Depression affects millions of people in the U.S. and worldwide, yet it is possibly one of the most misunderstood mental health disorders we know about. It is often associated with feeling “down in the dumps,” but depression goes beyond how someone feels temporarily. When someone is “feeling blue,” it implies that while they are sad or not feeling their best, their mood will lift once their situation improves or their mood wears off. This is not the case for people with disorders involving serious depression.
Why Depression Is Viewed as a Mental Illness
Depression is widely viewed as a mental illness in the medical community because it is a condition that chronically disrupts someone’s functioning, disabling them from living full, healthy lives. For many people, it is not something that will eventually go away on its own. It also can worsen if not treated, further supporting the view that it is an illness.
Per the American Psychiatric Association (APA), mental illnesses are health conditions that change how people feel, think, and act. Mayo Clinic agrees, saying that a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when the signs and symptoms of a condition are ongoing and frequently affect someone’s ability to function. It also lists depression as an example of mental illness along with anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors.
Mental Health America says more than 200 classified kinds of mental illness exist. Along with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the most common among people in the United States.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Many people with depression know their condition is not temporary. Their low mood affects their thoughts, emotions, and behavior, which means there’s generally no part of their life that isn’t affected by it. They may have major depressive disorder (MDD), which is also known as clinical depression. This kind of depression is a serious medical condition that usually requires professional treatment. The following symptoms of MDD show how the condition affects a person across areas of their life. A person with it may:
- Have nagging or lingering feelings of sadness
- Lose interest in daily activities
- Problems with sleep (insomnia)
- Sleeping too much
- Show no interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed
- Weight loss or gain no related to diet or exercise
- Have little to no energy
- Feel increased tiredness
- Restlessness, irritability (pacing, hand-wringing)
- Delayed movements and speech
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
- Foggy thinking
- Struggling to concentrate or having difficulty with making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
- Constant thoughts about death
As outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a major depressive episode can last for at least two weeks. During this time, people can experience any of the symptoms listed above. As a result of their chronic low mood, people with depression can experience all complicated outcomes associated with mental illness, which can affect them physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. As Mayo Clinic explains, these adverse outcomes can include:
- General unhappiness and loss of enjoyment of life
- Troubled or turbulent relationships, leading to conflicts with family and friends
- Social isolation, withdrawal
- Substance abuse problems, including problems with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
- Work, school performance, which includes chronic absenteeism
- Legal and financial problems
- Poverty and homelessness
- Medical problems of all kinds, including a weakened immune system
- Self-harm and harm to others, including suicide and homicide
Depression can range from mild to severe, but any disruption to daily life can cause stress that makes it hard to want to keep going. People with mental illnesses often struggle to adapt to changing situations or hardships. They also develop an outlook on life that can make it difficult to relate to others in healthy ways. It is important to recognize depression for the mental illness that it is and address it using effective, evidence-based treatment.
Depression may present differently in older adults
Some people may think depression is a normal part of aging. Mayo Clinic says, however, that depression is not a normal part of growing older. The condition can be harder to notice in people who are older because it can look different from depression in children and younger adults. A senior-age adult may exhibit:
- Memory problems
- Personality changes
- Physical aches, pains
- Lack of interest in leaving home
They also may avoid people and show little interest in socializing with others, even family members. Older people can also have suicidal thoughts or feelings.
Depression in Children
While much of the attention to depression focuses on adults, children are among the millions of people with depression, and they can also experience depressive episodes. Depression can start in children as young as age 3, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It reports that 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed depression, and 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed anxiety. Children can have both conditions at the same time.
Children with depression can have the same symptoms as adults with the disorder. In addition, their depression can affect how they relate to family members, perform in school, and socialize and make friends with their peers.
They also can have thoughts of dying by suicide, which is one critical reason that depression in children should be treated. Per the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 15 and 24. Severe depression is usually present in children who attempt suicide.
Depression Will Not Look the Same for Everyone
Different forms of depression can occur, and at least nine types of depression exist. How long you experience symptoms, how long those symptoms last, and whether other symptoms are present can all determine what kind of depression you have. In addition to MDD, a person could have:
- Atypical depression: This is a subtype of MDD with atypical features or features that are usually not linked to typical major depressive episodes. These can include weight gain or excessive sleep.
