Depression, medically known as clinical depression or depressive disorder, is a common and serious mood disorder that affects people of all ages around the world.
It causes severe symptoms that affect how you live your day to day life, how you interact with your loved ones and how you handle situations. It can be described as a feeling of engulfing sadness, or of feeling lifeless, apathetic and empty.
Though depression is a serious disorder, there are various methods and treatments in place to identify whether you are depressed, and correctly treat the disorder if you are.
How do I know it’s depression?
Research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
However, there are also a number of external risk factors that can trigger depression in someone. These include:
- Personal or family history with depression.
- Major life changes, trauma or stress.
- Certain physical illnesses or medication.
There are many different ways that depression can manifest, and for many different reasons. As a result, there are several types of depression that can be diagnosed.
Major depression is characterised by intense, relentless symptoms and is much less common than any of the other types of depression.
Atypical depression is a subtype of major depression and manifests as a specific pattern of symptoms that can be easier to treat once identified.
Dysthymia is a type of chronic ‘low-grade’ depression that has symptoms that are not as strong as other types of depression, but last for a very long time.
In some cases, individuals might develop seasonal affective disorder, which is characterised by the onset of depression in the winter months.
There are also other, more specific types of depression, such a perinatal depression (when a mother experiences full-blown depression during pregnancy or after birth) and psychotic depression, which is depression that forms along with severe psychosis.
It is important to be aware of the different types of depression that exist — if you have depression, knowing what kind you are experiencing will help you create the best treatment for it.
What are the signs and risks of depression?
For a doctor to diagnose depression, signs and symptoms have to be consistent for two weeks. Some of the signs of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
One of the things it’s important to remember when studying the symptoms of depression is that it manifests differently in adults versus children, and in men and women. This could be critical to identifying when someone is struggling with the disorder.
In many cases, not all symptoms may be experienced — different individuals may experience just two, or three, different symptoms. Either way, if any of the symptoms persist for more than two weeks, then it’s advisable to seek help.
A major risk of depression is its close link to suicide and suicide ideation. The deep despair and hopelessness that can characterise depression can make suicide seem like the only way out.
If you have a loved one with depression, you may want to watch for the following warning signs and take any suicidal talk or behaviour very seriously:
- Talking about killing or harming one’s self
- Expressing strong feelings of hopelessness or being trapped
- An unusual preoccupation with death or dying
- Acting recklessly, as if they have a death wish (e.g. speeding through red lights)
- Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
- Getting affairs in order (giving away prized possessions, tying up loose ends)
- Saying things like “Everyone would be better off without me” or “I want out”
- A sudden switch from being extremely depressed to acting calm and happy
How is depression treated and managed?
Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. For treatment to work most effectively, it needs to begin as early into the development of the disorder as possible.
Critical to successful treatment is to remember that no two people are affected the same way by depression and that there isn’t an umbrella treatment — finding out what works best for you could be a case of trial and error for a little while.
Treatment for depression can involve either medication or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. In severe cases, brain stimulation therapies can also be attempted.
If medication is being used for treatment, this will often involve being prescribed antidepressants. Antidepressants influence the way chemicals in your brain that control mood or stress act. Several may need to be tried before one is found that delivers the right treatment and has manageable side effects.
Antidepressants usually take two to four weeks to start working, and can shift more physical symptoms first before mood starts to improve, so it’s important to give the medication time to work. In some cases, antidepressants may increase certain suicidal thoughts in children, teens and young adults under 25 before they take effect.
For women who are breastfeeding, pregnant or planning to fall pregnant, it is important to consult with a doctor about increased health risks antidepressants may trigger in nursing or pregnant mothers and infants.
Psychotherapy, or counselling, is often prescribed along with medication, as an effective tool to combating the disorder. Brain stimulation therapies, which have advanced through the years, are also one of the methods available for treating depression.
If you, a loved one, or a colleague has depression
If you are living with depression, outside of clinical and psychotherapeutic treatment, there are a number of lifestyle shifts you can make to help deal with your depression.
It’s important to know that there is no onus or pressure on you to take these actions, but when you’re ready, the following can help you manage your depression:
- Try to be active and exercise.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
- Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.
- Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced, or changing jobs until you feel better.
- Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
- Continue to educate yourself about depression.
If a friend or family member has depression, how you deal with it around them can be critical to the success or failure of their treatment.
Key to understanding how a loved one with depression feels is to remember that depression is a serious medical condition and as a result, the symptoms are not personally directed at you — people with depression have little control over their moods and behaviours and can sometimes act out, and hiding or ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
However, the most important thing to be aware of is that you cannot fix someone else’s depression. Recovery is in the hands of the depressed person and all you can do is try and manage your fear and distress for them without hurting them or yourself.
One way to do this is to understand as much as possible about the disorder and how to talk about it with your loved one or friend. Remember, being a compassionate and empathic listener is much more important than giving advice, so position yourself in a role of support, someone who is there to talk — often, it does a world of good if the depressed person just feels like someone is listening to them with no judgement.
When talking to your friend or loved one about their depression, keep in mind the following things you can say that will help:
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.
- You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
- Tell me what I can do now to help you.
In the workplace, talking about depression becomes that much more difficult. However, ignoring depression in the workplace can have a negative impact on the company itself and so employers should attempt to manage mood disorders among their staff as openly and supportively as possible.
Encouraging people to talk to their managers, not making assumptions about individuals and being flexible in responding to depression are just some of the ways the workplace can be made a bit more welcoming and understanding of mood disorders like depression.
Links / References:
National Institute of Mental Health – Depression. (May 2016). Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
HelpGuide.org – Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs. (June 2016). Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-signs-and-symptoms.htm
WebMD – Depression. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/depression/
WebMD – 17 Everyday Ways to Ease Depression. (December 09, 2015). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/depression/ss/slideshow-depression-diet-stress-exercise
HelpGuide.org – Helping a Depressed Person. (June 2016). Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-a-depressed-person.htm
WebMD – Recognizing Suicidal Behavior. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/recognizing-suicidal-behavior
HR ZONE – HR guide to depression in the workplace. (16th Jul 2013). Retrieved from http://www.hrzone.com/lead/culture/hr-guide-to-depression-in-the-workplace
EHS Today – Five Strategies for Dealing with Workplace Depression. (Feb 3, 2009). Retrieved from http://ehstoday.com/safety/management/strategies-workplace-depression-1101