What is Depression?
Depression is a persistent mood disorder that affects the way we feel, think, and act. This condition is mainly characterized by profound sadness, lack of motivation, feelings of worthlessness, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
As you can probably imagine, depressive disorders can impact our personal and professional life profoundly, leading to social isolation, relationship issues, and even medical complications.
Depression and anxiety have a lot in common, which is why it’s relatively easy – especially for laypeople – to confuse them. Furthermore, these two conditions can co-occur, with overlapping symptoms that make it even more difficult for clinicians to separate them.
But while depression involves persistent sadness and the tendency to ruminate on past events, anxiety generates restlessness and persistent worrying.
But to understand why depression can have a devastating impact on our everyday life, we need to look at its signs and symptoms.
Signs of Depression
Depression symptoms can vary in intensity and can include:
- Persistent sadness
- Ruminative thoughts
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of focus
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Loss of interest in hobbies and pleasurable activities
- A significant decline in work/academic performance
- Difficulty in making decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Suicidal ideation
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Irritability and angry outbursts
Typically, symptoms must last at least two weeks for depression to be diagnosed. Furthermore, medical conditions such as vitamin deficiency can be mistaken for symptoms of depression so it is important to fully consider all possible causes.
If you are depressed know that you are not alone: Depression impacts 1 in 15 adults each year. And 1 in 6 people will suffer from depression at some time in their life.
How is Depression Treated?
When it comes to treatment options, mental health professionals often resort to medication and/or psychotherapy. In fact, studies suggest that a mix of psychiatric interventions and therapy provides the best possible outcome.
In essence, psychotherapy (or ‘talk’ therapy) helps you get to the bottom of the problem, understand how depression affects your life, and cultivate healthy habits that will keep this condition at bay.
In general, experts believe therapy is an excellent treatment option for mild forms of depression. When it comes to severe clinical depression, healthcare professionals recommend a psychiatric consultation followed by antidepressant medication.
Aside from individual therapy, patients with depression can benefit greatly from family and couples therapy. There’s also group therapy which brings together people who suffer from the same condition, creating a community that provides mutual support.
Since depression disorders are caused in part by chemical imbalances in the brain, the use of psychiatric treatments is sometimes the only way patients can get back on their feet.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.