Depression is a condition which affects many Americans. It may be described as feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or a sense of loss, anger or frustration. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods. Feeling down from time to time is a normal part of life. But depression is about more than just feeling sad. Clinical depression is when these feeling last for a long period of time and start affecting our everyday life (ability to work, eat, sleep, enjoy ourselves).
Common signs and symptoms of depression
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness or constant pessimism
- Loss of interest in daily activities, former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex
- Dramatic appetite or weight changes (decrease or increase in weight)
- Sleep changes – trouble sleeping (insomnia) or oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Anger, agitation or irritability
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Reckless behavior such as substance/alcohol abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
Types of Depression
There are many different types of depression. Depending on the source of the inform, the exact number varies, but most common types are…
- Dysthymic disorder
- Major depressive disorder (also called Major Depression or clinical depression)
- Bipolar disorder (which used to be called manic depressive illness)
- Postnatal depression (PND)
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Dysthymic disorder is a milder (but chronic) form of depression. It is a long-term condition where low mood is experienced on a regular basis, over a period of at least two years, but often longer. People with dysthymia may experience fatigue, sleeping and eating problems. They may be plagued by low self-esteem, guilt, constant negative thinking, and overly crticial of themselves. They may also experience cognitive (thought-related) difficulties such as concentration and memory problems. The overall disturbance is less severe than major depressive disorder.
Major depressive disorder
Major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, is more severe form of depression. For a diagnosis of clinical depression, you must meet the symptom criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In order to diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must exhibit 5 or more of the above symptoms of depression over a 2 week period. Not everyone with Major Depressive Disorder will experience the same symptoms.
Bipolar Depression is also called Bipolar Disorder, Manic Depressive Disorder, Manic Depression, Alternating Psychosis, Bipolar Depression, Manic-Depressive Illness, etc. People with this form of depression often oscilate between two states of mind, manic (without the presence of drugs or alcohol) and depressive. A manic episode is characterized by being more excitable, with a higher energy level, lack of sleep, feeling euphoric, like one can do anything, making erratic decisions, and a sense of fearlessness. A depressive episode entails quite the opposite, including feelings of loss of energy, hopelessness, fatigue, sadness and exhibiting signs of withdrawal. People with Bipolar Depression can shift between these two different states quickly, and there is a risk of increased suicidal thoughts while folks are in the depressive state. Although these states will exist without the presence of drugs or alcohol, drug abuse can trigger episodes. As can tramatic or stressful situations. The root cause of bipolar disorder is not known. It often runs in families, which can suggest a genetic disposition to it.
It is quite common for women (and sometimes men) to experience depression during pregnancy. Depression felt during pregnancy before the birth of a child is referred to as antepartum depression. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. When most women think about pregancy, they think of an ideal pregancy and one in which it will be the happiest time of their life. Feeling sad, negative, angry and anxious while pregnant can be so upsetting to women that many are unable to talk about it. Their silence makes diagnosing depression in pregnancy difficult.
Postnatal depression (also called postpartum depression) can occur after child birth.
A brief overview of depression treatments
If you are suffering with signs and symptoms of depression, a visit to your family doctor is a good starting place for seeking treatment. Your family doctor can prescribe one of various medications to treat depression. He or she may also refer you to a psychologist or other mental health counselor. A two-pronged approach with medication and talk therapy is usually the most effective treatment for depression.
There are a large number of different kinds of medications for treating depression. They use different active ingredients to affect different chemical process in the brain. It can take time to find the right medication that works for your symptoms. Keep in mind that any one medication can take up to 8 weeks to start working.
Talk therapy, whether private, group or therapy, is a key component to treating depression. Patients benefit from reducing stress, learning how to cope with stressors, and sticking to their treatment plan.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) used to be called shock treatments. This treatment is generally used for severe depression (often suicidal) that is not managed with medications, or for patients that are unable to take medications (for example severe depression in pregnancy.)
Partial hospitalization or day treatment programs are available which provide support and counseling to get depression symptoms under control.
A visit to your naturopath is another source of treatment options. There are many naturopathic and herbal remedies which are used to treat depression such as St. John’s Wort and Vitamin B injections.
Whether you see a physician or a naturopath, both will talk to you about lifestyle changes to help your depression. For starters, eating healthfully, maintaining a consistent routine with regular meals, bedtimes (and waking times), and exercise — it’s “nature’s Prozac”!
Your instincts may tell you to withdraw from life when you are depressed, but this is quite the opposite of what is best for you. Staying involved with friends, community, regular social engagements will help. Keeping up with your regular responsibilities will give you a good sense of accomplishment, and it feels good to help others when you can.
Try your hardest to have fun, and try something new. New experiences change the chemistry in our brain and make us feel happier. It’s going to be work, but it’s worth it. It will help you to bounce back.