What Is Depression?

Depression is as prevalent as the common cold. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 264 million people around the world live with depression. Most people experience sadness, loneliness, or fear. These feelings are a normal part of life. However, depression involves clinical levels of low mood that impacts a persona’s ability to function within their daily lives.

Clinical depression is characterized by the following symptoms: persistent depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in activities, decrease or increase of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or slowing, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to focus or think, indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5)’s diagnostic criteria states that 5 or more of the above symptoms must be present within the same 2 week period.

How Is Depression Different From Sadness?

Most people experience intense sadness or grief. These feelings can impact a person’s ability to function, and they can also exist for at least 2 weeks. However, when we experience something difficult, sadness and grief are natural reactions. Sadness and grief share some characteristics with depression, but they are temporary and typically fade with time. Usually, sadness or grief involve moments of relief and have no significant impact in thought processes or behaviors.

Sadness is simply one symptom of depression. The DSM-5 indicates, “Responses to a significant loss (e.g. bereavement, financial ruin, losses from a natural disaster, a serious medical illness or disability) may include the feelings of intense sadness, rumination about the loss, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss noted in Criterion A, which may resemble a depressive episode. Although such symptoms may be understandable or considered appropriate to the loss, the presence of a major depressive episode in addition to the normal response to a significant loss should also be carefully considered.”

Who Is At Risk For Depression?

Mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone can experience symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. However, there are some factors that put others at more risk of depression than others. Biochemistry is a well-known factor in determining whether or not someone will experience depression. Individuals with depression often experience a deficit in certain neurotransmitters in the brain. This explains the effectiveness of medications that help to balance chemicals in the brain.

Although it is commonly believed that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance, the condition is much more complex. Genetics can also play a role, meaning that individuals with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression. Research shows that there is also a connection between personality and depression. Studies show that difficulty coping with stress, limited engagement in community and environment, and limited insight may increase risk of depression. Environmental factors, including exposure to community violence, traumatic experiences, or limited access to resources, can also be predictors of depression.

When Should Someone Get Help?

Sometimes the line between between depression and sadness is clear, but sometimes it is not. For example, you may feel nervous while giving a presentation, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a mental health disorder. However, becoming so overwhelmed with nervousness that you cannot follow through with the presentation may indicate a need for help.

If symptoms interfere with your ability to function within your daily life, it may be time to seek help. Challenges maintaining relationships, engaging in social settings, or performing in work and school can indicate a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders can also be responsible for changes in personality, energy level, and mood. Typically, symptoms that last 2 weeks or longer should be evaluated by a professional to determine the appropriate care. However, these are not the only situations during which to seek help. Anyone can get help at any time. If you feel the desire for therapeutic support, explore it regardless of how your situation compares to others!

How Is Depression Treated?

There are many types of treatments for depression. Just as depression looks different for everyone, depression treatments may have different effects for each individual. The most effective treatment method for depression is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some common forms of psychotherapy that are effective in treating depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy. One might also seek support groups, group therapies, or community engagement programs for added support.

Research shows that the relationship between the clinician and client is the most effective tool in treating mental health disorders. That being said, it is important to have an open mind and to remember that effective therapy requires the ability to trust the clinician. If you seek support and find limited connection with the clinician, don’t be afraid to explore other options. Read about alternative treatments here!

How Can Someone Find Help?

Especially during times of high need, finding help can unfortunately require time and patience. Psychology Today has a great Find a Therapist tool, where you can limit search based on insurance, areas of practice, or location. Most insurance plans also have a website where you may consult your provider directory. This is a good way to ensure that a clinician accepts your insurance. It is a good idea to look more closely at your insurance plan to determine if your plan limits the amount of sessions you can attend.

To find help, it can be helpful to ask someone your trust. A referral from a friend, colleague, or medical professional is a good way to find a clinician who may be a good fit for you. Additionally, online resources, such as Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are a helpful way to navigate the mental healthcare system. It can also be a good resource to learn more about types of depression treatments to determine the modality that may be most helpful. Make sure you check out this page with information on support groups and additional resources for navigating the mental health system during a pandemic!

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