Depression is one of the terms we use more and more, often not knowing what depression is and what the word really refers to. We mention depression every time we feel overwhelmed by stress. Or insecure because of our existence, or sad. Even when we have feelings that are transient – and not what is called clinical depression.
In medical terms, depression is mood and behavior disorder.
People who suffer from it usually have impaired sleep and appetite, and due to lack of energy and concentration, it is difficult for them to perform ordinary daily tasks or chores. First of all, they feel huge sadness and hopelessness over a long period of time. They tend to have little faith in themselves, tormented by unreasonable worry or fear, and dark thoughts.
(Full list of symptoms below.)
Difficulties seeking help
One of the reasons for this is that depression is difficult to recognize and it is hard to timely seek for help.
Another reason may be that someone suffering from depression receives discouraging signals:
- Oh, it is nothing, it will pass soon (although the lethargic state obviously does not stop after 2 weeks)
- Just think positive and everything will sort out itself
- You better occupy your thoughts by doing something (eg. go to gym, work, etc.)
- It is all in your head (assuming that one is guilty of being in depression and can “simply get over it”).
Neither of these comments are useful to people suffering from depression. Among other things, because they have no motivation, will, or strength whatsoever for self-help at that moment. They need professional help.
Why is it important to recognize depression?
First of all, because depression is a serious condition. It completely takes control of someone’s life. It’s as if you were put black glasses and from that moment on you just look at the world differently.
Another reason why you need to know how to recognize depression in yourself or others is that depression can be masked by some other problems (so called masked depression).
When left untreated, depression can become a chronic illness.
How long does depression last? It is difficult to give accurate predictions, as it varies from person to person. But in about a third of people, the symptoms of a depressive episode can subside after half a year to a year.
A depressive episode is a term for depressive mood which last at least two weeks.
For most, however, the symptoms of depression will persist after a year. This is chronic depression.
Symptoms and signs of depression
First of all, you should know that the term depression is not used for the usual mood swings, or sadness, or some short-term reactions to stress. It is a serious clinical condition.
In order to recognize depression, it is important to pay attention to the duration of the symptoms.
In relation to the sadness or anxiety we feel, depression lasts longer, and completely affects all aspects of human existence. You become a different person.
This happens because a person’s depression takes place on several different levels. Therefore, we can use them to describe some recognizable symptoms of depression.
Physical symptoms of depression
• severe fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy for normal activities
• disturbed sleep (sometimes excessive sleep, but mostly lack of sleep and getting up early in the morning)
• poor appetite or weight loss
• medically unexplained back or abdominal pain
• impaired sexual desire
How does emotional depression manifest:
• anhedonia – loss of satisfaction and interest in activities that previously brought joy
• constant feeling of sadness and hopelessness
• unreasonable concern and fear
• emptiness, numbness, indifference
• pessimistic view – looking at the world through black glasses
• anxiety, restlessness
• irritability, outbursts of anger over small things (sometimes)
• self-blame (usually the feeling that the person is a burden to the family or partner)
• suicidal thoughts or desire to hurt yourself
Other symptoms of depression
In terms of motivation, depression manifests itself as:
• weak will, impossibility to exercise it
• difficulty in making decisions
• lack of motivation
On the cognitive level:
• inability to concentrate
• not being able to think
• poor focus
• thinking slowly and neglecting details
• slow speech
At the social level
• avoiding common activities and hanging out with friends
• neglect of previous hobbies and interests
• difficulties in relationships with others, in the family, at work.
What can cause depression
Certainly, the biological foundation plays a role in the development of depression. Levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in the first place, but also the number and sensitivity of receptors on nerve cells, as well as the influence of hormones on our immunity. Due to lack of these neurotransmitters in the brain, some people are more prone to depression than others, and this has been linked to endogenous depression. This is confirmed by research in families with people suffering from depression, which increases the chances of their offspring developing it themselves.
But in the onset and development of depression, biological factors (genetics and neurobiochemistry) are combined with psychosocial ones, making depression a disease with a hundred faces.
External circumstances can be a trigger of stress, which when prolonged, can lead to depression. This is especially true in childhood, e.g. early death of the mother. But in general, depression can occur later due to the death of a loved one or separation from family, job loss, but also a long period of difficult lives, e.g. financial circumstances.
Personality traits and psychological development play a role in the development of depression, including the defense mechanisms that are necessary for us to face the inevitable life problems. The role of the family is crucial here.
Theories of depression place more emphasis on some of these factors and explain the construction of patterns by which negative perceptions of self develop, mostly from childhood.
Today, the view is that depression is not only a psychological, but also a biopsychosocial disorder.
So, that genetics gives a predisposition for its occurrence, and development is affected by external triggers such as stressful events.
Types of depression
Depression manifests itself differently. It is classified according to the duration and severity of the symptoms. Each of the types of depression is characterized by a specific symptoms. So the treatment differs in relation to the types of depression. The additional complexity is created by so-called masked depression – in people who do not admit to depression at all, and yet we see a change in their daily functioning.
Primary depression is depression that is not accompanied by any mental disorder, compared to secondary depression.
The classifications of depression are complex, so we will explain only some of the types.
