Major Depressive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

People often worry about major depressive disorder when they are feeling sad. But how do you know if you have depression or if you’re just sad? After all, there is a big difference between sadness and depression.

Sadness and grief are usually situationally dependent. That means that you may feel intense sadness, but it’s most likely tied to some distressing event. Major depressive disorder, on the other hand, is marked by a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair, independent of other circumstances, that affects everyday life.

Knowing whether you’re experiencing normal feelings of sadness or dealing with clinical depression may be difficult. Unfortunately, it can be even more difficult to tell if a loved one is suffering.

Here’s everything you need to know about major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, so you can get help for yourself or a loved one.

What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

major depressive disorder

People with this mental illness experience both a depressed mood and a loss of interest in activities that used to bring them joy. In order to receive a diagnosis, you must have felt these symptoms for at least two weeks.

People with depression have many ways to explain how it feels. For example, some feel like they’re drowning, even though everyone else around them is swimming just fine. Others report feelings of being unlovable or uniquely inept to complete activities of daily living. Despite the stereotypes, depression is not just about feeling sad and crying; it is more about feeling numb to life.

Major Depressive Disorder Symptoms

In addition to a depressed mood and a loss of interest in activities for at least two weeks, major depressive disorder can also present with a wide range of other symptoms. While not all symptoms are always present, most people with depression experience several of them.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), symptoms of depression include:

  • Extreme fatigue and lack of energy
  • Trouble falling asleep or sleeping more than usual
  • Changes in appetite
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Unnecessary feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you or your loved one is experiencing thoughts of death or suicide, immediate treatment is recommended.

Major Depressive Disorder Causes

There is no one exact cause of major depressive disorder. Instead, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are many causes. Medical conditions, substance abuse, and even weather changes may lead you to experience a depressive episode.

Having a medical condition or being diagnosed with a serious illness, such as cancer, can trigger depression. Taking certain kinds of medications may too.

While alcohol and drug abuse can also lead to the development of depression, it isn’t uncommon for people to become depressed after experiencing other life events such as:

  • The loss of a loved one
  • Divorce or separation
  • Social isolation
  • Major life changes, like a big move
  • Personal conflict in important relationships
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

Major Depressive Disorder Risk Factors

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States, coming in second behind anxiety. According to a 2017 survey, 17.3 million adults in the U.S. had experienced a major depressive episode within the last 12 months.

In addition to being triggered by a specific cause, there are also several risk factors associated with major depressive disorder.

The disorder is most prevalent in adults between the ages of 18 and 25, and women are more likely to experience depression than men. In addition, those who claim mixed-race heritage are more likely to experience a major depressive episode than those who don’t.

Higher risk is also given to those with a close family member who suffers from depression. Furthermore, if you’ve experienced a depressive episode in the past, you are more likely to experience another one.

How Depression Gets Treated

Ohio mental health treatment

Luckily, for as many causes of depression that there are, there are just as many ways to treat it. Treatments are always catered to your specific needs and may change over time, depending on the severity of your symptoms.

Lifestyle changes like eating right, getting exercise, and establishing a sleep routine can help. Medication is often prescribed as well because it may help you experience relief quickly. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a pre-existing medical condition, it is important to talk with your doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist to make sure any medication you take is safe.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressant medications that can help increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. This has the potential to improve your mood and restore your sleeping patterns. When regular antidepressants aren’t enough, tricyclic antidepressants may be prescribed.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can also be effective. After getting to know you and your triggers, a mental health specialist can help you work through the issues that led to your depressive episode. Therapists can also help you deal with a stressful event, show you how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and can increase your self-esteem so that you can regain a sense of control in your life.

If you regularly experience thoughts of suicide or death, you have a co-occurring disorder, and/or all other forms of treatment have failed, you may want to consider inpatient rehab to treat your depression. The controlled environment allows you to work on your mental health without having to worry about work, family, and other stressors.

Can You Avoid a Depressive Episode?

Many patients want to know if a major episode can be avoided, or if they will have to deal with depression throughout their lives.

Proper diagnosis and treatment will ease the symptoms of major depressive disorder, but depending on your unique risk factors and unpredictable life events, this mental illness can recur throughout your lifetime.

The good news is there are ways to avoid the occurrence or recurrence of depression. Reducing stress through lifestyle changes is a good place to start. For example, you could focus on building strong relationships and spending less time on social media. But if you don’t notice your symptoms subsiding, then you may need professional mental health care.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from major depressive disorder, it is important to get help right away. Whether you are seeking a diagnosis or treatment, Georgetown Behavioral Hospital is here for you every step of the way. Call us today at 937-483-4930 or fill out our online form for more information.

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