Major depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder, is one of the most common mental health conditions impacting the United States. An estimated 17.3 million adults aged 18 and older, which equals 7.1 % of all adults in the United States, experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017 alone.
With such a large impact, how can you recognize if you or a loved one may be experiencing major depressive disorder, and what can be done about it?
What is major depressive disorder?
Although everyone experiences feelings of sadness at different points in their lives, major depressive disorder is more than just the occasional blues.
Major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, is a mental health condition marked by persistent feelings of sadness and a lack of interest in daily activities, including those that you once used to enjoy.
People with major depressive disorder will experience impacts to the way they think, feel, and behave, and can experience both physical and emotional symptoms.
People can experience major depressive disorder during one period of their lives, may suffer from the condition off and on throughout several years, or may experience it over the course of their lifetime.
In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, patients must experience symptoms of the condition every day for at least two weeks. Symptoms of major depressive disorder are experienced most of the day and may be worse in the morning, although everyone experiences symptoms differently.
What are the symptoms of major depressive disorder?
The symptoms of major depressive disorder are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is a book used to help healthcare professionals recognize and diagnose mental health conditions.
Symptoms of major depressive disorder outlined in the DSM include:
- Feeling sad or irritable most of the day nearly every day
- Losing or gaining weight suddenly
- Experiencing a change in appetite
- Experiencing feelings of restlessness
- Feeling worthless or guilty, typically in response to situations or issues that would not normally cause those feelings
- Thinking about harming yourself or suicidal ideations
- Losing interest in the majority of activities that you previously enjoyed
- Changes in sleep habits, such as difficulty falling asleep or sleeping more than usual
- Feeling unusually tired and lacking energy
- Having difficulty making decisions, focusing, or thinking clearly
In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, patients must experience five or more of the symptoms listed above for a period of at least two weeks. The condition must also cause a change in the person’s day to day functioning. At least one of the symptoms experienced must be either depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities.
What causes major depressive disorder?
There is no one specific cause for major depressive disorder, but there are numerous factors that can contribute to the condition.
Women are almost twice as likely to experience clinical depression as men are, and an estimated 20 to 25 percent of adults will experience an episode of the disorder during their lifetime. Some people are believed to be at a higher risk of experiencing major depressive disorder due to their genetics. When combined with stress or hormonal imbalances, people with a genetic predisposition to the condition can experience changes to brain chemistry that destabilize their mood.
Major depressive disorder can be triggered by certain difficult stages in life, such as going through a divorce, experiencing the death of a loved one, or experiencing financial stress.
Other triggers of major depressive disorder include:
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Use of certain medications, such as steroids
- Experiencing certain medical conditions, such as cancer or hypothyroidism
- Experiencing trauma or abuse during childhood
Although some people are considered more at risk of experiencing major depressive disorder than others, anyone can experience the condition at any age or stage of life. Fortunately, there are numerous treatment options available for major depressive disorder.
What treatment is available for major depressive disorder?
The most common treatments for major depressive disorder include medication, talk therapy, and lifestyle modifications. People with a severe form of major depressive disorder and those who experience suicidal thoughts or ideation may need to be hospitalized or participate in an outpatient treatment program until they start to feel better.
There are four broad categories of medications that are used for the treatment of major depressive disorder, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and atypical antidepressants.
SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed treatment for major depressive disorder and include commonly known medications like Lexapro, Prozac, and Celexa.
SNRIs include medications like Cymbalta and Effexor.
Tricyclic antidepressants include Tofranil, doxepin, and amitriptyline, while atypical antidepressants include Wellbutrin.
Antidepressant medications can take between four and six weeks to take effect and can have some side effects, but many patients experience at least partial relief from their symptoms while taking these medications.
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, can occur on an individual basis or in the context of a group. Participating in talk therapy involves seeing a therapist on a regular basis to talk about feelings you may be experiencing, work through challenges, and learn new coping mechanisms. Many people find that talk therapy is helpful at many stages of life, even when they are not suffering from depression.
It can be difficult to live a healthy lifestyle when experiencing major depressive disorder, but making certain lifestyle changes can help improve the condition.
Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can address nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to depression. Exercising, especially outdoors, has been shown to boost your mood and can provide energy. Alcohol should also be avoided, as it acts as a central nervous system depressant that can make symptoms of depression worse.
The Path to Feeling Better
Now that you’re familiar with what major depression is and how it can be treated, consider taking the first step toward better mental health for you or your loved one.
YANA is an online mental health clinic dedicated to providing affordable, accessible mental healthcare on your terms. It’s as easy as signing up, being matched to a qualified mental health doctor, and then working together to develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs and goals for mental wellness. You can even have your new prescription medication delivered discreetly to your front door.
If you’re ready to see how easy it can be to experience quality mental healthcare the way it should be, get started with us today, or explore our FAQ to help answer any additional questions you may have.