What Is Depression?
Everyone occasionally gets the blues or feels sad, but these feelings are usually brief and pass within a couple of days. When a person has a depressive disorder, depression interferes with their daily life and normal functioning, and causes pain for both the person with the disorder and those who care about him or her. If you consistently can relate to feeling down, feeling low, feeling fatigued, can't sleep, have a sudden loss or lack of interest in hobbies or in life in general, or have severe mood swings, then you maybe suffering from some form of depression.
Depression is a common but serious illness if left untreated. Most depressed individuals need treatment to get better, but many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. The vast majority, even those with the most severe type of depression, can get better with treatment. Intensive research into the illness has resulted in the development of medications, psychotherapies, and other methods to treat people with this disabling disorder.
What are the different forms of depression?
There are several forms of depressive disorders. The most common are major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder, also called major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime, but more often it recurs throughout a person's life.
Dysthymic disorder, also called dysthymia, is characterized by long-term (two years or longer) but less severe depressive symptoms that may not disable a person but can prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.
Some forms of depressive disorders exhibit slightly different characteristics than those described above and they may develop under unique circumstances.
Psychotic depression, occurs when a severe depressive illness is accompanied by some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality, hallucinations, and delusions.
Postpartum depression, is diagnosed if a new mother develops a major depressive episode within one month after delivery. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is characterized by the onset of a depressive illness during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.
Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or dysthymia. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes-from extreme highs (e.g., mania) to extreme lows (e.g., depression).
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that affects over 5 million American adults - causing unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Bipolar disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, but it is often not recognized as an illness, and people may suffer for years before it is properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings - from overly "high" and/or irritable (episodes of mania) to sad and hopeless (episodes of depression), and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between.
Signs and symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include:
- Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
- Excessively "high", overly good, euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thought, fast speech, jumping from one idea to another
- Distractibility, inability to concentrate
- Little sleep needed
- Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
- Poor judgment
- Spending sprees
- A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
- Increased sexual drive
- Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
- Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
- Denial that anything is wrong
Signs and symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode) include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being "slowed down"
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Restlessness or irritability
- Sleeping too much, or inability to sleep
- Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
- Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
In some people, however, symptoms of mania and depression may occur together in what is called a mixed bipolar state. Symptoms of a mixed state often include agitation, trouble sleeping, significant change in appetite, psychosis, and suicidal thinking. A person may have a very sad, hopeless mood while at the same time feeling extremely energized. Bipolar disorder may also appear to be a problem other than mental illness - for instance, alcohol or drug abuse, poor school or work performance, or strained interpersonal relationships. Such problems in fact may be signs of an underlying mood disorder.
What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Symptoms may include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Irritability and/or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems
How Is Depression Detected And Treated?
Depression, even the most severe cases, is a highly treatable disorder. As with many illnesses, the earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is and the greater the likelihood that recurrence can be prevented.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications and some medical conditions may mimic some of the same symptoms as depression. A doctor can rule out these possibilities by conducting a physical examination, interviewing you, and/or performing lab tests. If the doctor can eliminate a medical condition as a cause, he or she will conduct a psychological evaluation or refer the patient to a mental health professional.
The doctor or mental health professional will conduct a complete diagnostic evaluation. He or she will discuss any family history of depression and get a complete history of symptoms. For example, individuals will be asked when the symptoms started, how long they have lasted, the severity of the symptoms, and whether they have occurred before, and if so, how they were treated. The psychiatrist will also ask if the patient is using alcohol or drugs, and whether the patient is thinking about death or suicide.
At Alpha Behavioral Care we will conduct a complete diagnostic evaluation and discuss any family history of depression and get a complete history of your symptoms. For example, individuals will be asked when the symptoms started, how long they have lasted, the severity of the symptoms, and whether they have occurred before, and if so, how they were treated. The first thing that must be found out for the patient's safety and welfare is if the patient is currently using alcohol or drugs, and whether the patient is thinking about death or suicide. We can then treat your depression, depending on the severity of your symptoms, by employing either separately or in combination, psychotherapy and medication.