What is Depression?
Feeling down, sad, or tired is a normal and familiar feeling for all of us. Whether stress is starting to catch up, you’re burnt out, or simply feeling overwhelmed with daily stressors and responsibilities, this is something we all experience from time to time.
But when these feelings start to affect our daily lives or last longer than usual, it may be a sign of depression.
One of the most prevalent yet misunderstood mental health disorders, depression affects millions of people each year. When most people think of depression, they may think of it in one of two ways—either clinical depression, which requires treatment -or a period of depression that anyone can go through.
Symptoms can range from mild, temporary states of low mood to harsh, long-term symptoms that profoundly impact a person’s quality of life. If severe enough, depression can make it challenging to achieve everyday tasks, like take a shower or get out of bed. It can be challenging to understand if someone hasn’t experienced it before.
To better understand depression, the following includes a few common types, as well as potential causes.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Commonly referred to as clinical depression, major depressive disorder is the form most people
refer to on a day to day basis. A major depressive disorder is a mood disorder defined by several key features:
- Sadness, feelings of emptiness
- Lack of interest in activities normally enjoyed
- Appetite changes
- Changes in weight
- Changes in sleep (sleeping too much or too little
- Fatigue, or feeling “slowed down.”
- Physical symptoms or pain (body aches, frequent headaches, etc.
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
Aside from MDD, a few of the other more common types of depression include:
Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): Otherwise known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder refers to a chronic depression that lasts for more days than not, for at least 2 years. Symptoms aren’t as severe as MDD, but they are pervasive and long-lasting.
Postpartum Depression (PPD): More than “baby blues,” the significant hormonal changes a woman endures throughout pregnancy can create changes in mood, anxiety, and irritability. These shifts can affect a woman during or after her pregnancy.
Bipolar DIsorder: A mood disorder that includes periods of abnormally elevated mood-or mania and periods of major depression. Symptoms can range from mild or cause marked impairment in a person’s functioning. In more extreme cases, someone with bipolar can lose touch with reality or experience hallucinations and delusions.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD is commonly experienced as the weather gets colder, days get darker, and we’re forced to stay inside more frequently. The absence of sunlight causes a decline in serotonin levels, which influence the way we feel. Some may also have difficulty sleeping and feel tired throughout the day.
Causes of depression
Depression isn’t caused by one single factor. A traumatic event, a major life change, or an overwhelming amount of stress can be triggers of depression. But, it depends on an individual’s unique circumstances. Researchers consider several factors that can contribute to depression:
Trauma. When people experience trauma early, it can cause long-term changes in how their brains respond to fear and stress. These changes may lead to depression.
Genetics. Another significant risk factor, having a family history of depression or other mood disorders, can increase your risk of experiencing symptoms. It’s important to note that having the gene isn’t a single cause of depression but more of a risk factor.
Imbalance in brain chemistry. A potential biological cause of depression is an imbalance of the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood, otherwise known as serotonin. Serotonin, along with other neurotransmitters like dopamine, helps the different areas of the brain communicate and send messages clearly with one another. When they’re short in supply, symptoms of depression may appear as a result.
Physical and other medical conditions. Sleep disorders, chronic pain, and cancer all contribute to higher rates of depression. Since the mind and body are connected, if you’re experiencing a physical health problem, your mental health may be affected as well.
Substance abuse or addiction. Those who struggle with addiction are also more likely to experience major depressive episodes. Both addiction and depression require treatment, as certain substances such as alcohol can worsen depressive symptoms.
Stress. Any major life change or built-up stress over time can leave you feeling overwhelmed and affect your ability to cope. Constant stress takes a physical toll on the body, and the effects can present themselves as fatigue, low mood, and helplessness.
Treatment is available
Depression looks different in everyone. Although it can be a devastating illness, depression is manageable. Treatment options can include the following:
Psychotherapy: otherwise known as “talk therapy”, psychotherapy is a common treatment for depression. Working with a trained mental health therapist or counselor can help you understand, process, and cope with symptoms.
Medications: often combined with psychotherapy, medication can help reduce symptoms of depression. Contact your local health provider to learn more about which medications could benefit you.
Additionally, there are several strategies people can do to cope with depression. Lifestyle changes and self-care techniques such as getting quality sleep, implementing a routine, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can improve symptoms.
While it may be challenging to seek treatment if you feel depressed, there is no pressure to tackle it all at once. Any type of treatment or strategy should be individualized and tailored to fit your needs and preferences. What works for someone else may not necessarily work for you.
Cottonwood Counseling has flexible hours and can accommodate most schedules. We are LGBTQIA+ friendly and have Spanish speaking therapists. Contact us today!