Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach
Over the last several years, the term “depressed” has been used much more frequently. Some people may use it to label emotional numbness, while others may describe a period of loss. However, it is important to understand that depression is not a term to use loosely, as it is a severe medical and mental illness. If you suspect that you may fit the criteria for a diagnosis of depression, it is essential to seek out treatment as soon as possible. For the time being, it may help to understand what depression is and what treatments may be the most effective for healing.
What is Depression?
Clinical depression is also known as major depressive disorder (MDD). It is a common mood disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and handles daily tasks. To be diagnosed with depression, you have to experience symptoms for at least two weeks.
General Signs and Symptoms
For an accurate depression diagnosis, symptoms must be experienced most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Not everyone depressed will experience the same or all of the following symptoms. However, recognizing these symptoms can be a good start for identifying where you stand with your mental health.
Warning signs and symptoms of MDD may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and anxiety
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
- Increased irritability
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once found pleasurable
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Difficulties with concentration, memory or decision-making abilities
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- Feeling restless
- Appetite and or weight changes
- Self-destructive behavior
- Suicidal ideation
Different Depression Conditions
Aside from MDD, there are several other forms of depression. The treatment for each type may vary between one another. The following conditions may develop from specific and unique circumstances:
- Persistent depressive disorder – Depressed mood and associated symptoms that last 2+ years.
- Postpartum depression – Depression in women that follows the physical delivery of a baby.
- Psychotic depression – Severe depression accompanied by psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations.
- Seasonal affective disorder – Otherwise known as “seasonal depression,” people experience it during cold and darker winter months.
Feeling Depressed vs. Having Depression
At times, people may report that they feel depressed. It is essential to recognize that feeling depressed and having depression are two different circumstances. While it is normal to experience sadness on occasion, depression is debilitating. Sadness is just one of the many symptoms that may result from depression.
An individual that feels depressed, or feels sad, may:
- Express emotions in a healthy way.
- Want to spend time alone.
- Be able to participate in regular or pleasurable activities.
- Be able to maintain normal eating and sleeping patterns.
- Start to feel better in a few days or weeks.
On the other hand, a person that has depression may:
- Experience persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness that last longer than two weeks.
- Lose interest in seemingly pleasurable activities.
- Struggle to maintain a consistent eating or sleeping schedule.
- Engage in self-destructive behavior or suicidal ideation.
Getting Help for Depression
When individuals recognize persistent sadness in themselves, it can be challenging to rule out a depression diagnosis. No matter where you stand, you may benefit greatly from speaking with a mental health professional. You can start by reaching out to a family member or friend that might understand what you are going through. From there, consider reaching out to your healthcare provider.
If you are unsure how to initiate the conversation, you can ask questions such as:
“I have been feeling really sad lately. Could I have depression?” or “How would I know if I have depression?
Your healthcare provider will be able to provide you with a depression evaluation and offer you potential treatment resources for when you are ready for greater support. Although treatment may sound intimidating, you need to understand that you deserve to enjoy life. You do not deserve to suffer from persistent feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Treatment is available.
Treatment Options for Depression
The most effective treatment for depression is antidepressant medication in combination with psychotherapy. Some treatment centers may encourage psychotherapy first; however, depression can often be an obstacle to effective psychotherapy treatment. Therefore, antidepressant medications may be recommended to help make the psychotherapy process more effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a valuable form of psychotherapy that allows individuals to challenge and overcome unhelpful thoughts and behavior patterns.
Antidepressants may take four to eight weeks to take full effect. They can help regulate sleep, appetite, and concentration and improve mood. In rare cases, depression can be treatment-resistant, which occurs when an individual does not experience any improvements in symptoms after trialing two different antidepressants. For treatment-resistant depression, brain stimulation therapies may be used along with other mediations (such as an antipsychotic).
If you are experiencing substance use or addiction and a potential diagnosis of depression, you may find the most significant value in a co-occurring treatment program. Addiction and depression must be treated simultaneously to ensure the greatest treatment outcome possible.
DiscoveryMD recognizes the challenges involved with identifying and treating depression. We offer specialized treatment programs for individuals struggling with co-occurring conditions. We rely on traditional therapeutic methods, such as medication and psychotherapy, and promote a conscious recovery for all. To learn more, contact us today.