It’s absolutely normal to feel sad after an upsetting life event, like a relationship ending or losing your job, for example. All of us feel sad or blue every now and then.
But depression is a lot more complicated than just being “down in the dumps”; clinical depression, officially classified as Major Depressive Disorder, is a serious mental illness that can cause disability and even death (by suicide) if left untreated.
What is Major Depressive Disorder?
Major Depressive Disorder is the clinical diagnosis for what we usually refer to as “depression”. It’s thought to be caused by a combination of brain dysfunction, genetics and environmental factors. There are many mental illnesses (like bipolar disorder) that have features of depression, but Major Depressive Disorder is primarily defined by a sad mood that doesn’t go away.
Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (or DSM-V) is the American Psychiatric Association’s official guide on mental health disorders and their symptoms. According to the DSM-V, the diagnostic criteria of major depressive disorder include:
- Depressed mood (sadness) almost all the time
- Loss of interest in daily activities, even activities that used to be enjoyable
- Changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or gain
- Sleep changes (sleeping more or less than usual)
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation (moving slowly or being restless to the extent to which it’s observable by others)
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost all the time
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Recurrent thoughts about death or suicide
Many of us probably have felt one or more of these symptoms at some point in our lives; again, it’s a natural reaction to stressful life events to feel sadness or even changes in energy and appetite. What makes Major Depressive Disorder a serious illness, is that a person experiences many of these symptoms at once, and that the feelings last for over two weeks.
Warning Signs of Clinical Depression
On top of the official diagnostic criteria, it’s also important to keep an eye out for more subtle warning signs that you or someone you love is clinically depressed. Along with its recognized symptoms, some other signs that you or a loved one might have depression are:
- Social isolation: You find yourself isolating from friends and family, even people you usually enjoy being around.
- Irritability: Some people, when they have depression, find themselves feeling more irritable than sad (the feeling that’s more typically associated with depression). If you find yourself snapping at others more frequently, then this might be a sign of depression.
- Hopelessness: You lose sight of the fact that every feeling is temporary, even the most painful ones; you feel hopeless about things ever getting better.
- Unexplained physical symptoms: You might experience what are called psychosomatic symptoms, like headaches, stomachaches, or other tension or pain in your body that are unexplained by physical illness.
- Impulsive behaviors: Some people with depression resort to reckless behaviors like using drugs and alcohol, having unsafe sex, or gambling.
The important thing to remember is that clinical depression can present differently in different people. If you’re worried that you or a loved one is depressed, it’s important that you talk to a licensed mental health provider so they can help you figure out if you’re experiencing depression and start you on the appropriate treatment.
Treatment for Clinical Depression
Although major depressive (and other depressive) disorders are painful diseases, thankfully, they’re also treatable ones. In recent years, experts have developed several effective treatments for clinical depression — which means that you don’t need to live with this level of suffering forever. Most research shows that the most effective treatment plans for depression include a combination of psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle changes.
One of the most effective treatments for clinical depression is psychotherapy, or talk therapy. A therapy technique called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the method that’s most often used to treat major depressive disorder. CBT helps people to realize that their thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all connected, and that by challenging their negative or irrational thoughts, they can start to feel less depressed.
Other psychotherapy methods, like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have also been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.
Anti-depressant medication can also be effective for many people. Remember when we said that depression is associated with many different changes in the brain? Certain types of medications are designed to fix these chemical imbalances and make sure that all of your neurotransmitters are communicating as they should.
The most common types of antidepressant medications are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs (like Prozac or Zoloft), Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors or SNRIs (like Effexor), and tricyclic antidepressants (like Tofranil).
Your doctor might also prescribe you with other medications, depending on your symptoms. For example, if you’re experiencing depression with psychotic features, an anti-psychotic medication might be called for.
Although serious depression isn’t likely to go away on its own, there are many lifestyle changes and self-help methods you can use to manage your symptoms.
Physical exercise has been found to release endorphins, or neurotransmitters that are responsible for feelings of happiness and pleasure. Studies have shown that exercising 3 to 5 days a week can help improve symptoms of depression, even without medication.
Meditation and mindfulness practices have also been linked to less depression, and many psychotherapy methods now use these practices as part of treatment because of how effective they are.
Eating well, sleeping enough every day, connecting with your social support network and learning healthy stress management techniques can also be incredibly helpful in battling depression.
Residential Depression Treatment in Colorado
At All Points North Lodge, our treatment team has the clinical expertise to deliver evidence-based treatment for major depressive disorder, as well as a whole array of other mental health and substance use disorders.
Contact our intake department for more information on our programs and how we can help you recover from depression.