Depression is a mood disorder characterized by chronic sadness and little interest in engaging in daily activities. The feelings of sadness associated with depression are intense and patients find it very difficult to feel pleasure. Depression can lead to physical problems like fatigues and body aches, and emotional problems like withdrawal and irritability that interfere with the ability to complete every day tasks and to interact with others.
Depression can present itself in the form of one severe episode or several severe episodes during a person’s lifetime. Depression can also be persistent, with symptoms lasting for at least 2 years. With 3 million new cases of depression diagnosed each year, it is one of the most common forms of mental illness. Women are 70 percent more likely to experience episodes of depression than men, possibly attributable to hormonal changes. The average age of onset of depression is around 32 years old, but statistics show that it has become quite common in adolescents aged 13-18, and may also first appear late in life.
What are the different forms of depression?
Depression can present itself in several different forms, including:
- Major depression: Symptoms are severe and interfere with a person’s ability to complete every day activities such as work, sleep, eat, engage in social situations. In some extreme cases, patients do not even have the energy to bathe or groom themselves.
- Persistent depression: Symptoms are severe and last for at least 2 years. Individuals may experience episodes of major depression interspersed with periods of less severe symptoms.
- Psychotic depression: Severe depression coupled with some form of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations.
- Postpartum depression: Results from the physiological and hormonal changes that occur after giving birth. Women who suffer from postpartum depression find it overwhelming to care for their newborn and, in the most severe cases, may want to harm themselves or their babies.
- Reactive depression: Severe depression in response to a tragic or traumatic event.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: (SAD) Feelings of sadness that occur as a result of the onset of winter and fewer hours of daylight. SAD lifts at the beginning of spring or summer when the hours of daylight become longer.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness or anxiety
- Feeling hopeless, guilty, helpless or worthless
- Angry outbursts
- Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable such as sex
- Fatigue and lack or energy
- Insomnia or other disturbances to sleep patterns
- Difficulty paying attention to detail and trouble making decisions
- Forgetfulness, inability to concentrate
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Unexplained physical symptoms (headaches, back pain and digestive issues)
Individuals who suffer from depression may not experience all of the symptoms associated with depression. The severity and duration of symptoms may also differ.
What are the causes of depression?
The exact cause of depression is unknown, but studies show that several factors may contribute to the feelings associated with depression. Such factors include:
- – Brain chemistry and structure
- – Environmental factors, such as substance abuse, trauma, loss
- Grave or chronic illness or pain
How is depression diagnosed?
A physical exam and blood work will be used to identify any underlying physical condition that can be linked to a person’s depression. A thorough psychological evaluation and questionnaire administered by a mental health professional will be used to assess the duration and severity symptoms, behavioral patterns, thoughts and feelings. A mental health professional may also ask the patient if he or she uses drugs or alcohol, experiences thoughts of suicide, has a family history of mental illness or suffers from an anxiety disorder.
How is depression treated?
Depression is successfully treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. Some individuals may not require both in their course of treatment and other individuals may require more severe measures to treat their condition.
The treatment options available to treat depression include:
- Antidepressant Medication
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
- Partial hospitalization/Day Treatment Programs
- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).
There is no cure for depression, but the treatment options made available can be successful in reducing symptoms and creating coping strategies. Many individuals will find improvement to their condition through dedication to their treatment plan, avoidance of alcohol and drugs and a commitment to healthy lifestyle choices.