What Is Depression?

All of us know what it is to be sad, but not all of us know what it is to be depressed. However, the illness is fairly common, with one in 15 adults developing the disease in any given year and one in six people experiencing it at some time during their life. It is most likely to first appear during someone’s teens or mid-20s, but can strike at any time in one’s life. 

Depression is primarily characterized by depressed mood, but it can also involve impaired cognition, fatigue, disturbed sleep or appetite, and other more physically based symptoms. The cause of depression is not entirely known, but it does have certain known potential triggers or risk factors, such as alcohol or drug use, certain medical conditions or medications, or a history of abuse or trauma. It has also been associated with physical changes to certain brain structures and alterations to neurotransmitter levels. If you think that you may be depressed, read on to learn more about the symptoms that distinguish sadness from clinical depression that may require professional treatment.

Symptoms Of Depression

The DSM-V, or Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines the diagnostic criteria for depression as follows: 

The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day 
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  4. Psychomotor agitation (eg, speaking or moving more or more quickly than usual) or retardation (eg, speaking or moving less or less quickly than usual) nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  5. Insomnia or hypersomnia (being overly sleepy) nearly every day.
  6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  7. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

These symptoms must also cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition, including another mental health condition like schizophrenia or another psychotic-spectrum disorder. 

Other symptoms sometimes associated with depression include unexplained physical symptoms like aches and pains or digestive symptoms that do not ease even with treatment, crying for no reason, or irritability and angry outbursts.

Treatment for Depression 

If these symptoms seem as if they might describe your experience, know that there is hope. Though depression can be a debilitating disease and should always be taken seriously, there is help out there. Treatment for depression usually includes therapy, and can also include psychopharmaceutical medication. The first line medication prescribed for depression are usually SSRI’s, or serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which increase the level of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain by preventing its reuptake by the nerve cells that produce it. Some commonly prescribed SSRIs include Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. 

If a patient fails to respond to SSRIs, other medications for depression may be used, like tricyclic antidepressants or SNRIs (serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), which both work to prevent the reuptake of norepinephrine as well as of serotonin, or less typical antidepressants like Trazodone, Wellbutrin, or Remeron. If these remain ineffective, more invasive treatments, which are thought to work by stimulating the brain, like electroconvulsive treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or vagus nerve stimulation may be considered. 

Lifestyle Changes To Combat Depression 

Some lifestyle changes, especially combined with a more traditional treatment like talk therapy, have also been shown to have benefits for treating depression. Exercise can help your body raise its levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters and adrenaline and has had proven benefits for people suffering from depression. Getting enough sleep can also help balance your brain chemistry, as can eating a healthy diet made up of less inflammatory processed foods and more nutrient-dense whole foods. Specifically, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium, have all been found to have benefits when it comes to brain health. You’ll also want to avoid alcohol and other depressants, since they can exacerbate symptoms of depressed mood. 

Get Help For Depression And Addiction 

Depression can often coexist with substance abuse, since depression is often one of the factors that leads someone to self-medicate with substances. Substance use can in turn worsen the underlying depression. Emerging or exacerbated depressed mood can also be a symptom of withdrawals from many types of addiction. To learn more about addiction, withdrawal, and how we can help you or someone you love who is currently struggling, call us at (833) 489-5577




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