Everyone gets a case of the blues once and awhile.
Depression is an entirely different experience than having bouts of sadness or a case of the blues. It is a mental illness and a mood disorder.
Depression is a spectrum disorder that has numerous symptoms, which can exist with varying degrees of intensity. A person suffering from depression does not have to have all of the symptoms to be diagnosed with it. However, symptoms must occur for at least two weeks in order to be diagnosed by a mental health professional.
Prolonged depression is dangerous and may involve health risks. It can also be fatal if it goes untreated.
Types of Depression
There are also various types of depression, which may be caused by specific factors or issues relating to gender or season, like seasonal affective disorder.
Depression may also be caused by problematic phases in life, whether it’s at work or within a marriage. Stress is a large contributor to situational or atypical depression.
Postpartum depression is type of depression that affects new mothers after giving birth. It can be hard sometimes to fully recognize the symptoms, because the hormonal changes women experience may be minimized as something “all women go through.”
However, if postpartum depression goes unchecked it can turn into a more serious form of depression, which can be fatal. Because of rising rates of postpartum depression, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for depression in all pregnant and postpartum women.
Bipolar disorder is another form of depression, sometimes referred to as manic depression.
This is attributed to the high and low cycles of this mood disorder. When people hit one of the low phases of the disorder, their depression can be dangerous. Often their low point is a major depressive disorder episode. Lithium is a mood stabilizer, which is commonly prescribed to treat bipolar disorder successfully. But a combination of therapy and medication is ideal for long term healing, though it is a decision made at the discretion of a medical doctor.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is one of the most common disorders, affecting over fifteen million adults in 2014, according to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America. Many people will experience some form of depression in their lives. When feelings of sadness, despair, or hopelessness exist for longer than two weeks, a person’s depression can be debilitating.
Symptoms of depression are characterized by overwhelming sadness, anxiousness, hopelessness, irritability, and feelings of worthlessness or helplessness. Additionally, a loss of interest in work, activities, or social gathers, paralyzing fatigue, weight gain or loss, lack of focus, physical body pain, and insomnia are also symptoms. A person does not have to have all of them, but the length of time with any one symptom may be a sign of major depressive disorder.
If symptoms are on the more severe end, people may find themselves unable to function. Examples would be when a person is unable to get out of bed, when they stop attending work or school, or when they are unable to complete daily routines.
However, the most dangerous symptom of depression would be suicidal ideation.
Passive suicidal ideation is when the person suffering has frequent thoughts about suicide, but does not make plans for it. Active suicidal ideation is when a person has not only talked or thought about it, but they have made plans. Regardless of the type, if someone you know has expressed suicidal thoughts, it is important to call the authorities so medical services can intervene.
Major Depressive Disorder
To diagnose major depressive disorder, mental health professionals will check to see if the individual suffers from five or more depression symptoms before they make a diagnosis.
However, a therapist or physician will listen and gather as much information as possible about all symptoms (regardless of quantity or length) to make sure that the individual receives the care they need.
Genetic links and environmental factors may contribute to major depressive disorder, though it is usually a combination of causes. Symptoms of major depressive disorder (sometimes referred to as clinical or recurrent depression) are mood changes, noticeable loss of interest in activities, inability to function, and persistent isolation. Major depressive disorder differs from situational depression, because while someone’s life circumstances might have changed for the better, their depression still exists.
Major prolonged depression often means that brain functioning has changed. At this stage, it becomes very difficult for an individual to cope with their moods and feelings without the assistance of a mental health professional or treatment.
Treatments for Major Depressive Disorder
A combination of medication and major depressive disorder treatment is often used to treat major depressive disorder.
Anti-depressant medication can provide immediate relief for chemical imbalances (example: bipolar depression) and for the more dangerous symptoms of depression, like suicidal ideation.
Psychotherapy treatment has numerous proven benefits for depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most frequently used modalities. CBT treats depression by focusing on your moods and thoughts through cognitive therapy and your actions through behavioral therapy.
In session, a therapist will work with you to identify negative thought patterns and resulting behaviors. He or she will shed light on them by bringing them to the surface. Many people with depression are locked into a pattern that they don’t even realize the severity of their self-defeating thoughts.
A common example of a CBT exercise is when a therapist points out a negative thought that the patient has referenced often. He or she will force the patient to confront it. Evidence and reasons why that thought is distorted and untrue will be discussed. This exercise (which can be repeated) will negate the validity of that constant thought, effectively ending that pattern.
For major depressive disorder, therapists and treatment centers are trained to help you work through your depression. Sometimes an intensive outpatient program is the right fit and other times (for more severe depressive episodes) a residential treatment center is better and safer. Staff, medical doctors, and mental health professionals work with treatment centers to provide round the clock treatment and care. This is especially helpful if there has been a history of suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt.
Regardless of which treatment option you choose, it is important to take the first step by reaching out and asking for help. You are not alone. Start treatment today.