What is Depression?



What is Major Depressive Disorder?


Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which is also known as clinical depression, is characterised by a state of unhappiness and despondency. Such feelings naturally arise in response to negative situations. However, when they persist and hinder a person’s ability to carry out their daily activities on a regular basis, this may be indicative of a depressive disorder. Depressive disorders have been linked to some chronic health conditions such as obesity and thyroid disorder. 


This article will focus on major depressive disorder (MDD). Other depressive disorders include:

  • Persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymia 

  • Seasonal affective disorder

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

MDD is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. For instance, someone who is depressed may not be able to complete their work as efficiently as before and may not desire to attend social events.


Negative Feelings or Signs of Depression?


It can be difficult to tell if a person has major depression or if they are simply experiencing strong negative feelings such as sadness, grief, and guilt. These feelings can be extremely emotionally taxing and may even share some characteristics of depression. Understanding the differences between major depression and the emotional processes that naturally follow negative events and situations will help you to gain more insight into what you are experiencing. These are three characteristics of major depression that you can look out for: 


Low mood and aversion to activity. People with major depression experience decreased mood and interest in activities for at least two weeks. This may not be the case for those going through strong negative emotions. While it would not be out of the ordinary for someone who is grieving to withdraw from usual activities, this does not necessarily mean that they no longer enjoy those activities. Moreover, this may be part of the process of grieving, and may not suggest that they will develop major depression. 


Feelings of worthlessness. People with major depression frequently experience feelings of worthlessness. Not everyone with low self-esteem or a tendency to reproach themselves is clinically depressed. However, many people with major depression constantly feel excessive or inappropriate guilt. Conversely, emotions such as sadness and grief are not as likely to have as large an impact on one’s self-esteem.


Feelings of hopelessness. People with major depression frequently experience feelings of hopelessness in their situations. These feelings of hopelessness may feel overwhelming, causing the individual to feel trapped in the current situation. Feelings of hopelessness might cloud our perception, making it hard to imagine a better tomorrow. These feelings might lead to suicidal ideations or thoughts of "wanting to sleep and not waking up." While it these feelings may come with some sadness or grief, prolonged feelings of hopelessness with suicidal thoughts do indicate a need for more professional help.


Symptoms

Symptoms of depression can vary in severity. These include:

  • Depressed mood (in children and adolescents, can be irritable mood)

  • Loss of interest in or enjoyment of activities once enjoyed

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Restlessness or slowed movements and speech

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia 

  • Undue weight loss or weight gain

  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

  • Thoughts of suicide

It is possible to reduce these symptoms with the help of regular exercise, quality sleep, a healthy diet and the avoidance of alcohol.


Nevertheless, if several of these symptoms are present for more than two weeks, it would be a good idea to visit a psychologist. Consulting a psychologist can help you to better manage these symptoms and provide you with treatment, if necessary. 


How Therapy May Be Helpful


Depression is usually treated with psychological therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), sometimes offered in conjunction with medication such as antidepressants. Before a person is diagnosed with depression, a physical examination should be conducted to rule out medical causes of symptoms.


Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association, treatment is usually successful in alleviating symptoms of depression, and between 80 and 90 percent of people who receive treatment for depression respond well to it. Consulting a mental health professional is the most reliable way to ensure that you are on track toward recovery.


Sources:

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Fifth edition.

  2. American Psychiatric Association. What is depression? Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

  3. Healthline. (2020, February 11). Everything you want to know about depression. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression

  4. Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K.R., & Walters, E.E. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593. 

  5. Medscape. (2019, October 7). Depression clinical presentation. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286759-clinical#b4

  6. National Institute of Mental Health. (Data from 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.) www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.html



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