Feeling “blue”, “out of sorts”, or “down in the dumps” are ways we describe feelings of sadness or melancholy. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another. However, what’s known as Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder has multiple symptoms in addition to sadness. As well, individuals with true Depression feel these symptoms much more intensely and experience them for longer periods of time.
Depression is a clinical mood disorder that affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of other problems if left untreated. Depression isn't a weakness and you can't just "snap out" of it. In fact, it may cause you to have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities. Fortunately, with early detection and a treatment plan consisting of medication, therapy, and healthy lifestyle choices, many people can and do manage their depression.
Definition of Major Depressive Disorder
After Anxiety, Depression is the most common mental health disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults in any given year, and one in six people will experience it at some time in their life. Depression can occur at any time, but typically first appears during the late teens to mid-20s. People of all ages and all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds experience Depression.
Depressive Disorders are defined as “feelings of sadness intense enough to interfere with functioning and/or a decreased interest or pleasure in activities”. There are several types of Depressive Disorders and all are commonly called “Depression”. Major Depressive Disorder, the subject of this article, is defined by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as experiencing at least 5 of the symptoms listed below nearly every day for a 2-week period, and one of them must be depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder
Multiple, persistent symptoms are required for a diagnosis of Major Depression:
Persistent sad mood
Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
Irritability and/or anxiousness
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest in hobbies and normal activities
Decreased energy or tiredness
Moving or talking slowly
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Difficulty sleeping or conversely, frequent oversleeping
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
If you’ve been experiencing some of these symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from Depression. A behavioral health professional can make an official diagnosis.
Causes and risk factors
The exact cause of Depression is unclear, but reduced levels of key neurotransmitters like serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine in the brain are believed to play a part in most cases. These are hormones that stabilize your mood, your feelings of well-being, pleasure, happiness, and your capacity to feel energized, so lower levels can have a very negative impact on your well-being and ability to function on a daily basis.
A number of risk factors may make Depression more likely:
Heredity (genetic factors contribute to Depression in about half of individuals diagnosed)
Significantly emotionally distressing events, particularly those involving a loss
Certain physical and anxiety disorders
Substance and alcohol use disorders
Side effects of certain drugs
Social class, race, and culture do not affect the chance that people will experience Depression during their lifetime.
How does Depression impact daily life?
Even though there are many situations in life that can cause sadness and in which we might describe ourselves as being “depressed”, it is important to know the difference between “everyday” sadness and Clinical Depression. Understanding this difference can assist people in getting the help, support, and treatment they need. If you have any doubts about what you are feeling, contact a behavioral health professional who can make an official diagnosis and suggest the best treatment.
Without treatment, individuals with Clinical Depression may be more likely to use alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to help them sleep or to feel less sad. It’s also been found that those with undiagnosed Depression are more likely to smoke or to neglect their health in other ways. Depression may also reduce the immune system's ability to respond to infection; as a result, people with untreated Depression are more likely to get sick more often.
All of these things impact our ability to function well on a daily basis, to do our jobs, and to be the best parent, spouse, son, daughter, caregiver, or friend that we can be. Therefore, getting an early diagnosis and treatment plan is critical.
Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder
Most Depressive Disorders can be treated with a combination of support, therapy, and medication. Speak with a behavioral health professional on how best to approach treatment that is right for you. They will assess your current symptoms and your history of Depression in order to determine the best treatment plan. Once it is chosen, the plan may change over time depending on how well you respond to the care provided.
Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. In some cases, a healthy lifestyle including a good diet, exercise, and healthy sleep habits can also help reduce symptoms. In addition, behavioral health specialists may recommend spending time with good friends and family, rather than isolating yourself, as well as continuing to educate yourself about Depression, as information can feel empowering.
Please note, if you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Option 1
Do you or a loved one have symptoms of Depression?
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