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What Is Depression

At some point, people experience periods of time in their lives when they are sad or feel a lack of hope for the future. Losing a loved one, leaving a job, or dealing with relationship issues are just a few of the times when it is normal to go through a brief period of sadness. While everyone has an occasional moment when he or she feels down, you need to be aware that depression is more than just a temporary bout of sadness. Instead, it is a mental health condition that requires treatment for a person to be able to cope with life’s daily events and to enjoy the best possible sense of well-being.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions that exist regarding the treatment of mental health issues. Someone with this condition may feel as though they are alone or like they should just be able to snap out of it on their own. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 6.7 percent of adults reported having a major depressive episode in 2016, and many more experienced less-severe symptoms of the condition.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have this condition, then know that you are not alone. In fact, understanding what is depression is the first step toward finding the right treatment so that you feel better again.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a recognized mental health condition that causes a person to experience prolonged periods of negative emotions that include extreme sadness and a lack of enjoyment in his or her normal daily activities. Mental health professionals sometimes refer to this condition as clinical depression or as major depressive disorder. You can also be diagnosed with a milder form that sometimes follows a specific life event. In either case, professional treatment helps relieve the negative effects that the condition has on your well-being.

When a person has this condition, the symptoms can eventually impact every facet of his or her life. For example, a person may stop doing things that they need to do every day, such as going to work or cleaning the house. In severe cases, a person may even stop spending time with his or her friends and family, and he or she may begin to give up on taking care of personal health and hygiene. Since a person with depression may not always seek treatment on their own, it is important for family members and friends to keep an eye out for the signs of depression that may indicate that a loved one needs help.

What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?

Currently, there is not any research that points to a specific cause for the condition. You or your loved one could develop the signs of depression at any time, even if you are currently living what seems like the happiest life possible. However, there are certain factors that can sometimes increase a person’s risk of developing the condition. For instance, there does seem to be a link between family history and a person’s risk of developing depression. However, research is still being done to find out if this is genetic or the result of witnessing the symptoms of the condition during childhood.

There are also certain types of depressive disorders that occur during or after specific situations. These events can place a person at risk of developing the symptoms. For instance, women are at risk of developing signs of depression during the postpartum period after giving birth, and someone who has experienced a great deal of trauma is also at greater risk for developing depressive symptoms.

Types of Depression

When you seek treatment for this condition, professional counselors, therapists, and physicians may provide you with a diagnosis of a specific type of depression. For instance, some people only feel the symptoms of the condition during certain times of the year, and this is commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Women with depressive symptoms that occur during certain parts of their menstrual cycle may be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and someone who is going through tragic circumstances such as a divorce or the recent loss of a loved one may be told that he or she has situational depression.

There is also an atypical form of the condition that needs to be recognized as well since the symptoms do not always manifest as they would with the other types. With atypical depression, a person may temporarily feel better when he or she experiences happy events, and he or she may be nearly fully functioning. However, that person will still feel intense feelings of sadness along with other symptoms, such as an excessive need for sleep and extreme exhaustion that requires treatment.

Common Symptoms and Signs of Depression

The most obvious symptom of depressive disorder is feeling sad for a prolonged period of time. Typically, a person who experiences feelings of sorrow or sadness for more than two weeks without a known cause should seek an assessment to find out if they have this condition.

A person who is depressed may exhibit other symptoms, such as a lack of appetite, extreme fatigue, and a loss of interest in normal activities. Keep in mind, however, that some people experience symptoms that are confusing. For instance, a person with the depressive disorder may feel sad but be unable to sleep at night, or a person may have a larger appetite than normal and eat to fill emotional needs.

Depressive disorder can also generate physical symptoms that do not have any other obvious underlying causes. Someone who has this condition may describe a sensation of heaviness in his or her legs or arms. A person may also have chronic pain or abdominal discomfort. Headaches, digestive disorders, and extreme fatigue are common physical signs of depression that people experience.

A severe depressive episode may cause a person to experience problems in their daily life. Being unable to show up on time for work could cause someone to lose a job, and some people turn to drugs and alcohol as a method to mask their symptoms. Relationships also tend to suffer if a person’s symptoms cause them to exhibit a lack of empathy or increased anger.

