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  What Is... - Depression

What Is Depression?

Depression is a serious illness that impacts both the mind and body.  When people experience a major depression it can affect their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Depression is more than just feeling sad which can be a normal response to life circumstances. It is a chronic and complex illness that may require both psychological and medical intervention over a long period of time.

A depressive disorder may result in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, self-blame and extreme sadness or emotional despair. A Major Depressive Disorder goes beyond feelings of sadness and will result in difficulties or inability to manage regular activities of daily living. Suicidal thoughts or a desire to harm oneself may begin to intrude in ones thoughts.

Psychological counseling, medication and other treatments have been shown to be helpful in alleviating or managing symptoms for those suffering with depression. Learning about depression, the symptoms, and the impact on the individual can also be part of the solution as it gives you the chance to identify the problem, recognize the symptoms and find appropriate treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Each person experiences depression in a unique manner. However, there are common symptoms that can be seen in most types of depression. These signs and symptoms include the following:

  • A certainty that nothing will ever improve and nothing you do will help.
  • Overbearing feeling of sadness that won't go away
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • A sense of worthlessness or low self-esteem
  • Low frustration tolerance, irritability, agitation or restlessness
  • Reduced enjoyment in previously pleaurable activities (i.e., getting together with friends, enjoying hobbies, etc.)
  • Feelings of exhaustion that you cannot shake regardless of how much sleep you get
  • Disrupted sleep (i.e. either difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, awakening too early in the morning)
  • Poor memory or difficulty focusing, making decisions, or learning new material
  • Changes in appetite that result in weight gain or loss of over 10lbs
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts or a desire to self-harm
  • Physical discomfort, aches and pains, headaches, or stomach discomfort not explained by other medical problems

Types of Depression

Although we may see depression as one disorder there are actually several different type of depressive disorders that manifest in a unique manner and result due to different causes. Becoming aware of the type of depression you are struggling with will help you find the treatment that has the best fit. Symptoms of depressed mood are frequently experienced by people who have been exposed to traumatic events. If you have symptoms of depression but are not recovering from the treatments being provided you might also want to ask your health care provider if you might require treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress.

The most common forms of depression are Major Depressive Disorder; Dysthymic Disorder and Bi-polar Disorder (aka Manic-Depression). They are share the common traits of significant and debilitating emotional distress that impairs ability to function in regular daily activities (i.e., work, socializing, studying, etc.).

  • Major Depressive Disorder is characterized a number of chronic and constant daily symptoms that impair the individual's ability to experience joy in life or to manage the demands of daily living. Many people who suffer from depression experience one episode and then never again while some experience recurring bouts of depressed mood.  The most common features are listed above in the Signs and Symptoms section of this FAQ.
  • Dysthymic Disorder sufferers experience a low-grade depression that is not as severe as Major Depression but lasts a long period of time (at least two years or more in duration). Those who struggle with dysthmia are often able to manage many of their regular daily activities, work, socializing, studying and other life demands. However they generally describe a sense of lack of enjoyment and a disconnection from any pleasureable feelings. They may feel that this is their normal way of experiencing life and that they do not recall feeling any other way.
  • Bi-polar Disorder is often characterized by cycling moods which range from Manic feelings to Depressed feelings. When an individual is in a manic phase they often describe it as high energy combined with irritability which generates increased levels of activty. They may feel compelled to act out their mood through compulsive spending, speaking loudly and rapidly, increased sexual activity and various types of risky behaviors. They may also experienced decreased need for sleep, lack of fear, racing thoughts, and an inflated sense of self. It is important to be aware that treating Bipolar Disorder with antidepressants can make the symptoms worse. Ensure that the prescribing practitioner is familiar with current medication for Bipolar Disorder if you have been given this diagnosis or believe that you may have Bipolar disorder.

Each of these types of depression require monitoring and may warrant hospitalization or intensive therapy or treatment. Nonetheless, depression is treatable through psychological therapy and when treated with the proper approach is is linked to good outcomes.

There are other less common types of depressive disorder that might be of concern. When meeting with your mental health care professional ensure that you are notified of any diagnoses that they make and request information about the specific type of depression that you have been diagnosed with.

Treating Depression

The good news is that there are many different succesful approaches to dealing with the symptoms of depression. Even individuals struggling with severe symptoms of depression can experience very good results with timely and appropriate treatment.

Although seeking treatment can feel uncomfortable at first for some, it can result in re-engagement in life in all aspects and a sense of relief from extreme feelings of sadness and dispair. Treatment for depression generally involves counselling of some type in combination with medication or either medication or psychotherapy.

Give yourself the time to ensure that the treatment you are trying is working. Sometimes it requires an extended period of time before improvements are noticed. You may need to try different approaches or combinations of treatment before you find the best combination for you.

Psychological Counseling

The most commonly used approach for treating depression is Cognitive Bahavioral Therapy or CBT. This approaches assists the individual to challenge negatively held personal beliefs by reflecting on a more positive manner of thinking. It also utilizes processes exercises to help the individual recognize where they are getting stuck in their beliefs and how to come up with new solutions to old problems.