If you feel that you are struggling with depression, you don’t have to struggle alone. You can call The National Mental Health Hotline to speak to a professional about depression and get help with mental health resources.
Unfortunately, depression is on the rise. Studies show that 1 in 5 American adults suffered from depression before the 2020 pandemic, with levels of people screening positive for depression tripling since then. This massive spike will have long-term ramifications on our society, so it is more important than ever that we fully understand what depression is and how it can be treated.
Depression can lead to mental anguish, loss of functionality, and disability. In extreme cases, it can also lead to suicide, a problem that has been growing across the world. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with 48,344 Americans having died by suicide in 2018.
Depression needs to be addressed and treated in order to help people stay healthy and even save their lives. Thankfully, there are ways to do just that. Here’s an overview of what depression is, what causes it, and how it can be treated.
What Is Depression?
For all of the publicity that this disorder has received in the past few years, the truth is that many people simply don’t understand what depression is, wrongly believing that it is just being sad or down for a time. All of us get sad at moments, but depression lasts much longer than that. Unfortunately, depression also remains a heavily stigmatized disease.
Depression is characterized by any number of a series of symptoms, including:
• Sadness that makes it difficult to function
• A loss of interest in activities that had previously been enjoyable
• Mood changes or irritability
• An array of different physical symptoms, including weight gain or loss, changes in sleeping patterns or unexplained headaches
• Cognitive difficulty, including difficulty concentrating or remembering things
• Sudden thoughts of death, self-injury or suicide
Depression may be accompanied by a life change or negative event such as a physical or sexual assault, job loss or the death of a loved one. It may also occur out of nowhere and for seemingly no reason.
Depression often occurs with other mental illnesses, including anxiety. According to available research, 60% of people who suffer from anxiety may also show symptoms of depression with the reverse numbers also being true. In other words, depression often goes hand in hand with other mental illnesses. This also appears to be the case with diseases like substance use disorder; available research shows that one often fuels the other.
Unfortunately, depression that co-occurs with another illness, like a substance use disorder or a personality disorder, can be harder to treat because both illnesses must be addressed at essentially the same time. Two simultaneous diseases often reinforce each other, making it harder to treat the two at the same time. This is why people with co-occurring disorders often need specialized treatment in order to fully recover.
Depression is more than just feeling sad or down. As noted by the DSM-V, it has to occur “nearly every day” for a period of two weeks or more. This time period helps differentiate it from just being sad or down about a particular event. Depression is long-lasting and likely won’t go away on its own.
What Causes Depression?
Like everything else when it comes to mental health and mental illness, there is no clear-cut answer. The truth is that it is likely a combination of factors that lead to depression or mental illness, including genetic makeup and real-life circumstances.
First, the obvious: Depression can be caused by events that happen in a person’s life. Depression is more likely to occur in the aftermath of a stressful or traumatic event, such as a breakup, death of a loved one, change in financial status, job loss, violent attack or another emotional incident. How someone copes with the event will have a major impact on whether they develop depression in the aftermath of negative life circumstances.
People of any financial circumstance can suffer from depression, but individuals who suffer a change in financial circumstances are more likely to become depressed. Furthermore, individuals of higher income are more likely to get the treatment that they need to recover. It is worth noting that poverty and mental illness, including depression, go hand in hand. For example, studies have shown that increases in the minimum wage lead to decreases in suicide.
However, it must also be noted that existing evidence strongly demonstrates the connection between genetic makeup and depression. Specific chromosomes, like 3p25-26, have been tied by certain research to an onset of depression. Some estimates show that a genetic tie can be found in as many as 40% of the people who ultimately develop depression. If one person in a family has depression, another person is statistically more likely to develop depression.
Anyone looking for a simple answer on what causes depression is sure to be disappointed because it’s a complex issue. The truth is that a variety of factors can influence the onset of depression, with a specific emphasis on genetics and real-life circumstances. Other factors, such as cultural and gender influences, can also impact how depression is expressed and whether or not treatment is sought as ample evidence indicates that men and women express and feel depression differently.
