By Fauzia Saeed, Psychologist,VCCTC, PRCS, Punjab Branch, LHR
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless. They may lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable; experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions; and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may be present.
Depressed mood is not necessarily a psychiatric disorder. It is a normal reaction to certain life events, a symptom of some medical conditions, and a side effect of some medical treatments. Depressed mood is also a primary or associated feature of certain psychiatric syndromes such as clinical depression.
Life events that may precipitate depressed mood include personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends, bereavement, moving, losing a job or income, divorce, retirement, menopause, social isolation, and social rejection.
Certain medications are known to cause depressed mood in a significant number of patients. These include Hepatitis C drug therapy and some drugs used to treat high blood pressure, such as beta-blockers or reserpine.
Depressed mood can be the result of a number of infectious diseases and physiological problems including hypogonadism (in men), Addison’s disease, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, and sleep apnea and disturbed circadian rhythm. It is often one of the early symptoms of hypothyroidism (reduced activity of the thyroid gland). For a discussion of non-psychiatric conditions that can cause depressed mood, see Depression (differential diagnoses).
A number of psychiatric syndromes feature depressed mood as a main symptom. The mood disorders are a group of disorders considered to be primary disturbances of mood. These include major depressive disorder (MDD), commonly called major depression or clinical depression, where a person has at least two weeks of depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities; anddysthymia, a state of chronic depressed mood, the symptoms of which do not meet the severity of a major depressive episode. Another mood disorder, bipolar disorder, features one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition and mood, but may also involve one or more depressive episodes.
Outside the mood disorders: borderline personality disorder commonly features depressed mood; adjustment disorder with depressed mood is a mood disturbance appearing as a psychological response to an identifiable event or stressor, in which the resulting emotional or behavioral symptoms are significant but do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode, and posttraumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that sometimes follows trauma, is commonly accompanied by depressed mood.
Depression – major; Unipolar depression; Major depressive disorder
Last reviewed: March 15, 2011.
Depression may be described as feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods.
True clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for weeks or longer.
CAUSES, INCIDENCE, AND RISK FACTORS
The exact cause of depression is not known. Many researchers believe it is caused by chemical changes in the brain. This may be due to a problem with your genes, or triggered by certain stressful events. More likely, it’s a combination of both.
Some types of depression run in families. But depression can also occur if you have no family history of the illness. Anyone can develop depression, even kids.
The following may play a role in depression:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Certain medical conditions, including under active thyroid, cancer, or long-term pain
- Certain medications such as steroids
- Sleeping problems
- Stressful life events, such as:
- Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
- Failing a class
- Death or illness of someone close to you
- Childhood abuse or neglect
- Job loss
- Social isolation (common in the elderly)
See also: Adolescent depression
Depression can change or distort the way you see yourself, your life, and those around you.
People who have depression usually see everything with a more negative attitude, unable to imagine that any problem or situation can be solved in a positive way.
Symptoms of depression can include:
- Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
- Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Very difficult to concentrate
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt
- Becoming withdrawn or isolated
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
Depression can appear as anger and discouragement, rather than feelings of sadness.
If depression is very severe, there may also be psychotic symptoms, such ashallucinations and delusions.
SIGNS AND TESTS
Your health care provider will ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. Your answers and certain questionnaires can help your doctor make a diagnosis of depression and determine how severe it may be.
Blood and urine tests may be done to rule out other medical conditions with symptoms similar to depression.
In general, treatments for depression include:
- Medications called antidepressants
- Talk therapy, called psychotherapy
If you have mild depression, you may only need one of these treatments. People with more severe depression usually need combination of both treatments. It takes time to feel better, but there are usually day-to-day improvements.
If you are suicidal or extremely depressed and cannot function you may need to be treated in a psychiatric hospital.
MEDICATIONS FOR DEPRESSION
Drugs used to treat depression are called antidepressants. Common types of antidepressants include:
- Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
- Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), including desvenlafaxine(Pristiq), venlafaxine (Effexor), and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
Other medicines used to treat depression include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
If you have delusions or hallucinations, your doctor may prescribe additional medications.
Children, adolescents, and young adults should be watched more closely for suicidal behavior, especially during the first few months after starting medications.
If you do not feel better with antidepressants and talk therapy, you may have treatment-resistant depression. Your doctor will often prescribe higher (but still safe) doses of an antidepressant, or a combination of medications. Lithium and thyroid hormone supplements also may be added to help the antidepressants work better.
St. John’s wort is an herb sold without a prescription. It may help some people with mild depression. However, it can change the way other medicines work in your body, including antidepressants and birth control pills. Talk to your doctor before trying this herb.
CHANGES IN MEDICATIONS
Sometimes, medications that you take for another health problem can cause or worsen depression. Talk to your doctor about all the medicines you take. Your doctor may recommend changing your dose or switching to an alternative drug. Never stop taking your medications without first talking to your doctor.
Women being treated for depression who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should not stop taking antidepressants without first talking to their doctors.
Talk therapy is counseling to talk about your feelings and thoughts, and help you learn how to deal with them.
Types of talk therapy include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you how to fight off negative thoughts. You will learn how to become more aware of your symptoms and how to spot things that make your depression worse. You’ll also be taught problem-solving skills.
- Psychotherapy can help you understand the issues that may be behind your thoughts and feelings.
- Joining a support group of people who are sharing problems like yours can also help. Ask your therapist or doctor for a recommendation.
OTHER TREATMENTS FOR DEPRESSION
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the single most effective treatment for severe depression and it is generally safe. ECT may improve mood in those with severe depression or suicidal thoughts who don’t get better with other treatments. It may also help treat depression in those who have psychotic symptoms.
Tran cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses pulses of energy to stimulate nerve cells in the brain that are believe to affect mood. There is some research to suggest that it can help relieve depression.
Light therapy may relieve depression symptoms in the winter time. However, it is usually not considered a first-line treatment.
You can often ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.
See: Depression support group
Some people with major depression may feel better after taking antidepressants for a few weeks. However, many people need to take the medicine for 4 – 9 months to fully feel better and prevent the depression from returning.
For people who have repeated episodes of depression, quick and ongoing treatment may be needed to prevent more severe, long-term depression. Sometimes people will need to stay on medications for long periods of time.
People who are depressed are more likely to use alcohol or illegal substances.
Complications of depression also include:
- Increased risk of physical health problems
CALLING YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER
If you have thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others, immediate call your local emergency number (such as 911) or go to the hospital emergency room.
You may also call a suicide hotline from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999.
Call your doctor right away if:
- You hear voices that are not there.
- You have frequent crying spells with little or no reason.
- Your depression is disrupting work, school, or family life.
- You think that your current medications are not working or are causing side effects. Never change or stop any medications without consulting your doctor.
Do not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. These substances can make depression worse and might lead to thoughts of suicide.
Take your medication exactly as your doctor instructed. Ask your doctor about the possible side effects and what you should do if you have any. Learn to recognize the early signs that your depression is getting worse.
The following tips might help you feel better:
- Get more exercise
- Maintain good sleep habits
- Seek out activities that bring you pleasure
- Volunteer or get involved in group activities
- Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling
- Try to be around people who are caring and positive