- Seasonal depression: Also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs based on what season it is
- Depressive psychosis: A form of MDD that comes with symptoms of psychosis, which causes a loss of touch with reality, usually with delusions and hallucinations
- Bipolar disorder: This mood disorder, also called manic depressive disorder, is characterized by periods of major depressive episodes. However, it can also be marked by periods of high moods known as mania.
- Persistent Depression: Persistent depression can last for several months or years, but they are less severe than people with MDD. Even though symptoms may be less severe, leaving this type of depression untreated can also impair a person’s life.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): This mood disorder causes depressive symptoms around the time of a woman’s menstrual period. It is often confused with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), but it is different from PMS because it is marked by extreme mood swings and intense feelings of sadness before one’s period.
- Perinatal Depression: Pregnant women can experience depressive episodes while they are carrying their unborn child. Women can also experience postpartum depression after they have a baby, as well.
- Situational depression: This common form of depression is often temporary. It occurs when an event or a situation develops, such as one stemming from a traumatic event or an event involving a great deal of stress or disappointment. Situational depression can last several weeks or months, but it can clear up without professional treatment.
What Causes Depression?
Depression is not believed to have a single cause, and everyone is vulnerable to experiencing it. In many cases, depression results from coping with struggles of different kinds, and anything can trigger it. Losing a family member, a job, a home, or a relationship can cause depression, but there are other factors, too. According to the APA, the following can contribute to someone’s chances of developing a depressive disorder:
- Biochemistry: Imbalances in someone’s brain chemistry can cause depressive symptoms.
- Genetics: People can be susceptible to developing depression if it runs in their families.
- Personality: According to Mayo Clinic, low self-esteem, stress, or a general negative outlook on life can make people more likely to experience depression.
- Environmental factors: Regular exposure to violence, neglect, abuse, or poverty can bring on depression, as well.
Determining If You Have Depression
First, it is important to know that if you are experiencing depression, it is nothing to be ashamed of. There is no reason to hide this from yourself or others. It is important to recognize that if you do have depression, it is a call to action to get help for your condition. Professional treatment is available, and there are people who can help you. According to the APA, treatment can help people with depression find some relief from their symptoms. It is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of people with MDD respond to treatment.
If you have persistent periods of any of the symptoms listed above, your next steps are to see a medical or mental health professional so that you can confirm if you are experiencing depression or another condition. Depression can be a disorder on its own or a sign of another mental health disorder, such as:
Depression that runs longer than two weeks can be a symptom of other disorders, such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
- Social anxiety disorder
Remember, if your symptoms last two weeks or longer, you could be diagnosed with depression. Depression should not go unchecked. Seek medical help as soon as possible. If you are having thoughts of dying by suicide, call 911 or 1-800-273-8255, the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
How Is Depression Diagnosed?
As Mayo Clinic explains, a medical professional can determine that you have depression after performing the following:
- A physical exam, which can determine if your depression is linked to a physical health condition
- Lab exams, which can test your blood, thyroid, and other parts of the body
- A psychiatric evaluation, which will allow your doctor to evaluate your symptoms
- Consulting with the DSM-5 to compare your symptoms against criteria for depression
If you receive a formal diagnosis of depression, you can now identify which treatments you will need for your condition. A medical professional could prescribe antidepressant medication for you, or you could be prescribed to start psychotherapy sessions that can give you the mental and emotional tools to manage your condition in ways that are beneficial for you and others. Many people are prescribed both psychotherapy and medication for their depression.
Depression Treatment Using Medication
Using medication to treat depression is effective for many people. However, it is important that you understand what’s involved with taking medication for your condition. If you are prescribed antidepressant medication, you must take one that is right for you.
Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat depression because they balance natural chemicals in the brain that control a person’s mood, emotions, and behavior. Many medical professionals believe these medications are safe for use because they work slowly and are generally not addictive or habit-forming.
Still, people with a history of substance abuse should tell their doctor before starting antidepressants or any kind of medication. This is critical for people who are recovering from a substance use disorder. They also should tell their doctor about other medications they are taking as well as other vitamins or supplements.
Antidepressants are grouped by the brain chemicals they are designed to treat, FamilyDoctor.org notes. There are five classes of antidepressants available. However, two are among the ones most widely used. Those are:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
You may recognize antidepressants by their trade name. Some SSRI medications are:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
SNRI medications include:
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta, Irenka)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla, Ellefore)
It is important to know that if you are prescribed antidepressants, they take time to work. According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), it could be two to four weeks before someone can see their symptoms improve. This means patience is required, and NIMH cautions that people should give the medication a chance before concluding that it doesn’t work.
