What is Depression?

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a profound feeling of sadness or the loss of interest in things that previously made one happy. It is incredibly common and yet a serious medical condition that many do not seek help or discuss openly. Depression can fundamentally change the way you think and behave, but it is treatable and beatable. There are a number of treatment methods available to tackle the array of ways in which depression manifests itself in different people, as well as the plethora of symptoms associated with it. 

Depression impacts an estimated one in 15 adults, or 6.7%, every year. One in six people, or 16.6%, will encounter depression at some point in their lifetimes. While depression can happen randomly, it usually affects people in their late teenage years or early twenties. On average, women are more likely to experience depression than men are. This makes sense if one considers the widespread occurrence of post-partum depression, or the prolonged sadness women feel after giving birth. Statistics show that as many as a third of women will face depression at least once.

Depression should not be confused with the sadness that we all very rightly experience following certain events or experiences. 

Specific Examples of Common Sadness Include: 

  • The end of a relationship
  • At the loss of a job
  • Death of a loved one

These are situations that are incredibly difficult to move on from and recover. However, the key indicator there is the process of recovery. Eventually, it becomes easier to deal with those losses. The grieving process is unique to each and every individual and is influenced by several factors. Soon you may find a new job or enter another relationship after healing from the previous one. But when that sadness does not subside or go away, you are now in a depressed state, and that could have disastrous consequences.

On the surface, depression and grief have many of the same features in common. Typically, there is a withdrawal from active social life and responsibility. But in grief, there are still moments of happiness that are light and positive to counteract the dark periods. With depression, that happiness goes away entirely for at least two weeks and is replaced by absolute pain. While grieving, you also still maintain your sense of self and identity. Depression, on the other hand, has the potential to wipe away your self-esteem and result in feelings of total and complete worthlessness.

Depression can affect any and everyone. People who may seem entirely put together on the surface could just be hiding their depression. So, it is important to keep in mind that you cannot attach one look to depression and do not think you are immune to it. The best thing to do is get educated on all the types of depression, the risk factors, and symptoms. Be sure to research treatment methods available, and think about what would work best for you. These are the first and essential steps in mental health treatment.

What Are the Risk Factors of Depression?

Risk factors in context are anything and everything that increase your chances of developing depression. Sometimes people blame themselves for feeling depressed. Knowing that there are risk factors or certain predispositions that cause your depression and are out of your control might help to shed some of that blame. The risk factors for depression are, in no particular order:

  1. Genetics: Depression is hereditary and can pass from a parent to a child or through other familiar relations. In the case of identical twins, for example, if one is depressed, the other has a 70 percent chance of developing depression later on in life.
  2. Biochemistry: There are differences in the composition and concentration of certain chemicals in the brain that may increase the chance of depression.
  3. Environmental stressors: Exposure to adverse events in one’s surroundings may expedite one’s depression or increase susceptibility to it. Experiencing neglect, abuse, poverty, and violence are just some of the negative environmental factors that can lead to depression. Having to deal with these things in childhood can be incredibly traumatic as children do not have the tools and faculties to grieve situations in their life properly. 
  4. Personality: Individuals who think little of themselves fall quicker into depression because they already feel worthless. People who do not deal well with pressure become depressed faster because they cannot cope with those challenges in a comprehensive way. Those who are highly cynical or nihilistic may be depressed more because they are suspecting that bad things will happen to them and so basically invite it into existence.

If you know that you have some of these risk factors, it is a good idea to seek mental health treatment now as a precaution rather than wait for the depression to come and make it harder.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

There are several signs and symptoms of depression that vary in intensity and duration:

  1. Loss of enjoyment in activities and interests
  2. Feeling sad or being in a depressed state
  3. Sleep-related issues like insomnia or oversleeping
  4. Appetite changes resulting in weight gain or loss
  5. Difficulty making decisions or maintaining concentration
  6. Greater feelings of fatigue and weakness
  7. Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  8. Sense of worthlessness or low self-esteem
  9. Slower physical movements
  10. Thoughts of death or suicide
  11. Self-harming actions like cutting

In order to be considered depression and not another form of sadness, these symptoms above must persist for at least two weeks. Remember, if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide to please seek immediate help to prevent any self-harm. Also, keep in mind that certain medical conditions may mimic the symptoms of depression. This includes vitamin deficiency, tumors, or thyroid-related illnesses. Consult a doctor to prevent any misleading diagnoses.

What Are Common Treatments for Depression?

Regular exercise is a proven way to change the chemistry of the body and trigger the release of chemicals that trigger positive emotions. Getting the proper amount of sleep and eating a balanced diet can also help to keep your body and mind at peace. Cutting out people in your life that trigger your depression is another huge way to tackle it. Reducing habits that make you feel down, such as drinking alcohol or smoking, also helps.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, it is important to start the journey to mental health treatment. Depression is not incurable; in fact, many people have successfully recovered from it. Once you identify that depression is indeed what you are struggling with, please continue with the process and get help. There are several small things every individual can do to stop feeling depressed. 

For more severe cases of depression, seek help from outside sources. Do not be afraid to get professional assistance. 90% of people who suffer from depression respond well to treatment and can get some relief. These other mental health treatments include:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT is the most effective way to treat depression. It helps the individual to figure out why they feel the way they do, identify their problematic ways of thinking, and provides the tools to help correct those harmful patterns.
  2. Medication: Some are designed to balance the chemicals in your brain that may be causing depression. Antidepressants receive their name because they boost your mood by altering the makeup up your brain. Patients tend to see results in a couple of weeks and can always change the dosage or type of medication to achieve optimal results. 
  3. Psychotherapy: This is also known as “talk therapy” and is usually used for the type of depression that can be worked out by the affected individual working through the obstacles in their life. Sometimes it helps to explain childhood trauma or personal difficulties to an objective person who will listen objectively and is qualified to offer their opinion. Psychotherapy is often paired with medication to provide comprehensive treatment and can be done one-on-one, in group settings, or with other family members.

Mental health and Addiction: Understanding Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is when an individual suffers from both a substance use disorder, like drug or alcohol addiction, and a mental health disorder at the same time. Often, an addiction can lead to mental illness if it gets to the point of altering one’s brain chemistry or mental illness can lead to addiction as people tend to try and self-medicate rather than seek effective treatment.

Many people with a co-occurring disorder develop the condition due to a desire to feel accepted and like a “functioning” individual. It may start with one drink to calm social anxiety that turns into alcohol addiction. Or a hit of marijuana to try and forget memories of trauma. While these may provide short-term relief, they are not efficient long-term methods of treatment and result in a cycle of abuse that could be deadly to the individual and those around them.

Dual diagnosis is highly prevalent in America. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2018, approximately 9.2 million adults experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder that year. Only 34.5% sought mental health treatment, while 3.9% got treatment for their addiction. 9.1% addressed both illnesses. While these statistics are bleak, it is important to note that there is treatment for mental health disorders and addiction separately, just as there are effective ways to treat both at the same time. Never give up hope for rehabilitation.
For more information regarding your treatment options please reach out to our team of treatment specialists by dialing or texting (855) 425-4846. You can also contact us here.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.