According to the number, type and degree of symptoms, there are mild, moderate and severe types of depression.
Major depression is severe depression, in which most of the symptoms we previously listed are extremely pronounced. People who suffer from it find it very difficult to function on a daily basis. Their sleep is disturbed, energy reduced, sleep and diet disturbed. They lose interest and have no satisfaction in the activities they used to enjoy. They find it very hard to work or study.
People who suffer from major depression usually go through several such episodes in their lifetime, although major depression can occur only once. Major depression can sometimes be accompanied by hallucinations and delusions (psychotic depression).
Unipolar depression is recognised by constant lowered mood.
However, in some people, episodes of low mood (depression) alternate with episodes of lifted spirits and increased energy and activity. Then these people have magalomanic, e.g. unreasonable business plans and are overly active in all areas of life.
This disorder is called bipolar disorder, and depressive phase within it is called bipolar depression.
The depressive (“minus”) phase in these people can last for six months or longer. The “plus phase“ usually lasts from two weeks to several months.
Due to the change of phases in which a person is in, this disorder is also called manic depression.
In some people, the symptoms of depression persist even after a year. When depressed mood lasts that long, it is called chronic depression (dysthymia).
People who suffer from chronic depression sometimes get so used to their condition that they start functioning with it. However, this type of depression can get worse and needs to be treated.
Depending on how it occurs, depression can be largely genetically predisposed (that is called endogenous depression), or can be caused by external circumstances. Latter is called exogenous or reactive depression.
External factors for the development of reactive depression are mainly long stressful periods or traumatic events:
• Death of a loved one
• Job loss
• Loss of material resources or difficult living conditions
• Severe illness or unexpected serious injury
• Going to jail
• Conflicts in the family …
Some types of depression are defined on the basis of the characteristic periods in which they occur – e.g. seasonal or senile depression. Such is postpartum depression, which can occur in the first month after birth or during the baby’s first year. However, it also occurs in fathers after the child is born.
Postpartum depression occurs in 10-20% of all mothers.
It is recognised as depression in terms of symptoms, therefore it differs in length and severity of symptoms from postpartum grief (“baby blues“). Mothers with postpartum depression find it difficult to build intimacy with their baby and doubt their ability to care for her. That is why they are consumed by shame and guilt.
Consequences of depression
Depression can last for so long that it can completely disrupt a person’s daily life. Due to depression, the idea may arise that the only solution and way out of these troubles is suicide.
Because of all this, depression is one of the diseases that takes the most lives. It is currently the third leading cause of death in the general population in the world, after heart and blood vessel disease.
As an addiction center, we know that our clients sometimes resort to alcohol, gambling, and drugs to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Psychoactive substances can only worsen depression, and the risk of developing addiction is not negligible.
Substances that can worsen the signs of depression include, in addition to alcohol, opioids (painkillers and substances such as heroin), sedatives, stimulants (such as cocaine, amphetamines), hallucinogens or inhalants.
Depression is biologically manifested as a change in the levels of serotonin and other neurohormones. Addiction also affects these neurohormones in its own way, which can only worsen the symptoms of depression.
How to deal with depression
It is difficult for a person who is depressed to direct his will to help himself. She is often unaware that this is what she is suffering from.
That is why the most important thing to start with is to be informed about the symptoms and, if it is recognized in some of them, call an expert for help.
The sooner help is sought, the greater the chances that someone suffering from depression will return to their normal life without any consequences. Delaying treatment can unnecessarily prolong depression and deepen its symptoms.
Treatment of depression involves frequent use of antidepressants as recommended by a psychiatrist, but psyhotherapy is also important. Medications help to alleviate the symptoms in the acute phase, but it is necessary to include therapy with conversation. This is important in order to prevent the next episode of the disease from recurring.
It is also important to change your lifestyle. Moderate physical activity, a healthy diet, a good sleep pattern and building healthy habits help. And also quality time spent with close people in open conversations, in activities that you enjoy and from which you feel useful, as well as time in nature.
Are depression meds bad for you?
Several groups of drugs significantly help in the treatment of depression. Although they have different mechanisms of action, they have similar effects in the treatment of this disease. They are issued on a doctor’s prescription.
The effect of antidepressants is the levels of various neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and several others), and they directly affect the alleviation and elimination of depressive symptoms.
The action of antidepressants is directed so that they act in the long run and do not cause addiction to medication.
Precisely for the reason that they would not develop addiction, the effect of antidepressants does not start immediately, as is usual with most drugs. It usually takes at least 2 to 3 weeks to take effect. It is very important to take it in the dose and duration that the doctor prescribes.
If your symptoms of depression are severe, you may also be prescribed some anxiolytics to treat anxiety before the antidepressants take effect. This will help you cope with the anxiety and fear that often accompanies depression.
When they start to work, antidepressants very successfully eliminate malaise and weakness, and sleep and general mood improve. With regular psychotherapy sessions, a person suffering from depression can in many cases return to normal life as before the disease appeared.
Antidepressants have side effects, but in many cases it is possible to change the group of antidepressants, so the choice of medication does not stand in the way of recovery.
If you are still in doubt or someone close to you needs help, contact us