There’s a big difference between feeling depressed and having a depressive disorder. Getting the blues and feeling defeated or bored are temporary emotions due to our health, energy, and circumstances. On the other hand, when life seems bland, and you have no reason to get out of bed or lose track of the present, you might be suffering from a depressive disorder.
Don’t despair – you aren’t alone in dealing with this. Depression is a relatively common mental health issue, with many different ways to manage your ailment.
By the end of this article, you will have a deeper understanding of what depression is, the symptoms, treatment options, and some management strategies available to you.
What is Clinical Depression?
Clinical depression, otherwise known as major depression, is a common but severe mood disorder characterised by a persistently depressed mood. When you suffer from depression, serious symptoms alter how you feel, think, and perform daily activities, such as eating, sleeping, and working. To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must occur for a minimum of two weeks, typically experiencing five or more symptoms within that period.
Keep in mind that grief does have similar symptoms to depression; however, the pain felt from loss, or a traumatic event is different. Most importantly, depression typically incorporates feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem, which are usually absent from grief.
Depression manifests itself on a continuum of severity, from mild episodic periods of symptoms to acute and long-lasting experiences of depression. If left untreated, depression can escalate; however, not all forms of depression are the same. If your condition becomes chronic and necessitates professional intervention, it may be considered a depressive disorder.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing released in 2008, 1 in 7 people experience depression in their lifetime, and 1 in 16 people are currently suffering from depression.
However, women are more likely to experience depression than men. Statistically, 1 in 6 women experiences depression at some point in their life, compared to 1 in 8 men.
How to Know If You Have Depression
There are a myriad of ways one can experience depression. Some depressive symptoms affect your state of feeling and mood, while others can affect your body. In some cases, a depressive disorder can also worsen certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, eczema, obesity, and cancer.
If you have been experiencing some or all of the following symptoms every day for at least two weeks, you could have a depressive disorder:
- Extreme sadness and/or anxiety
- Feeling of emptiness and/or hopelessness
- Feeling pessimistic about life in general
- Self-loathing and low self-esteem
- Slowed cognitive and motor functions (i.e., talking, moving, or walking at a decelerated pace)
- Incessant crying, especially without any apparent reason
- Feeling angry, irritated or annoyed
- Loss of interest in activities enjoyed normally
- Lack of energy, intense fatigue
- Issues with concentration or short-term memory
- Difficulty making decisions
- Disrupted sleeping pattern: difficulty sleeping or incapacity to stay awake
- Loss of appetite, or on the contrary constant eating
- Suicidal and/or self-harm thoughts
- Chronic physical pain without understandable causes (e.g., migraines, cramps, gastric discomfort)
Symptoms of Depression in Women
Some symptoms of depression affect women more acutely than men.
The five most common symptoms of depression amongst women include:
- Behavioural changes: loss of interest along with social avoidance and withdrawal
- Weight loss, gain, or a yo-yo cycle
- Unstable mood, irritability, feeling undeserving
- Extreme fatigue and decreased concentration
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation affecting speech or movement
Types of Depression
Depending on symptoms, causes and severity, there are different types of depression.
The most common forms of depression include:
Major depressive disorder
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most acute form of depression. Unrelenting feelings of sadness, despair, and worthlessness are typical of MDD.
Persistent depressive disorder
Historically referred to as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is milder but more obstinate than MDD. For PDD to be diagnosed, periods of chronic depression will have come and gone for at least two years.
Seasonal affective disorder
A winter ailment, seasonal affective disorder affects people particularly sensitive to a lack of sunlight. Following the season, it tends to dissipate on its own with the return of spring and summer. Winter depression is characterised by social withdrawal, weight gain, and feeling lethargic.
Postnatal depression includes symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and fatigue.
Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder
Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a much more serious form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In most cases, lifestyle changes and naturopathy can help manage symptoms.
What Causes Depression?
The underlying causes of depression aren’t always known. Still, it is understood that key factors include genetics and circumstances.
For years, researchers have been trying to establish if depression can be categorised as a hereditary illness. A well-known theory assumes that certain genetic changes can render neurotransmitters ineffective or scarce.
A different school of thought suggests that contributing factors of a depressive disorder include environmental triggers that may also activate the disorder in genetically predisposed individuals.
Generally accepted causes of depression include:
- Family history of a depressive disorder
- Major trauma
- Life-changing events (e.g., job loss, illness, grief, or divorce)
- Infantile depression
- Substance use(e.g., illegal drugs, medication, alcohol)
- Medication side effects that may cause symptoms linked to depression
- Threat to one’s physical wellbeing or grave/chronic/progressive illness (e.g., accident, cancer, or Parkinson’s disease)
- Caregiver exhaustion (e.g., caring for a sick or disabled parent, child, or spouse)
- Hormonal changes or imbalances
- Brain chemistry and/or structure
Depressive Disorder Diagnosis
If you are worried that you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.
A qualified practitioner can rule out different causes, establish an accurate diagnosis, and propose various treatment options.
Your therapist or psychologist will ask about your emotional and physical symptoms, their severity, and duration. They will also inquire about medication use, your lifestyle, and your family history. Your GP may also do a blood test to rule out other health issues.
Under their supervision, several types of questionnaires or tests can be used to assess the severity and type of depression you are experiencing.
How is a Depressive Disorder Treated?
There’s no one size fits all treatment for depression. Most people find that a combination of therapeutic treatments and lifestyle changes is the most successful in helping with depressive symptoms.
The most commonly used treatments for depression include:
Mental health professionals are an invaluable resource when dealing with depression. A therapist can help you understand what’s happening, highlight your triggers and identify underlying causes.
There are many different types of modalities of therapy. It can be worth exploring various methods to find the one you respond to best.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Using CBT, your therapist guides you to uncover damaging patterns of thought and their impact on your behaviour, reactions, and beliefs.
With CBT, there are many techniques and exercises your psychologist can give you to help challenge and dispute negative thinking and behaviour. CBT is effective in alleviating depressive symptoms.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
MBCT involves a combination of cognitive therapy, meditation, and mindfulness. In this context, mindfulness is about being present, in the moment, and abstaining from self-criticism.
The theory behind MBCT is that thoughts precede moods and that distorted self-beliefs lead to negative emotions leading to depression. According to research, MBCT can also help people experiencing multiple episodes of depression.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
A combination of CBT and traditional behaviour therapy, ACT is an action-focused approach to psychotherapy.
Patients learn to quit avoiding, denying and battling with their emotions. Instead, they start accepting that these states of feeling are appropriate responses to particular situations and that they don’t have to hinder their life.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a treatment designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic events. This therapy lets the patient briefly focus on their trauma while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (eye movements), which helps manage symptoms.
Management of Depression
If you’ve already experienced depression, you can be better prepared to prevent or manage new episodes.
Depression management strategies typically involve lifestyle changes and support treatments, such as:
- Living a balanced life (i.e., exercise, sleep, nutrition)
- Physical exercise
- Practising meditation and self-care
- Using stress coping mechanisms
- Developing a support network
Without living it firsthand, understanding depression is difficult.
Seeking treatment is the first step in coping with depressive symptoms. Remember that remission isn’t linear and that treatment can take time.
Appropriate treatment can help you gain self-understanding, find relief, and manage your debilitating depressive symptoms.
If you are suffering from depression, get in touch with a mental health practitioner to explore treatment options and find what works for you.