How Can I Tell If I Am Depressed or If a Loved One Is Depressed?
To be clear, only a trained professional can make a formal diagnosis of depression. However, there are some ways to see if you or a loved one is actually depressed.
First, check out the formal diagnostic criteria for depression as noted by the Diagnostic & Statistics Manual. The criteria in the diagnosis lays out what symptoms must be met in order to receive the formal diagnosis of depression. It is also possible to have less severe forms of depression, like dysthymia, otherwise known as persistent depressive disorder. This is a less severe form of mental illness, but it is also long-lasting and can interfere with someone’s ability to function.
People who are depressed will often dramatically change their behavior and begin to do things that they had previously never done. If you are worried about a loved one suffering from depression, there are a few behaviors you should be on the lookout for. These include:
• Sudden social withdrawal and more time spent alone
• Obvious bouts of sadness or crying
• Conversations about the world being better without them or wanting to end their lives
• A sudden fixation on pain or death
• A desire to start giving away prized possessions
There are also professional screening exams that can help you determine if you are depressed. It is important to note that these screeners should not be confused with internet quizzes; they are formally created and researched based. Examples include the PHQ-9, a series of nine questions that can generate a score to show if you are at risk for depression or actively suffering from it. A positive result on this exam may not mean you are depressed, but there is strong evidence to indicate that this may be the case. If it is, you should speak with a medical doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. A medical professional can get you the help you need.
How Can Depression Be Treated?
Depression can be traumatic and debilitating, but the good news is that it is highly treatable. Ample evidence exists that depression can be managed and controlled. For many people, it is a chronic condition that requires periodic medication or therapy. However, thankfully, it can be dealt with.
There are many ways that depression can be treated. The first is talk therapy. Professionally trained therapists, usually with some sort of advanced degree, can help a person address the source of depression in their lives. There are many different forms of therapy out there, so it is important that an individual finds the therapy, and therapist, that works best for them. Therapy can help a person change their ways of thinking and reacting to circumstances, leading them to re-frame events and be better prepared to deal with life.
Medication has also been found to help with depression. The past few decades have seen an explosion of growth in terms of available medications that can help someone cope with their depression. This medication can often, quite literally, be a lifesaver. There are many types of anti-depressants on the market today, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
These medications can be prescribed by a physician or psychiatrist. Unfortunately, sometimes, they come with a variety of side effects that can range from annoying to debilitating. As such, it may require some experimentation with various medications and dosages to find one that works for you.
Lifestyle changes are also often an important part of any therapy. This may include some simple and intuitive changes, like eating better and getting more exercise. Therapy also often runs into relationship management, during which an individual is taught how to better manage their relationships and cull toxic ones.
More often than not, a good therapist or doctor will help an individual in all of these areas in order to recover. Comprehensive, integrative therapy has often been found to be extremely useful at helping a person deal with their depression.
If you are unsure of where to go or whom to call, you can always reach out to your family physician. There are also a variety of online and over-the-phone resources available.
Depression hotlines are specific numbers you can call that will give you an array of resources about depression, including how to tell if you are suffering from it and where you can get help. There are a variety of hotlines available, so it is important that the number you call has trained professionals who are knowledgeable about not only depression but a variety of other mental illnesses and where to get information about treatment.
Keep in mind that a depression hotline is different than a suicide-prevention hotline. A variety of hotlines have been established, with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline serving as the most prominent example, that allow for individuals to get immediate help if they are considering hurting themselves.
A depression hotline is more for purposes of giving information and helping people get the help that they need. These include the National Mental Health, which can give you information about a wide array of resources you can turn to if you are struggling with mental illness, depression or substance use disorders.
Please remember that depression and mental illness can be devastating, but recovery is highly possible. With proper treatment, you can lead a good and happy life. Don’t delay. Call 866-903-3787 today and start to find your way back.