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Depression as a Psychological Disorder Essay

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2021


Depression is a popular mental condition that can affect anyone. It has various forms, symptoms, and ways of development, which may all be different for each person (Stringaris, 2017). The World Health Organization (2017) calculated in 2015 that 4.4% of the total world population suffers from depression, with 322 million unique cases registered worldwide (p. 8). Moreover, they concluded that since 2005 the number of people with depressive disorders increased by 18.4%, which “reflects the overall growth of the global population, as well as a proportionate increase in the age groups” (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 8). Thus, the topic of depression remains a scientific point of interest per the continuing growth of population numbers worldwide. Summarizing and evaluating the information that trusted journals have published on the topic of depression might help create a well-rounded review of the condition and the scientific community’s understanding of it.


The Present Definition of a Depressive Disorder

Depression can be defined as a disorder that affects a person’s mental health, resulting in a dampened emotional state for an extended time. It is an exhausting mental condition that affects people’s daily lives by influencing them towards adopting negative patterns of behavior (Lu, Li, Li, Wang, & Zhang, 2016). People with depression may respond to external stimuli dully and, thus, become unable to experience the same breadth of emotion that had previously been available to them. In turn, these circumstances lead to increased rates of suicide among those suffering from major depressive disorders, particularly among adolescents, making it a “potentially lethal” mental health condition (Stringaris, 2017, p. 1287). The World Health Organization (2017) distinguishes between depressive and anxiety disorders, outlining the fact that different circumstances cause the two problems. However, depression may be identified as retaining a leading position in mental health studies. This popularity may be due to its ability to be used as an umbrella term for different combinations of depressive symptoms.

The Background Mechanisms and Symptoms of Depression in Literature

The likely causes of depression can be gathered into a long list. Its lineup may include a person’s genetic predisposition, various environmental influences, hormonal fluctuations, and even traumatic life experiences. Initially, researchers even linked depressive disorders with a lack of serotonin, the absence which continues to be thought of as the leading cause of clinical depression (Cowen & Browning, 2015). However, no proven evidence regarding why people become depressed exists (World Health Organization, 2017). Nonetheless, hypotheses regarding chemical imbalances and disruptions of neural networks within the brain remain the process’s leading explanations (Cowen & Browning, 2015; Lu et al., 2016). Due to these continuing doubts within the scientific community, the most common identification for depression remains how a person behaves (Fried & Nesse, 2015). Therefore, while the origins of depression remain hidden, clinical practitioners continue paying close attention to how people reveal their illness to provide them with treatment.

Symptomatology is the mass of collected evidence regarding a person’s health. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person should demonstrate at least five out of nine symptoms below to de considered depressed:

1. depressed mood; 2. markedly diminished interest or pleasure; 3. increase or decrease in either weight or appetite; 4. insomnia or hypersomnia; 5. psychomotor agitation or retardation; 6. fatigue or loss of energy; 7. feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; 8. diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness; and 9. recurrent thoughts of death. (Fried & Nesse, 2015, p. 1-2).

While this list may not be considered final, it remains the basis for identifying depression. Nonetheless, it is essential to note that all people experience depression differently (Salk, Hyde, & Abramson, 2017). Furthermore, some symptoms may carry more weight during diagnosis than others (Fried, Epskamp, Nesse, Tuerlinckx, & Borsboom, 2016). Thus, the widely accepted DSM-5 standard relies on a person’s self-identification per their personal understanding of their behavior.

Treatment: Who and How

It may be appropriate to preface treatment options for depressive disorders with a highlight of groups that may be at risk. Research findings suggest that women report higher incidences of depression than men due to both their different socioeconomic positions and inherent “biological sex differences,” which link with hormonal changes, for example, different estrogen levels (Albert, 2015, p. 219; Mojtabai, Olfson, & Han, 2016). A paper by Salk et al. (2017) reports that this difference between the numbers of depressed men and women reaches its highest point during adolescence, evening out only after teenagers reach adulthood. Considering additional factors, such as “abuse, education and income,” may also help identify other population levels that could be susceptible to depression (Albert, 2015, p. 219). Thus, while women retain a higher possibility of becoming depressed, other factors that are independent of gender also play a role in deciding at-risk groups.

Depression’s treatment can merely attempt to correct people’s behavior, considering the hidden nature of its causes. Thus, antidepressants may be highlighted as remaining the most popular treatment option. The “pharmacological actions of drugs” continue to be the best currently available link to both treating the condition and examining what may cause it (Cowen & Browning, 2015, p. 158). However, the majority of antidepressants cause side effects that are equal to the symptoms of depression, for example, lessened emotional responsivity, fatigue, and suicidal tendencies (Fried & Nesse, 2015). This fact is particularly painful to consider in combination with the findings of a paper by Mojtabai et al. (2016) that states that treatment trends from “2005 to 2014” have remained unchanged (p. 6). Therefore, it may be assumed that the continuing lack of knowledge regarding the causes of depression may be preventing its treatment methods from progressing to new levels.


