Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can significantly impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall functioning. It goes beyond just feeling “a bit down” and it can make you feel unmotivated, produce negative thoughts, and make necessities in life seem pointless.
Depression rates have reached an all-time high in the United States. We’d like to help you understand more about what depression is and how you can seek help if you are struggling with it.
Types of Depression
About 5% of adults experience depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
The various types of depression include:
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – Clinical depression involves persistent sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, lasting more than two weeks. It often interferes with daily functioning and continues if not treated.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) – A chronic form of depression where you have a long-lasting depressed mood that persists for at least two years. You may experience low self-esteem, poor appetite or overeating, sleep difficulties, lack of energy, and difficulty making decisions.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – A type of depression typically occurring in specific seasons, most commonly during winter. Reduced exposure to sunlight during winter can disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to symptoms such as low mood, lethargy, and increased sleep.
- Postpartum Depression – Some women experience severe, long-lasting depression after giving birth. This depression goes beyond the “baby blues,” which is a shorter-term feeling of sadness or emptiness that many women experience fleetingly within a few days after childbirth.
- Psychotic Depression – When delusions or hallucinations accompany depression.
People with bipolar disorder or other mental health disorders also may have periods of major depression as part of the condition they experience.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Everyone feels down or sad occasionally, but those feelings are often a response to specific life events, such as disappointment, loss, or other stressors. The important thing is those feelings are generally temporary and may last only a few hours or days.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness
- No longer enjoying things or activities you formerly did
- Avoiding being around people
- Feeling empty or without purpose
- Crying frequently without cause
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite
- Seemingly constant fatigue
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Headaches, body aches, or gastrointestinal issues
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Increased irritability or agitation
- Suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors
If you recognize that you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and have been for a while, it may be time to see a mental health professional.
Causes and Risk Factors for Depression
Depression is a complex mental health condition with multiple causes and risk factors. There isn’t always one definitive cause of it. It often results from a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Factors that may contribute to depression include:
- Genetics – Having a family history of depression can increase your risk of developing the condition. Certain genes may predispose you to depression or make you more susceptible to its effects.
- Neurotransmitter Imbalances – Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and emotions. An imbalance in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, can contribute to depression.
- Hormonal Changes – Fluctuations in hormones, especially during periods like pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause, can influence mood and increase the risk of depression.
- Brain Structure and Function – Abnormalities or changes in brain structure and function, particularly in areas responsible for mood regulation, have been linked to depression.
- Trauma and Childhood Adversity – Experiencing trauma, abuse, or neglect during childhood can increase your risk of developing depression later in life.
- Life Events – Stressful life events, such as the loss of a loved one, relationship problems, unstable housing, financial difficulties, or major life changes, can trigger or exacerbate depression.
- Chronic Stress – Prolonged exposure to stress can impact the brain’s functioning and increase your vulnerability to depression.
- Negative Thinking Patterns – Certain cognitive patterns, such as excessive self-criticism, rumination, and a pessimistic outlook, can all contribute to your developing depression. These kinds of negative thinking patterns can also make depression symptoms worse and last longer.
- Social Isolation – A lack of social support and social isolation can increase the risk of depression.
- Substance Use – Using substances like alcohol and drugs can worsen depression symptoms or trigger a depressive episode.
- Cultural and Societal Factors – Cultural norms and societal pressures can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, stress, and low self-esteem, increasing the risk of depression.
Depression and chronic illnesses are often interconnected, and they can have a bidirectional relationship, meaning each condition can exacerbate the other.
Common chronic illnesses linked to depression are
- Cardiovascular Diseases – Heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions are associated with an increased risk of depression.
- Diabetes – People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing depression due to the daily management demands and the potential impact on mental health.
- Cancer – A cancer diagnosis and the challenges of treatment can trigger depression in many people.
- Autoimmune Diseases – Conditions that result in inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, have been linked to an increased risk of depression.
Depression and anxiety disorders seem to go together, with one resulting in the other. Depression and anxiety disorders share some common symptoms, such as excessive worry, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. These similarities can make it challenging to diagnose, and treatment may need to focus on both simultaneously.
Having one of these disorders can also influence the onset or exacerbation of the other. For example, if you have depression, you may become increasingly anxious due to feelings of hopelessness. If you start with anxiety, you may become more depressed due to constant worry and fear.
What Depression Feels Like
How depression feels varies for different people. For most people, depression feels like overwhelming sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. You may find yourself unable to control your tears or feel like you’re having an extreme emotional response to whatever is happening in your life. You also may feel lonely but not want to be around people.
Depression often feels like you want to go to bed and not get out — like an overwhelming tiredness. But once you get in bed, you may be unable to sleep. You just feel tired all the time.
