What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder in which someone faces hopelessness and sadness that goes beyond the scope of typical emotions. The disorder not only affects a patient’s moods, but a person with depression may also think and act differently than they used to.
Depression, which is 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.
Clinical Depression vs. A Bad Mood
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 being major depressive disorder. While patients who experience this type of mood may benefit from seeing a therapist, it is not the same thing as having depression.
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.
What Does Depression Feel Like?
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 as well as the depression itself. Other times, the stress of depression causes distress in the body as well, such as issues in the digestive tract. Because serotonin and norepinephrine play roles in both mood and pain perception, people with depression may also experience joint and back pain.
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 clear 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.
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 in daily life.
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 as well.
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, the information that the community has now generally suggests that about 40 percent of cases 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.
Does Depression Go Away?
Based on the available research, the mental health community estimates that 80 percent of people with depression feel better when they seek 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.
How to Deal with Depression?
People with depression often feel hopeless, which can leave them unmotivated to seek treatment. They may wonder why they should even bother or doubt that they are worthy of help. Dispelling both of these thoughts is important. Mental health professionals of many kinds treat depression and want to help.
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 your loved one is in danger of suicide, you can take them to a nearby hospital, emergency room, or mental health facility.
When to See a Therapist
Most patients with depression can benefit from talk therapy. Those with situational depression can learn healthy coping mechanisms. Patients with chronic depression can also learn strategies to stop negative self-talk, for example. If you have signs of depression, make an appointment with a counselor and start the healing process. It’s a difficult first step, but you deserve the help.
When to See a Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health disorders. Unlike therapists, these professionals can prescribe medication for depression and other illnesses. In some cases, patients suffering from depression have benefited from TMS treatment from their psychiatrist. Anyone who believes they may suffer from depression is welcome to see a psychiatrist.
Those with chemical imbalances may need to see a psychiatrist in order to get better. Patients with situational depression may also benefit from medicine that helps them get through difficult times.
A mental health care team may also recommend certain lifestyle and behavior changes. For example, a therapist may suggest that a patient remove certain 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. It’s important for people to seek professional help if they have symptoms of depression and have not been able to heal on their own.
Is Manic Depression the Same Thing as Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is another mental health condition in which patients have difficulty regulating their emotions and energy levels. People with bipolar disorder experience periods of depression with many of the symptoms above. They also go through episodes of mania.
During manic episodes, patients have high energy levels and may even be reckless. These bouts separate bipolar disorder from clinical depression.
Due to the combination of both manic and depressive periods, “manic depression” and “depressive disorder” are two common names for bipolar disorder. Some people with bipolar disorder initially get misdiagnosed with depression because they are more likely to seek professional help when they experience depressive episodes. However, professionals often see over time that the patient truly has manic depression.