If you are taking an antidepressant regularly, you are advised not to stop using it abruptly. This can bring on uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that are usually unpleasant to deal with. Consult your doctor before you stop. According to NIMH, some people end their antidepressant use when they start feeling better. This is discouraged as the depression can return. Your doctor can wean you off the medication slowly after a six- to 12-month course of taking it.
Depression Treatment Using Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is also widely prescribed for people who are living with depression. Medication addresses only one aspect of depression. Even if medication helps people feel better, they still need to know what to do to keep their mood lifted. Practicing healthy behaviors can be engaging and require active participation to keep depression in check.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that is commonly used in mental health treatment. During CBT sessions, participants are guided through exercises that help them identify and target negative thought patterns that can lead to depressive behavior. People learn about the link between thoughts and behavior and are encouraged to find solutions that help them work through adversity and bring about changes that are positive. Changing how one thinks can support efforts to manage depression.
Other therapies that can be used to treat depression include:
Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This short-term psychotherapy helps a person with depression focus on their interpersonal relationships and social interactions, per Verywell Mind. There are two forms of IPT. The first is dynamic interpersonal therapy, which helps people understand their thoughts and feelings and those of others. The second is metacognitive interpersonal therapy, which VeryWell Mind says is “an integrative approach to address personality disorders with prominent emotional inhibition (holding back your emotions) or avoidance.”
Problem-solving therapy: This practical therapy helps people with depression learn how to identify and solve problems that come about from stress, as VeryWell Mind explains. In addition to identifying the problem, patients learn how to define the problem to understand it from a deeper level and figure out the best course of action to address it. A doctor or mental health professional can administer this therapy, which can take place alongside other treatment approaches. It can be given in a one-on-one or group setting.
These are only three of many types of therapy used to help people with depression. Any treatment you receive for depression should be tailored specifically for your needs, preferences, and desired outcomes. A mental health professional will work with you to find the right therapies for you.
In addition to psychotherapy and medication, people can manage their depression by getting the proper amount of rest, improving their diet and exercise routine, and reaching out to trusted friends and family when they need someone to talk to.
Addressing a low mood can include things like creating a new routine or schedule that can get you out of your rut. Changing just one thing can make a big difference. This can include taking some time to engage in a mindful meditation exercise before getting ready for work or taking the long route home after work to give yourself some downtime.
Not everyone with depression will receive the proper treatment for it, which can lead them down the path to other problems. One of those problems is substance addiction. People with depression may self-medicate with alcohol or prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or even over-the-counter drugs to treat their problem on their own and find relief from their symptoms. However, this practice often leads to a person developing a substance use disorder (SUD), which is also called an addiction. This condition of having a mental health disorder and a SUD is called dual diagnosis. Other terms for it include comorbidity and co-occurring disorders.
Using substances in this way could worsen depression, and people who self-medicate in this way likely will find it harder to stop using substances as their depression worsens. If a person with depression also has a drinking or drug problem, they should enter an addiction treatment program that addresses both conditions together at the same time. It is critical that both are treated concurrently; treating one and not the other is ineffective. A person can also relapse and overdose if they do not receive treatment that addresses the mental and emotional effects of addiction.
Help for Depression Can Begin Today at Vista Pines Health
Depression can be debilitating and hard to live with, but it is treatable, and you can get the treatment you need, and you don’t have to do it alone. The team at Vista Pines Health can help you make a fresh start today. Our customized programs help many people get the help they need for treating mental health disorders.
We put our clients and their needs first and keep our clinician-to-patient ratio low so that we can give each client the attention and care they require. Our 20-bed facility in Pembroke Pines, Florida, provides the right setting for comfort and privacy.
We will evaluate your needs and let you know which psychotherapy and medication therapy are right for you. If you also have a substance use disorder, we can help you get the care you need for that, too. We share a campus with a facility in our network, Arete Recovery, which specializes in treating people with substance use disorders.
We want to learn more about how we can help you with your mental health needs. Call us today to learn more about our programs, your options, and more. The life you want is within reach, and depression does not have to stop you from attaining it. We will give you the tools and support you need to live a fulfilling life.