Depression may make it difficult for you to concentrate or remember things. At the same time, you may wonder what the point is in trying to do things that require a lot of concentration anyway. Regular matters you need to deal with may seem pointless and like a waste of energy and effort.
And depression isn’t just about how you feel emotionally. You may feel physical signs of depression, too, like headaches, body aches, and an upset stomach.
Overall, depression leaves you feeling emotionally and physically depleted. You may feel hopeless and helpless, like there’s nothing you can do to feel better, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
Treatment Options for Depression
Treatment for depression is not a one-size-fits-all thing. No miracle cure works for everyone. Instead, when you work with a mental health professional, they’ll recommend the right combination of therapeutic approaches for you.
Some popular types of therapy for depression are:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a widely used approach for depression. It helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to depression.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – The DBT approach is based on CBT but also incorporates mindfulness and teaches you how to regulate your mood better.
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) – IPT focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills to alleviate depressive symptoms.
- Psychodynamic Therapy – Psychodynamic Therapy explores unconscious thoughts and unresolved conflicts to gain insights into how past experiences may influence current emotions.
A doctor or psychiatrist may also prescribe an antidepressant to help reduce the symptoms of depression. These medications can help improve how your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress.
In addition to therapy and medication, you also can make lifestyle changes that can help reduce the symptoms of depression. These changes include moving your body daily, eating a nutritious diet, avoiding substances, and attempting to have a healthy sleep routine. Self-care like mindfulness, yoga, journaling, or any other activity that reduces stress can help reduce depression symptoms.
The choice of therapy approach depends on your preferences, the severity of your depression, and your therapist’s expertise. Discuss the available options with your mental health professional to find the most suitable approach for your needs.
Finding Help for Depression
Seeking professional help for depression is vital to improving your mental health and well-being. It may seem like everything is hopeless, but a mental health professional can help.
Steps to finding the right mental health professional include:
- Assess Your Needs – Consider the type of help you’re looking for, whether it’s talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
- Ask for Recommendations – Gather recommendations from friends, family, or healthcare providers who have had positive experiences with mental health professionals.
- Research and Read Reviews – Look up potential therapists online and read their profiles and reviews from other clients to gain insights into their approach and expertise.
- Consider Specializations – Consider choosing someone with experience in treating depression.
- Initial Consultation – Many therapists offer an initial consultation where you can discuss your concerns and see if you feel comfortable working with them.
- Trust Your Instincts – Building a trusting and comfortable relationship with your mental health professional is crucial. If you don’t feel a connection or trust, exploring other options is OK.
Supporting a Loved One with Depression
If you know someone with depression, you likely want to do everything you can to help them. By offering support and understanding, you help reduce the stigma around mental health issues and create an environment where seeking help is encouraged and accepted.
Ways to communicate with someone experiencing depression include:
- Listen Non-Judgmentally – Create a safe and supportive space for your loved one to express their feelings and emotions without judgment. Let them know you’re there to listen and understand.
- Validate Their Feelings – Acknowledge and validate their emotions, even if you don’t fully understand their experience. Let them know their feelings are valid and you are there to support them.
- Be Empathetic – Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they might be going through. Show empathy and compassion for their struggles.
- Avoid Trying to “Fix” Their Problem – While it’s natural to want to help, avoid giving unsolicited advice or trying to “fix” their depression. Instead, offer support and encourage them to seek professional help. Even if you’ve been through it yourself, what worked for you may not work for everyone, so it’s important they speak to a professional who can explore all avenues of treatment.
- Ask How You Can Help – Be open to discussing how you can best support them. Ask them directly if there’s anything you can do to help, but also respect their boundaries if they don’t want to talk about it.
- Check In Regularly – Even if they isolate themselves, keep reaching out. Let them know you’re there for them, even if they’re not ready or able to respond.
- Help with Daily Tasks – When a person is depressed, even the most mundane tasks can feel overwhelming. Offer to help with things like cooking, cleaning, or child care.
- Provide Information – Support the person through information like recommending a therapist or educational resources about depression.
- Encourage Professional Help – If they haven’t already, encourage them to see a mental health professional. If they’re hesitant, offer to help them find a provider or to go with them to the first appointment.
Educate yourself about depression, its symptoms, and how it can impact people. Understanding the condition will help you be more empathetic and better equipped to provide support.
Also, familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a mental health crisis or thoughts of self-harm. Knowing when to seek immediate professional help is crucial. Don’t hesitate to contact emergency services if someone is at risk of harming themselves or others.
How All Counseling Can Help
Depression won’t go away if left untreated, and it can often worsen. But there is effective treatment available for depression. Finding the right therapist who specializes in depression is crucial when you or a loved one need help.
All Counseling can help you find a mental health professional to provide the support and assistance you need on your journey to overcoming depression. Take the first step toward healing today.