Depression can be scary. Often, even saying the words, “I’m depressed” takes courage.
Despite being one of the most widely diagnosed conditions in the world, depression can make you feel very alone. It’s a heavy, pervasive sadness that hangs over daily life. And finding relief can feel hopeless.
If you’re concerned that you may be depressed, there is help available. You don’t have to fight this battle alone.
There is no one single cause of depression — it is a complex disorder. Events in your life — like job loss or trauma — can trigger depression, but it’s also believed to have a strong biological component.
Harvard Health reports that some genes can make people more susceptible to depression, and impact how they respond to treatment. Also, medical problems, sluggish brain cell production, imbalance of certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters and even structural differences like the size of your hippocampus, may play a role in depression.
Major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, is the most common and pervasive type of depression, and when people talk about “depression,” this is largely what they’re referring to.
To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, you must have experienced the symptoms for at least two weeks, causing distress and impairment in your normal functioning, and they can not be explained away by another illness or medication.
But there are other types of depression, too:
Dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. Dysthymia is very similar to major depressive disorder but is characterized by fewer or less severe symptoms lasting at least two years.
Postpartum depression. This type of depression is unique to women after giving birth. Unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression shares the same severe sadness as major depression.
Psychotic depression. If you have depression paired with psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations, you may be suffering from psychotic depression.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is depression that generally happens in the darker, winter months. It may be accompanied by increased sleep, weight gain and social withdrawal, and returns every year. Less often, SAD may affect people in spring and summer, too.
Bipolar disorder. While a different diagnosis than depression, people with bipolar disorder experience intense bouts of depression before swinging to extreme highs, known as mania.
Depending on the severity and type of depression you suffer from, you may experience several of the following symptoms:
It’s important to note: these feelings aren’t fleeting. Or, as the American Psychiatric Association puts it: “being sad is not the same as having depression.” Sadness is a normal emotion; depression is pervasive and life-altering.
Depression is treatable, but the most effective treatment may be different from one person to the next. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help steer you towards the best starting point when you’re seeking help. Depression treatment may include:
Medication. There are several different types of antidepressant medications. One of the more popular is a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These drugs work to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin influences mood and sleep, among other things.
Psychotherapy. Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you recognize disordered thinking that may be worsening your depressive symptoms. Also, therapy can help you work through past trauma or relationship issues that could shape your behavior and mood today.
Electroconvulsive therapy. In use since the 1940s, “shock therapy” is still occasionally used to treat major depression that isn’t responsive to other treatment types. In other words, your healthcare provider may recommend this only after trying therapy and medications, to no avail.