Clinical depression is an illness that affects millions of people – yet is often difficult to diagnose and treat. Many people who experience depression are reluctant to admit to it, seeing the illness as a sign of weakness or something that will pass.
The distinction between feeling down and being clinically depressed is often difficult to make. Everybody is sad now and then, occasionally for an extended period after a breakup or the death of a loved one. However, the clinically depressed remain upset and sad for months, sometimes years. Although something might trigger the depression, sometimes it simply occurs without an obvious cause.
Diagnosing depression, and seeking treatment if required, is a vital step in beating it. Hopefully this article can help.
Symptoms of depression
There are numerous symptoms of depression. It is unlikely you will exhibit all possible symptoms but if you exhibit a selection then you may be depressed. The more intense the symptom, the more severe the depression.
- Tiredness or fatigue, often with no discernible cause.
- Feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness or guilt.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Loss of libido.
- Lack of interest in activities.
- Poor motivation.
- Change of appetite. Generally loss of appetite but sometimes eating extensively.
- Disturbed sleep patterns. Generally insomnia but sometimes sleeping excessively. Waking up early is a classic symptom.
- Preoccupation with death and despair.
Depression can also manifest itself physically. Symptoms can include:
- Chest pain.
- Heart palpitations.
- Unexplained aches.
- Slow and sluggish movement
The link between depression and physical symptoms can be complicated. Depression often causes physical symptoms. However people suffering physically – say diagnosed with a heart problem or severe migraines – are more likely to experience depression. Furthermore, people suffering from depression-influenced physical discomfort might assume the discomfort stems from an underlying condition, which could worsen their depression. Occasionally an underlying physical condition – such as cancer – is misdiagnosed as depression.
Severity of Depression
Broadly, depression falls into four categories:
- Subthreshold depression: While not clinically depressed, you might experience certain light symptoms of depression. If these persist for two years it can be called dysthymia.
- Mild Depression: your daily life is affected by depression but not greatly. Symptoms occasionally surface although it is possible to cope.
- Moderate Depression: your daily life is significantly hindered by depression. Symptoms surface quite regularly with varying impact.
- Severe Depression: Depression dominates your daily life. Symptoms are constant and often unbearable. You may also experience hallucinations.
Treatment for depression
Treatments for depression are numerous and depend entirely on the individual. A detailed breakdown would require an article unto itself, and a long one at that. However below you can read a brief overview of the most common treatments provided.
Exercise: Exercise is one of the main treatments for mild depression. Physical activity releases serotonin, a chemical associated with mood. A deficit of serotonin can result in depression.
Online CBT: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) attempts to identify and change the individual thought processes that may lead to depression. Online CBT programmes are supported by a trained practitioner and can be taken from home over a period of weeks.
Group CBT: The same principle as online CBT only now involving weekly meetings of a small group of people. More social than online CBT but also less private and requires travel.
Individual CBT: Face to face CBT treatment. Very useful if you are uncomfortable discussing your depression with others but want direct contact. Can be used for other levels of depression.
Mild to moderate depression
Talking Treatments: There are many forms of talking treatments, of which CBT is one. However, moderate depression may require direct one-to-one interaction rather than online or group sessions. Psychotherapy and counselling are two well-known talking treatments. The suitability of these treatments depends on the individual. Visit your GP to discuss the various treatments on offer.
Moderate to severe depression
Antidepressants: Antidepressant tablets are commonly used to treat the more severe forms of depression. Antidepressants take a few weeks to start working. There are numerous different types of antidepressant medicines, each with its own pros and cons. Since antidepressants are prescription-only, you must consult your GP.
Combination therapy: For severe depression, a combination of antidepressants and talking treatments may be prescribed. The two have been proven to work well in combination.
As stated, the above is only a brief overview of the most common treatments for depression. For more information and a greater understanding of the possible options, you should speak to your GP or a healthcare practitioner.
Other forms of depression
Depression comes in many forms. Common depression-related conditions include:
- Postnatal depression: occurs in some women after childbirth
- Bipolar disorder: also known as ‘manic depression.’ Oscillates between depressive periods and manically positive moods.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Known as ‘winter depression’, SAD generally surfaces in the winter months.
- Grief: Often grief can be confused for depression. The two share many symptoms and grief can certainly trigger depressive episodes. However, grief is a response to a loss whereas depression is an ongoing condition.
If you believe you are experiencing depression, consult a GP or, at the very least, a trusted confidante. Do not bottle it up. Depression is a real illness that can affect anyone. While depression often passes naturally, seeking help can only speed the process.