While everyone experiences feelings like sadness, frustration, and loss of motivation from time to time, depression is more than a temporary bad mood. When these sort of feelings are chronic and intense, creating a sense of hopelessness and interfering with daily life, they may be due to clinical depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder (MDD).
There are actually a number of different forms of depression, such as persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression), postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder. For our purposes here, we will address clinical depression in a general way.
Below is some basic information about clinical depression to help you identify it in yourself or a loved one and understand how to move forward with professional assistance and treatment.
Take Major Depression Seriously
Clinical depression is a serious condition. It can negatively affect your physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being; it can create difficulties across all aspects of your life, including your relationships, job, school, hobbies, and more; and it is a key risk factor for suicide.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Signs and Symptoms of Clinical Depression
Everyone experiences depression in a unique way, but there are many common signs and symptoms. Anyone affected by this mental health condition is likely to experience at least a few of the following:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, frustration, loneliness, guilt, emptiness, worthlessness, hopelessness, self-hatred, etc.
- Mood swings or bouts of anger, irritability, anxiety, etc.
- Inability to feel happiness, enjoyment, pleasure, etc.
- Decreased interest in social interactions, activities, hobbies, relationships, sex, etc.
- Chronic fatigue, lack of energy, sluggishness, etc.
- Loss of motivation at work, school, home, etc.
- Diminished self-care, hygiene, exercising, health-consciousness, cleaning, etc.
- Frequent difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or feelings of “being in a fog”
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia, not sleeping through the night, sleeping excessively, etc.)
- Eating disturbances (loss of appetite, binge eating, weight loss or gain, etc.)
- Chronic aches or pains (headaches, neck aches, stomach aches, back aches, etc.)
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Self-harm or thoughts of self-harm
- Suicidal thoughts or obsessively dwelling on death
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms of MDD, please contact a mental health professional near you for an evaluation.
Causes of Major Depressive Disorder
The causes of clinical depression aren’t well understood, but generally speaking, the condition can be brought on and exacerbated by genetics, brain chemistry, hormones, disease, psychological factors, and stress and other environmental factors. For this reason, a holistic approach to treatment that addresses various factors is important.
Diagnosing Major Depression
There isn’t one definitive test for diagnosing clinical depression. As with most mental health conditions, it’s not as simple and clear-cut as many physical conditions that can be diagnosed with something like a blood or urine test or internal imaging.
Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose major depressive disorder. They primarily rely on a thorough description of symptoms—particularly what they are and how long they’ve been going on—to draw a conclusion. However, testing may be recommended to look for contributing factors like hormonal imbalances.
Treatment for Clinical Depression
Just as everyone experiences major depressive disorder differently, so too must everyone find a tailored approach to treatment that works best for them. This typically involves some trial and error, exploring different types of therapy in different combinations. It’s important to work closely with a qualified mental health professional in the pursuit of a successful course of treatment.
Just some of the many tools available for managing clinical depression include:
- Prescription medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricylic antidepressants, mood stabilizers, etc.
- Psychotherapy techniques, such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, etc.
- Lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise, healthier eating, more time outdoors, stricter sleep regimen, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting a pet, etc.
- Regular use of stress management techniques, such as yoga or similar exercises, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, massage therapy, relaxing music, aromatherapy, hot baths, avoiding triggers, etc.
- Herbal supplements, including those that may help boost mood, improve sleep patterns or digestive health, promote relaxation, manage stress, etc.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in patients whose depression hasn’t responded to medication