Definition & Overview

The feeling of sadness or “having the blues” is a normal reaction when one goes through struggles and disappointments in life. Oftentimes, people refer to this as “depression,” but clinically speaking, depression is more than just this fleeting feeling of sadness. If your feelings of solitude, despair and emptiness have taken hold of every facet of your life and just won’t go away, then what you are feeling might be depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression.

Types and Key Symptoms

Major depression is characterized by a combination of symptoms that can include the following:

  • Deep sense of sadness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Inability to concentrate, make good decisions and remembering things
  • Frustration over small matters
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Frequent suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death

More often than not, depression occurs many times in a person’s lifetime. People with depression may feel miserable without even knowing why. The symptoms usually persist over long periods of time and interfere with one’s ability to lead a normal life. Clinically, an individual must have at least five of the aforementioned symptoms to be diagnosed with depression. Moreover, the symptoms exhibited by depressed individuals may also vary depending on the severity of their condition.

In some cases, the symptoms of depression become part of an even complex psychiatric problem. There are different types of clinical depressive orders, with symptoms that can range from minor to severe. Among common types of depressive disorders include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder. Patients with MDD feel a constant sense of despair and hopelessness that prohibit them to function and enjoy their daily life.

  • Catatonic Depression. This is a condition where one becomes unresponsive to any social interaction and may not literally move at all.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder. This commonly affects individuals every year at the same time (seasonal pattern), usually during fall or winter season when exposure to sunlight is less.

  • Dysthymia (Chronic Depression). This is a less severe type of depression where symptoms linger for a prolonged period of time. Patients with this condition are still able to function normally, but are observed to be constantly unhappy.

  • Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression). People with bipolar disorder exhibit severe mood changes - they can be overly depressed one time then overly happy in another. The person experiences periods of depression as well as periods of mania, with normal mood in between.

  • Psychotic Depression. Depressed individuals tend to lose their grip with reality and become psychotic. This serious form of depression can cause hallucinations, paranoia and delusional ideas.

  • Antenatal and post-natal depression. Also known as “baby blues,” this is a stress-related condition that occurs in women immediately after childbirth or during pregnancy.

It is important to classify the type of depression in order to determine the best kind of medical treatment the patient must receive.

Causes of Depression

To this day, there is no notable single cause of depression. The condition develops and is triggered due to different reasons. For many depressed individuals, depression develops due to more than one factor. Among common causes of this condition include:

  • Stressful events in one’s life such as death of a loved one, chronic stress at work, and relationship breakdown.
  • Illness and undiagnosed physical condition such as head injury, under active pituitary or thyroid gland, coronary heart disease, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions can cause symptoms that can lead to depression.
  • Genetic factors and family history - depression seems to be a condition tightly linked to genetics.
  • Personality factors - people with low self-esteem and are too self-critical tend to worry a lot, which may lead to depression

Who to see & types of treatments available

Although very common, depression is oftentimes ignored and left untreated. This poses a major risk to many as such inattention can lead to mental, physical and health problems or worse, life-threatening situations. If you or any of your loved ones exhibit symptoms of depression, it is best to see your primary care physician, who may eventually refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for more thorough diagnosis and treatment. Psychologists specialize in treating depression through talk therapy. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, handle patients that require prescription drugs to manage the symptoms.

Treatment options for depression generally depend on the type of depression a patient has. For moderate and severe depression, treatments can include psychological therapy (talking treatments), anti-depressant medicines, or a combination of both. Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are some of the most effective psychological treatments available today. Anti-depressants, on the other hand, work by increasing serotonin levels in the body, a chemical responsible for mood balance.

Other treatment options recommended by experts with impressive success rate include omega-3 supplementation and ketamine injections. For mild depression, there are self-help programmes available, as well as peer support groups that your medical practitioner can recommend.

References:

  • National Institute of Mental Health. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/
  • Institute for Depression Studies and Treatment. http://www.coloradodepressioncenter.org/institute-for-depression-studies-and-treatment.html
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