How Depression Affects Different Age Ranges and Genders

People of all ages can become depressed, and you should know that the symptoms can vary depending upon a person’s age as well as his or her gender. Children with depression may become more clingy than normal rather than pushing people away like an adult might do. Teens with this mental health condition sometimes withdraw from their normal activities, but you might also see them dive into a new activity with great energy as they try to avoid facing their feelings of sadness.

Adults of all ages can experience signs of depression. Yet, these indications tend to be brushed off by adults since society often views sadness as just a part of getting older. Unfortunately, this is just another myth that could cause someone to delay getting help for this treatable condition. Senior adults who exhibit the signs of depression, such as increased complaints of physical pain or a lack of interest in socializing, should seek a professional assessment to identify the cause of their symptoms.

A person’s gender can also affect how he or she deals with a depressive disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are twice as likely to have a depressive disorder. However, men are less likely to seek a diagnosis. The reasons behind these figures are not completely understood, but it is possible that women are socially conditioned to recognize the signs of depression and to feel more comfortable seeking treatment compared to men.

What Happens When Depression Goes Untreated?

Major depressive episodes do not typically go away on their own, although you may notice temporary breaks in your symptoms. When the condition is allowed to continue without treatment, it tends to get worse. This often occurs due to a cycle that develops as the consequences of a person’s emotional reactions begins to affect his or her life. For instance, losing a job or relationship due to a lack of motivation to keep these attachments can cause a person to spiral even further into a depressive episode.

In the worst-case scenario, depressive symptoms can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. If you or someone you know is talking about suicide, then this is an emergency. Seek professional help right away so that this mental health condition does not lead to drastic actions that include self-harm.

Can Depression Exist With Other Mental Health Conditions?

Depression can occur alone, or it can exist alongside other mental health conditions. For instance, a person may have anxiety that accompanies other symptoms. Alternatively, a person who is going through a depressive episode may also have post-traumatic stress disorder. Bipolar disorder is known to cause a person to experience cycles of depressive episodes that alternate with manic ones.

When a person has two or more mental health conditions, it is important for all of the conditions to be treated. Full treatment prevents the effects of one condition from causing issues with another. In most cases, a combination of medication and counseling is effective in treating coexisting disorders within the same individual.

How to Get a Diagnosis

Today, it is not uncommon for someone to call himself or herself depressed. However, a professional diagnosis is essential to make sure that you receive the proper treatment to help you feel better. The first step is to reach out to a professional who understands how to properly diagnose depressive disorders. Once you do, you may be asked to participate in one of several different types of exams and assessments to identify the underlying cause of your current emotional state.

A physical exam is one of the most common first steps toward making a diagnosis. Your doctor will want to first make sure that there is not a physical cause for your signs of depression, such as a hormonal imbalance. In some cases, laboratory tests may be performed to check for health conditions like a thyroid disorder that can generate depressive responses such as fatigue or a low mood.

A psychiatric evaluation is also typically performed. During this evaluation, you will be asked questions that give the physician or counselor insight into how you think, feel, and respond throughout different situations and events during your day. Be sure, to be honest during this part of the evaluation since your responses help guide the diagnosis and may play a role in your treatment.

Treatment Options for Depression

Once you are diagnosed with depression, you will be provided with a treatment plan that helps you learn how to cope with the changes that the condition causes in your mood. Every person’s treatment plan is different, and yours should be tailored to fit your specific needs and any underlying causes for the depressive condition.

For moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed medications that help regulate your mood so that it has less of an effect upon your daily life. Most people with this disorder also benefit from professional counseling that may take on various forms. For instance, talk therapy is ideal for helping people work through trauma that contributes to their feelings of sadness, and you can work on finding solutions for your problems during these sessions. Recreational therapy is another treatment option that helps you boost your physical health in ways that also affect your emotional state.

When you struggle with depression, learning more about the mental health condition helps erase the mystery that surrounds feeling extreme sadness or lack of interest in your typical daily activities for a prolonged period of time. While depression may not go away on its own, seeking professional treatment helps you regain control over your emotions and enjoy life once again.