Depression is a mental health condition that can cause a range of symptoms, including feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue. While it's normal to feel down sometimes, depression is more than just occasional sadness. It's a chronic condition that can impact every aspect of your life.
If you're experiencing depression, you're not alone. This condition affects at least 5% of the adult population globally and over 8% of American adults. While depression can occur at any age, it often begins in adolescence or young adulthood; up to 17% of young adults ages 18-25 can be diagnosed with depression in any given year.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mental health condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest, as well as ongoing feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and even thoughts of suicide. It can also cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, feeling agitated or slowed down, and trouble sleeping.
Everyone has occasional periods of sadness or low energy, but these feelings usually go away within a few days. When they don’t, and when they interfere with your everyday life – like causing you to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, making it difficult to concentrate at work or school, and even causing you to withdraw from friends and family - that's when you may be experiencing depression.
Different Types of Depression
There are different depressive conditions, each with its own characteristics. These include:
Major depressive disorder:
This is the most common type of depression. It involves one or more episodes of depression that occur over one’s lifetime. Each episode lasts at least two weeks, but typically for a few months, and can include severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy activities you once enjoyed.
Persistent depressive disorder:
This form of depression involves episodes that last for at least two years, often with symptoms that are less severe than the episodes in Major Depressive Disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder:
This type of depression involves episodes that tend to start and end at around the same periods each year. Typically, these episodes will start in the fall or winter, when days are shorter, and end in the spring when there is more daylight.
This severe type of depression can include psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices or having paranoia.
This condition, previously known as manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by episodes of mania with high energy, decreased need for sleep, euphoric moods, and impulsive behaviors. At other times, people with Bipolar Disorder can also experience episodes of depression.
Peripartum (postpartum) depression:
This form of depression can occur during pregnancy (peripartum) or starting within the first 4 weeks after childbirth (postpartum).
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
This condition includes symptoms of low moods, irritability, and anxiety during the week before one’s menstrual period.
How Does Depression Feel?
Depression can cause a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. Not everyone with depression experiences the same symptoms or has all of them.
Physical symptoms of depression can include:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Fatigue or decreased energy
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia) or oversleeping
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling very indecisive, or having trouble thinking clearly
- Feeling restless and physically agitated, or slowed-down
Emotional symptoms of depression can include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Loss of pleasure and interest in activities or hobbies
- Feelings of worthlessness or intense guilt
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's essential to seek help from a health professional. Antidote Health can help you connect with a board-certified doctor to provide the support and treatment you need.
How is Depression Diagnosed?
If you're experiencing symptoms of depression, the first step is to schedule an appointment with a doctor. They will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They may also recommend a physical exam to rule out other health conditions that could be causing your symptoms, such as thyroid problems or anemia.
After ruling out other potential causes, your doctor may diagnose you with depression if you're experiencing five or more of the symptoms listed above, including depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, for two weeks or more.
What Causes Depression?
There’s a lot that we still don’t understand about how the brain works and what causes depression. What seems clear is that there isn’t just one cause, but rather a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors that come together and affect each person’s risk for having a depression.
Most often, depressions are triggered by stress, including major losses, life changes, loneliness, or too much pressure. It can become hard to see any way out of a stressful situation, and this sense of hopelessness can be a very powerful trigger of depression. This stress can lead to changes in the activity of certain parts of the brain that control our emotions and our ability to problem-solve, plan ahead, and remain flexible in our thinking (ie. executive functions), and soon the symptoms of depression set in. Having certain medical illnesses, taking certain medications, or one’s genetic make-up, can increase your chances of having a depression.
How is Depression Treated?
Depression is a treatable condition. The two main types of treatment are antidepressant medications and therapy. They are generally equally effective, and both are suitable for treating most kinds of depression. Sometimes, combining medication with therapy can offer better results than using either option alone.
There are various different antidepressants that are available. These medications are safe and generally well-tolerated, though sometimes side-effects can happen and your doctor will work with you to find the best medication for your needs. Antidepressants boost certain chemical signals in the brain (neurotransmitters), and this allows activity to normalize in parts of the brain that are involved in depression. There is generally little to lose by trying an antidepressant to help with your depression, because even if you decide that you don’t like how one makes you feel, your doctor can easily take you off it or try a different one.
Also called psychotherapy, this treatment works by having one-on-one or group meetings with a therapist on a regular basis, where you can explore some of the reasons that may have brought on your depression, and also learn new skills to help you overcome the depression. There are different types of psychotherapy, one of the most common being Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help you change negative thinking patterns and behaviors.
Making lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise or eliminating certain causes of stress in your life, can also go a long way to help with the symptoms of depression.
If you're experiencing symptoms of depression, it's essential to seek help from a health professional. Contact Antidote Health today and see how we can help you get the support and treatment you need.