The Problem with Defining Depression

The scientific community may be moving towards rejecting using depression as an umbrella term. Instead, it could be showing a tendency to focus on people’s individual experiences. The ongoing research processes struggle to identify depression as either a sum of its symptoms or a separate condition (Fried & Nesse, 2015). Furthermore, most researchers cannot agree on whether the depressive disorder is a spectrum or a sequence of events (Stringaris, 2017). However, they admit that rejecting depression, as a term, would be harmful to mental health practice (Stringaris, 2017). Thus, when Stringaris (2017) asks, “What is depression?” it is not a rhetorical question, but rather a recognition of the current state of affairs (p. 1288). Therefore, the findings of researchers who attempt to categorize people by their population type, for example, Albert (2015), Mojtabai et al. (2016), and Salk et al. (2017), become problematic per their disregard for depression’s subgroups. The fact that people with different symptoms and magnitudes of depression can be considered ill could be a continuing research restriction.

Recognizing the existence of varying stages of depression should lead to questioning the proposed DSM-5 symptom-checker since it is the one on which most of the diagnoses are based. Both studies by Fried and Nesse (2015) and Fried et al. (2016) support the idea that personal experiences remain more critical during diagnosis than checklists. Haroz et al. (2017) further outline the DSM-5 as a western-oriented mental healthcare tool that does not carry the same effect for non-western populations. These facts may be in line with current research trends, as they seem to discourage using depression as an umbrella term. However, as identified by Stringaris (2017), this development could lead to either a perfection of existing clinical approaches or “vast confusion among clinicians and patients” (p. 1288). Thus, while these research papers could help define the future of depression awareness, the benefits of the foundation provided by the DSM-5 should not be rejected.

Existing Hindrances to Perfecting Treatment Methods

The used literature may indicate a continuing period of inactivity in developing new treatment methods for depression. This area of study remains mainly medicine-focused, full of side effects, and directed towards removing the illness’s symptoms rather than the sickness itself. The two existing brain-related and chemical explanations for depression may be the most traditional, but they too remain underdeveloped and under-tested. Lu et al. (2016) recognize that their cited and conducted experiments, which focus on rodents and mice, can have only a limited number of suggestions for treating human depression. However, the paper by Cowen and Browning (2015) that highlights the chemical serotonin as the catalyst for people’s “emotional processing” during treatment may hold serious meaning for future research (p. 160). Nonetheless, the continuing lack of answers regarding the causes of depression, its nature, and progress may pose the biggest problem in finding a cure.

The Future of Current Research Trends

The existing differences within the mental health scientific community may be driving the topic of depression in different directions. The statistics regarding the worldwide numbers of depressed people may become troublesome to consider since Haroz et al. (2017) claim that different cultures report depression differently. Thus, focusing on at-risk groups with an approach that raises awareness for mental health may be the future of depression studies (Mojtabai et al., 2016). Moreover, Stringaris (2017) urges researchers to “being open to the fact that both [depression’s] content may prove heterogeneous, and that its boundaries may need to shift” (p. 128). Thus, research still has to prove most facts about depression. However, a lack of definitive answers may mean a greater extent of flexibility when deciding the appropriate research and treatment methods.


The carried out literature review allowed outlining the major scientific trends in modern-day depression studies. Depression remains one of the most popularly studied mental health conditions, with researchers applying the term to people who show any combination of its many symptoms. However, the cause of the sickness remains unknown, which prevents researchers from predicting how it can progress. As such, depression studies retain a high amount of flexibility, which may be considered both a positive and negative thing. Thus, current trends focus on instead promoting different sides of depressive disorder studies, from determining at-risk groups to documenting brain processes during illness through conducting experiments. By doing so, researchers hope to understand the disease’s origins through testing various treatment methods. This development may expand the current understanding of depressive disorders’ different features. Therefore, modern depression research remains an ongoing process that hopes to better the quality of care provided to those suffering from the condition.


Albert, P. R. (2015). Why is depression more prevalent in women? Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: JPN, 40(4), 219-221. Web.

Cowen, P. J., & Browning, M. (2015). What has serotonin to do with depression? World Psychiatry, 14(2), 158-160. Web.

Fried, E. I., & Nesse, R. M. (2015). Depression sum-scores don’t add up: Why analyzing specific depression symptoms is essential. BMC Medicine, 13(1), 1-11. Web.

Fried, E. I., Epskamp, S., Nesse, R. M., Tuerlinckx, F., & Borsboom, D. (2016). What are ‘good’ depression symptoms? Comparing the centrality of DSM and non-DSM symptoms of depression in a network analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 189, 314-320. Web.

Haroz, E. E., Ritchey, M., Bass, J. K., Kohrt, B. A., Augustinavicius, J., Michalopoulos, L.,… Bolton, P. (2017). How is depression experienced around the world? A systematic review of qualitative literature. Social Science & Medicine, 183, 1-29. Web.

Lu, C., Li, Q., Li, Y., Wang, Y., & Zhang, Y. F. (2016). A short glance at the neural circuitry mechanism underlying depression. World Journal of Neuroscience, 6(03), 184-192. Web.

Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, 138(6), 1-10. Web.

Salk, R. H., Hyde, J. S., & Abramson, L. Y. (2017). Gender differences in depression in representative national samples: Meta-analyses of diagnoses and symptoms. Psychological Bulletin, 143(8), 783. Web.

Stringaris, A. (2017). What is depression? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(12), 1287-1289. Web.

World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: Global health estimates. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

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