inhibit their ability to function in daily life and they cannot be better explained by another mental health condition, for example, a substance use disorder.

Causes and risk factors

People from all different walks of life experience severe depression and it’s a leading cause of disability around the world. It affects people from different cultures and geographic areas and is one of the most common mental health concerns, impacting approximately 4% of the world’s population. While more research is needed to better understand the root cause of severe depression. There are a few known factors that might make you more likely to develop this condition, including:
  • Having a close relative (like a sibling or parent) who also has depression or another mental health condition
  • Experiencing traumatic events like abuse or neglect, or an unexpected loss
  • Living through a major life change like moving, changing jobs, or becoming a parent
  • Having physical health problems like chronic pain, a stroke, or cancer
  • Taking certain medications, even when prescribed by your doctor. (Be sure to talk to your provider if you take a new medication and experience a shift in mood.)
  • Misusing substances like alcohol or drugs

The impact of severe depression

Left untreated, severe depression can negatively impact every area of your life. Our minds and bodies are intertwined, and mood disorders like depression can lead to physical ailments like digestive issues, aches and pains, appetite changes, and problems with sleep. It can also cause problems with concentration and focus which can make it difficult to attend to your responsibilities at work, home, and school. Living with severe depression often means isolating yourself from family and friends and removing yourself from situations and activities you used to enjoy. This can negatively affect important relationships and leave you without the support you need during challenging times.  

Finding help for severe depression 

If you or someone you care about is living with severe depression, know that you’re not alone and that help is available.  At Rula, we know how hard it can be to take the first step towards accessing care when you’re having challenges with your mental health. That’s why we built our platform to make it easier than ever to find a therapist. Using Rula, you can find therapists who take your insurance in less than 30 seconds. And our network of over 8,000 therapists means you can be seen this week.  If medication ends up being part of your treatment plan, we can also connect you with the psychiatric support you need to achieve the best outcomes possible. 

Depression therapists near you

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