Understanding depression and how to tackle it

The recent passing of Chester Bennington, brought into focus once again, one of the most common health conditions troubling the U.S. Caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors, Depression can be experienced by people of all age groups. The symptoms of depression can change how you feel emotionally, think, behave, respond to situations, handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, working or studying. A person is diagnosed with clinical depression if the symptoms have been present for at least two weeks.

While most of us understand the basic form of depression, there are some forms of depression that are slightly different, these forms may develop under unique circumstances or be a response to certain stimuli, such as:

  • Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.
  • Perinatal depression: Many people may confuse this with the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth. It is however much more serious than the mild depressive and anxiety symptoms that typically clear within two weeks after delivery. Women who experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression) can be diagnosed with Perinatal depression. The symptoms include feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and tiredness, making it difficult for these new mothers to manage themselves and/or their babies.
  • Psychotic depression: It occurs when a person has severe depression combined with some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing delusions or hallucinations. These psychotic symptoms typically include delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.
  • Seasonal affective disorder: This form of depression is observed during the winter months, when there is less sunlight. It generally lifts during the seasons of spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

If you/your loved ones have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms, its time to pay a visit to a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

  • Constant feeling of sadness, anxiousness, hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Constant Irritability and Restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities.
  • Decreased energy or fatigue as well as moving or talking slowly
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks, making decisions, forgetfulness
  • Difficulty sleeping, waking up in the morning or even oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains without a clear physical cause that do not reduce even with treatment

Not all of the above symptoms are experienced together. Some people may experience only a few symptoms while others may experience more. If you or your loved ones are facing more than a couple of the above symptoms, it is advisable to visit a doctor for a full diagnosis. Another important point to be noted is that the severity of the symptoms and recurrence of the same will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of the illness.

Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in adulthood. Depression may also occur in children, but its manifested more as irritability than low mood. Many chronic anxiety disorders in adults begin as high levels of anxiety in children.

Depression, especially in older adults, can be accompanied with other serious medical conditions, such as cancer, heart disease or Parkinson’s disease. Sometimes the medications prescribed for these physical illnesses may cause side effects that can increase the likelihood of depression. These complicated illnesses can be treated by a doctor with experience in dealing with such complicated illnesses.

The primary risk factors for depression include but are not limited to:

  • A history of depression in one’s life or in the family
  • Traumatic or extremely stressful incidents, or major life changes
  • Certain physical illnesses and medications as mentioned previously.

Treatment and Therapies

Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The sooner the treatment begins, the higher is the effectiveness. Most doctors treat depression with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. In more severe cases or cases that are detected at later stages, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies may be options to explore.

Most importantly, no two people are affected the same way by depression and there is no standard treatment of medication. The doctor can begin treatment based on specific symptoms and continue treatment based on the response observed in the patient.

Medication

The most commonly prescribed medications are Antidepressants are medicines that treat depression. This helps improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. A medication that has helped you or a close family member in the past will often be considered. If not, trying several different antidepressant medicines may have to be tested before finding the one that improves the symptoms and has manageable side effects.

Antidepressants take time for you to actually see the effects, symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, and concentrating improve before the person experiences a mood lift, hence you need to wait for a while before arriving at a decision about the efficacy of a medication. Another important point to bear in mind when undergoing treatment with antidepressants is to not stop the treatment abruptly without consulting your doctor first. Even if you see a marked improvement in your symptoms, your doctor will help you safely reduce the dosage gradually before stopping the treatment altogether. Stopping abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms which can lead to a relapse.

Please Note: In some cases, children, teenagers, and young adults under 25 may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks after starting or when the dose is changed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also says that patients of all ages taking antidepressants should be watched closely, especially during the initial few weeks of treatment.

Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy (counseling) can help people too. The idea is to help reduce the symptoms with regular personal interaction with a trained professional. These counselling sessions can help a person overcome and battle the symptoms effectively over a few weeks or maybe even months. Not only does it provide an outlet to express oneself, it also helps the individual realize that its not the end of the road and prevent any rash steps.

If you think you may have depression, start by making an appointment to see your doctor or health care provider. This could be your primary care practitioner or a health provider who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.

If you believe someone you love is suffering from depression, be sure to share this wit them and point them in the right direction. Most importantly make them feel loved and help them realize they’re not alone. Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

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