Understanding Depression

Depression, which may be called major depressive disorder or clinical depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

There are different forms of depression each with differences, or they may develop under certain conditions or events, for example:

  • Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.

  • Perinatal depression is much more serious than the “baby blues” (relatively mild depressive and anxiety symptoms that typically clear within two weeks after delivery) that women may experience after giving birth. Women with perinatal depression experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany perinatal depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.

  • Psychotic depression occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false fixed beliefs (delusions) or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations). The psychotic symptoms typically have a depressive “theme,” such as delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.

  • Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) can be described as a severe form premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Women present with multiple physical and behavioral symptoms including fatigue, irritability, bloating, anxiety, breast tenderness, and mood lability which occur exclusively in the 10 to 14 days before menses. The exact cause of PMDD is unknown, but it is believed that the normal cyclic fluctuation of hormone levels in the menstrual cycle leads to symptoms.

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism

  • Irritability

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities

  • Decreased energy or fatigue

  • Moving or talking more slowly

  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

  • Appetite and/or weight changes

  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of the illness.

Counseling

Research indicates counseling has been effective in the treatment of depression. Examples of evidence-based approaches specific to the treatment of depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and problem-solving therapy.

If you are experiencing depression, thoughts of harming yourself or others call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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