Understanding Depression

All of us experience sadness from time to time. In depression, an individual experiences depths of sadness and even hopelessness that go far beyond these usual emotions. This mood disorder not only affects feelings, but even a person’s personality and actions. 

Sometimes referred to as major depressive disorder, depression is very common. According to the APA, one in six people in the US will have depression at some point.

Depression is treatable, and people who think they have this disorder should understand they are not alone. Reaching out to a mental health professional is the first step in treating this disorder.

Not Just a Bad Mood

It is important for patients and loved ones alike to understand that depression is not just being in a bad mood or feeling a little sad. It is not even the same as the sadness we might feel as a result of a very significant trauma, such as a death in the family. While the feelings people go through in those situations resemble depression, they are not the same.

In order to receive a diagnosis, depression must last at least two weeks. The symptoms experienced must also prevent the individual from conducting their regular life. In some cases, symptoms may not be present for longer than two weeks but are so intense that they require immediate intervention or hospitalization. 

The Symptoms

Symptoms vary from one person to the next. Patients must exhibit five of the following symptoms to receive a diagnosis of depression:

  • Depressed mood every day
  • Constant thoughts about suicide or death
  • Avoiding favorite activities
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Faulty memory
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Feelings of guilt or worthless
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed movements
  • Fidgeting

There are also symptoms not listed in the diagnostic criteria that those with depression might exhibit, including:

  • Irritability
  • Fluctuations in appetite
  • Anxiety

Depression often has physical connections. Depression can sometimes stem from co-existing physical conditions. A thyroid disorder, for example, can lead to depression. Patients can also have joint or back pain during depression because of serotonin fluctuations.

The Causes of Depression

Several things can lead to depression. Oftentimes, identifying these triggers is part of the healing process. Triggers are not always clear, however. Sometimes, a cascade of events can lead to this disorder. Whatever the case, a mental health professional can help. 

Trauma

Traumatic events can lead to depression. These include significant breakups or losing a loved one. While it is normal and even healthy to experience sadness during these times, patients who feel deep sadness in the wake of these events for longer than two weeks may have depression.

Underlying Conditions

As stated previously, thyroid disorders can sometimes cause depression. Depression has also been linked to autoimmune diseases in some patients. Patients will receive treatment for the underlying physical cause before doctors can treat the depression. 

Biochemistry

Sometimes a chemical imbalance is the driver behind depression. Research is ongoing as to why these imbalances occur. Medication can help in cases like these.

The Genetic Component

There is research to show that there is a genetic component in depression. Identical twins who have a twin with the disorder have a 70 percent of getting depression themselves. In general, experts believe that about 40 percent of patients with depression have a genetic cause. The rest of depression cases are believed to be linked to environmental triggers. 

Can You Stop Depression

Research shows that a whopping 80 percent of people who seek out treatment feel some subsidence of their depression symptoms. When an inciting trauma is the cause, patients may heal once that event has been resolved. 

With chemical imbalances, a combination of therapy and medication can be effective. These individuals may need to manage depression as a chronic illness throughout their lives. Chances are they can find relief, however, by seeking out help.

How to Cope

The very nature of depression can prevent people from seeking help. It is important for anyone with depression or who knows someone with depression to understand this. It is also important that people know there are many ways to help and that mental health professionals are available to guide you through the process.

When to Seek Emergency Care

If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call or chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you believe a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, take them to an emergency facility or nearby clinic.

Seeing a Therapist

Talk therapy can be very effective in treating depression. CBT, in fact, was originally developed specifically to treat depression, though it has evolved to address multiple disorders. CBT can help those with depression develop better coping mechanisms and stop negative internal monologues that affect their mood. If you think you are at risk of or experiencing depression, contact a mental health professional. We can help. 

Seeing a Psychiatrist

Sometimes, patients need medication to help with depression. As a medical doctor, a psychiatrist is the one who can prescribe medication to patients. He or she can also provide therapy as needed. This approach is particularly relevant for those with a chemical imbalance. In such cases, therapy alone may not be enough. 

Making Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle changes can also help with depression. These changes can include removing triggers from life, such as alcohol, or introducing new behaviors that heal, such as exercise.

Additional lifestyle changes that have a positive effect on depression include:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Healthy Eating

Lifestyle changes are not going to work on their own, in most cases. Working with a therapist or psychiatrist can be key in truly getting on the road to healing.

Is Manic Depression the same thing?

Bipolar disorder involves serious stages of depression; however, it also involves manic stages. These are not present in depressive disorder. What the two do have in common is that patients find it difficult to regulate their moods. 

Sometimes, people who eventually receive a bipolar diagnosis start out with a misdiagnosis of depression. This can be due to miscommunication or the fact that many bipolar patients are less likely to seek help when manic. A trained mental health professional will recognize the presence of bipolar disorder over time, however.