Depression - What, Who, How?

Depression is categorized as a mood disorder, often causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest. It can influence a person's motivation, energy, and overall well-being, and is one of the most powerful mental health conditions a person can endure. Depression is also extremely common - about 8.7% of women and 5.3% of men have been diagnosed. Luckily, even though there are 4 main types of depressive disorders, they are easily treated - mental health professionals can always help in successful diagnosis and treatment plans.



But what IS Depression? Depression is more notably seen as a collection of symptoms with the ability to have direct impact on the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It can be caused by a wide variety of situations - biological, chemical, and environmental differences per person, which means that reasonings for depression can vary just as much.



Rather than being a single condition, the term 'depression' usually acts like an umbrella - it is a constant cycle of depressive disorders. Though each type of depression differs, they all share an overall feeling of sadness, emptiness, and irritability. The main differences between the disorders is the how long they last, the timing of the symptoms at play, and the events or situations that bring the symptoms about in the first place.



Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): This is the standard depressive disorder that you think of when you first hear the term 'depression'. MDD is categorized by having 5 or more symptoms of depression lasting longer than two weeks - with severity ranging from mild to intense.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): Rather than a depressive episode that lasts a few weeks, persistent depressive disorder is categorized by a more 'stable' and consistent level of depression. Symptoms may not present themselves as severely, but the duration of the symptoms is very uncomfortable for patients diagnosed (2 years for adults, 1 year for children).

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Emotional changes during menstruation are to be expected, but with premenstrual dysphoric disorder it directly relates to the repeated change in hormones which creates a drastic shift in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In many cases, the 'flip of a switch' change can cause problems for patients in their personal life maintaining relationships and responsibilities.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): DMDD is mostly seen in children and teens, and presents itself as anger and irritability more than sadness and loss of interest. Children with this condition are often engaging in unwanted outbursts and temper tantrums.

Other common depressive disorders: Sometimes, depressive symptoms can be apparent in people who do not fall under the 'depressed' diagnosis, or do not have any other symptoms. Though depression often is caused by internal reasons (Endogenous Depression), it can also be caused by external factors as well (Exogenous Depression) - ranging from particular event situations like a divorce, recent surgery, health complications or financial struggles. Exogenous depression can occur quickly after a challenging event, and is a type of 'Reactive Depression'.



Since there is such a wide range of depressive disorders, symptoms of said disorders can present themselves in an equally wide variety. Classic symptoms include:

  • A depressed mood, paired with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness and irritability

  • Noteworthy weight change or significant change in diet

  • Feeling or looking very slowed down, or sped up, in normal behaviors

  • Loss of energy

  • Loss of pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Thinking about death, dying, or suicide

Depressive disorders affect everyone differently - children often display much differently than adults, behaving 'clingy' and being unwilling to separate, also often complaining about stomach aches when depressive episodes are coming on. Adolescents and teens will often shift behavior toward anger - often times, they will struggle with school work, can retreat from their friend groups, and even display symptoms of anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. When it comes to adults, men and women have some differences as well - women commonly display high levels of guilt, feelings of worthlessness, and shame. Men, however, are significantly more likely to experience physical symptoms, and will often complain about heart problems, chest pain, headaches and digestive health issues. Older adults pose a bit of a harder problem when it comes to diagnosis of depression - often times the symptoms can be challenging to discern from other, more standard, signs of aging. Seniors may also conceal their feelings of sadness due to the affect it could have on their family. Life events, such as death of loved ones, or new health complications, can add to or create depression in seniors struggling with depression.



So how do we treat depression? The most effective treatment for any version of depressive disorders is to see a mental health professional! Therapy, which can range from once a month to several hours a day, can also be given in individual, group, or family situations. Talk therapy is very beneficial, and is the front line approach for depression treatment. Medication is another option, often times given hand-in-hand with talk therapy treatment, and aims to adjust the level of neurotransmitters in the brain (decrease depression symptoms and improve overall mental health). Medication is often a trial and error situation, and you should always discuss with your doctor before stopping anything abruptly - giving your body a new dose of medication, then immediately taking it away, can have very adverse side effects. Always consult your mental health professional! Lastly, taking portions of your treatment into your own hands can be very beneficial to your treatment program. Lifestyle changes, whether it's learning more about your depression diagnosis, increasing your exercise amount, limiting your use of alcohol and other substances, or just setting yourself up with a regular sleep routine, can have a major influence on making your existing treatment more beneficial. Performing these tasks will not immediately eliminate all signs of depression from your life, but they can provide a good starting point to help you get your symptoms under control.