More people suffer from depression than from any other mental health condition worldwide, and the United States is no different. Among people over the age of 18, about 16.1 million American adults, or roughly 7%, are affected by depression in a given year. With numbers like that, there’s a good chance that you or a loved one has experienced depression at some point.
With the ups and downs of daily life and the sadness that we all experience at one point or another, it can be difficult to know whether you’re suffering from depression or just experiencing a low period due to grief, stress, or another life event. If you find yourself wondering, “Do I have depression?” you might be curious to know what the clinical definition of depression actually is, what some of the signs and symptoms of depression are, and what types of treatment options are available.
What is depression?
We often think of depression as one mental health condition, but there are actually several different types of depression. The most common form, known as clinical depression, major depression, or major depressive disorder, is a serious mental health condition that affects the way a person feels, acts, and thinks. In general, people with this type of mood disorder will experience feelings of sadness or low mood, and may lose interest in doing daily activities or other things they once enjoyed.
In order to be diagnosed with depression, a person must experience symptoms of depression for at least two weeks. The prolonged period of time that depression symptoms last is what separates depression from feelings of sadness or grief that occur in response to events in our lives. People who are grieving may experience some symptoms that are similar to depression, but their feelings often come in waves. Also, grieving people usually maintain their sense of self-esteem, while people with depression commonly struggle with feelings of worthlessness, feelings of guilt, and self-loathing. It is possible for grief and depression to occur simultaneously, and what causes depression can also start as something that caused grief first.
Postpartum depression is also something to be aware of and watchful for, especially as new mothers may not be willing to admit that they’re having severe depression or suicidal thoughts, or that they need professional help.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
Depression has both physical and emotional symptoms that are caused by the condition. Often, a person’s ability to work at their jobs or at home can be affected by depression. In fact, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals aged 15 through 44, and even one depressive episode can carry with it compounding effects. Symptoms of depression vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling sad or appearing in a depressed mood
- Changes in appetite, including overeating or undereating
- Weight loss or weight gain unrelated to dieting
- Increased fatigue and loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Substance abuse
- Increase in physical activity without a purpose, such as pacing around a room or wringing your hands
- Slowed movements or speech
- Difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, or concentrating
What are the risk factors for depression?
Depression can impact people of any age, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, and it touches people of all socioeconomic levels. No matter how ideal your life may seem to be from the outside, it is possible to experience depression. However, there are several factors that put people at increased risk of experiencing depression. These include:
- Genetics: Depression often runs in families and is influenced by genetics. If one identical twin is diagnosed with depression, the other twin has a 70 percent chance of being diagnosed with the illness at some point in their lives as well.
- Biochemistry: Some people have differences in the levels of chemicals in their brains that contribute to depression. These people often require medication to sufficiently treat their depression
- Environmental factors: People who experience continuous exposure to poverty, neglect, abuse, or violence are at a higher risk of experiencing depression
What treatment options are available for depression?
If you think you may be suffering from depression, don’t be discouraged. Depression is highly treatable, and between 80 and 90 percent of people diagnosed with depression eventually find a form of treatment that works well for them. Nearly everyone who seeks treatment for their depression finds some relief from their symptoms.
Depression is not a life sentence, and choosing to seek treatment now does not necessarily mean you will need to undergo the same treatment forever. There are several different treatment options for depression.
When many people think of treatment for depression, the first thought that comes to mind is antidepressant medication. While some stigma still exists surrounding the use of medication for the treatment of depression, it is becoming an increasingly popular option. In fact, approximately 11% of Americans aged 12 and older are taking some form of antidepressant medication. There are four main types of antidepressant medication, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
The type of medication that you take will depend on several factors, and your health care provider will help you decide which medication might be best for you. It is common for patients to try several different medications before finding the one that works best for them and which has tolerable side effects, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t experience complete relief from your symptoms right away. It’s estimated that only about 30 percent of people with depression who take antidepressant medication will experience full remission during their first course of treatment, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not back to 100 percent right away.
It’s likely that you’ll need to try several different doses and types of medication before finding the drug that works best for you. Some people experience more relief when taking more than one type of antidepressant medication, as well.
If you’ve never seen a therapist or other mental health professional before, you might be surprised by the benefits that just talking about your depression can have. Psychotherapy, which is sometimes called “talk therapy” or just “therapy,” is a behavioral health treatment in which the patient discusses their feelings, thoughts, and issues with a psychological counselor. The counselor may work with the patient to deal with childhood trauma, work through feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt, and develop coping mechanisms for how to fight their depression. Multiple types of psychotherapy exist, some of which are particularly effective for the treatment of depression.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that helps patients develop useful and realistic thought patterns to replace their currently held negative or unproductive thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help treat depression because it provides a list of actionable steps that the patient can follow in order to see improvement in their symptoms. If a person’s depression is influenced by certain fears or anxieties that they may have, psychotherapy can also involve strategies designed to get the patient to conquer their fears.
Interpersonal therapy, a type of therapy that helps a patient dismantle disruptive personal relationships in their life, is another type of therapy that can be effective for the treatment of depression, as can psychodynamic therapy, which attempts to resolve a patient’s internal psychological conflicts.
Depression does often respond well to treatment with medication and psychotherapy, but it also helps to add other lifestyle changes as a part of your overall depression treatment plan. When used in combination with medication and talk therapy, lifestyle changes can play a major role in helping you beat depression. Other types of treatment that may be helpful include:
- Make sure you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that contains lean sources of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It’s also important that you are getting your recommended amount of vitamins and minerals, as vitamin deficiencies have been linked to an increased risk of depression.
- Read self-help books or listen to self-help podcasts–getting basic mental health information not only helps you to identify and understand warning signs of depression, but generally can offer helpful advice about what to do with those signs
- Exercising regularly, which helps to release endorphins and create a positive mood, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Finding a support group of other people with depression who understand your struggles and can help support you as you seek treatment
- Speak with friends and family members about how depression affects your life and ask them for their support
- Get enough sleep, as feeling well-rested can help improve your mood
- Avoid alcohol, which is a type of depressant and can increase feelings of depression
While all of this can seem intimidating, remember that You Are Not Alone, and there are plenty of resources available for you to get help. One such resource is YANA.
YANA is a world-class mental health clinic that has partnered with expert doctors to provide an accessible, affordable, easy to use means of getting you the personalized treatment plan you need to improve your mental wellness and help you get back to doing the things you love. With consultations and visits right from your home, you get the discretion you deserve and the attention you need. Get started with YANA today and discover how easy it is to get the help you’ve been looking for.