What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder in which someone experiences such low moods that it interferes with their daily life. The condition not only affects a patient’s moods, but a person with depression may also think and act differently than they used to.
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that one in every six individuals will experience depression in their lifetimes. Furthermore, about one in 15 people have depression during any given year.
People who may have depression may not know that help is available. Major depressive disorder is a treatable illness, even though it may feel impossible to overcome when someone is in the throws of it.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Symptoms of depression can vary wildly. For example, some people exhibit uncontrolled anger, while others do not have the energy to get out of bed. Furthermore, people with similar symptoms may have different severities of each one.
Generally, patients qualify for depression diagnoses if they exhibit at least five of the following symptoms:
- Low or depressed mood daily
- Intrusive thoughts about death or committing suicide
- Feeling uninterested in activities that the patient used to enjoy
- Difficulty concentrating or with memory
- Unintended weight loss or gain
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Trouble with sleep
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Slowed movements
A few symptoms do not fit the diagnostic criteria but are common in people with depression:
- Changes in appetite
For some people, depression can also cause physical symptoms. Sometimes co-existing conditions, such as thyroid disorders, create the physical symptoms and the depression itself. Other times, the stress of depression causes distress in the body as well.
What Causes Depression?
Clinical depression can have several different causes. Often, understanding the root problem helps therapists and patients design the right treatment plan. Some patients have one apparent reason behind their depression, but others may have a mixture of issues playing a role in their disorder. Other people with depression may not understand why they feel this way, but mental health professionals can help.
Trauma or Stressful Events
Sometimes a stressful or sad event in life can set off depression. Losing a loved one, a job, or a relationship can cause immediate grief. However, if those feelings linger for longer than two weeks, a professional may diagnose a patient with depression. Intervention cannot take away the pain, but it can give patients the tools to work through their feelings and function daily.
Sometimes depression is a symptom of a physical health problem. People with untreated thyroid or autoimmune diseases may feel depressed alongside their other signs. To treat these types of depression, doctors must treat the condition behind the depression. Patients may also need medications and therapy for a short time.
In cases when no other cause is evident, a chemical imbalance may be to blame. Researchers have not nailed down a single reason behind these imbalances. However, certain medications can help.
Is Depression Genetic?
Some research suggests that depression has a genetic component. For example, when one identical twin develops depression, the other twin has a 70 percent chance of having the disorder.
While there seems to be a genetic driver behind some people’s depression, it is not always the case. Researchers must still conduct more studies. However, research generally suggests that about 40 percent of patients have genetic causes, while environmental factors make up the other 60 percent.
This research means that children whose parents battle depression may be more likely to develop the disorder. However, it is not a foregone conclusion.
How to Cope with Depression
Based on the available research, the mental health community estimates that 80 percent of people with depression feel better when seeking treatment. In some cases, depression lifts when the patient heals from the traumatic event that caused it. These people may struggle with depression at other times in their lives, but they typically do not have chronic problems.
People who have chemical imbalances that cause depression often feel better with the right combination of treatments. It can take time to find the right options. These patients must often continue treatment for years or even throughout their lives. However, effective solutions allow the symptoms of depression to go away.
Treatment options for depression include:
- Individual therapy
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy (non-drug, in-office, and FDA-approved treatment)
- Lifestyle changes
- Group therapy
What works for one patient may not be sufficient for another. It’s essential to work with a qualified mental health care provider to get a personalized care plan to fit your needs.
Telehealth for Depression
Getting mental health care can be difficult when you’re living with depression. Depression’s symptoms make it hard to get dressed, get out of the house, go into a new building, and meet face-to-face with a new person. Telehealth can help ease these burdens for people with depression.
With telehealth therapy, you can connect with a compassionate mental health care provider through a secure video chat. Using your smartphone, tablet, or computer, you can get telehealth for depression treatment.
When a patient suffers from depression, the hopelessness and other symptoms last for at least two weeks. The signs of depression also interfere with the person’s ability to live their daily life. Counselors may also diagnose this mental illness if the symptoms have not lasted long but are so severe that the patient is in danger.
It’s typical for people to feel sad or even depressed from time to time. When something upsetting happens in life, that feeling can last several days or even two weeks without major depressive disorder. While patients who experience this type of mood may benefit from seeing a therapist, it is not the same as having depression.
If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call or chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with them on the website.
If your loved one is in danger of suicide, you can take them to a nearby hospital, emergency room, or mental health facility.
A mental health care team may recommend certain lifestyle changes to cope with depression. For example, a therapist may suggest that a patient remove specific triggers from her life. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist may recommend daily exercise for the patient in addition to his medication.
Meditation, exercise, journaling, and healthy eating habits can all make people with depression feel better. However, lifestyle changes are not always enough to treat depression on their own. People need to seek professional help if they have symptoms of depression and have not been able to heal on their own.
If you love someone who is living with depression, the best thing you can do is encourage them to seek professional help. You can also validate their feelings, provide practical support, and get emergency care if needed.