Everybody has sad, low days occasionally, or even a few times a month, but if you find that your symptoms tend to come in clusters of a week or more, or never seem to fully go away, you may have depression.
Whether you’re feeling burnt out with work or you’ve noticed you seem more irritable, recognizing signs of depressive behavior is one of the most important steps in fighting back against those feelings.
Depression is a difficult disorder because it can make everything feel harder while simultaneously sapping motivation and willpower. But you can control depression with the right help, and a variety of treatment strategies are now available to help you win the fight.
Treatments are an important part of living with depression, but before we discuss the different ways of fighting the disorder, we need to understand what depression is, and what it looks like.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a mood disorder characterized by an ongoing set of down, sad or low thoughts.
Depression is different than individual instances of sadness and feeling down, in that the recurring lowness causes “distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.
To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present most of the day, nearly every day for at least two weeks.”
But there are different types of depression as well, and they can take different forms, including the familiar seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But the most common types of depression according to the NIMH are major depression and persistent depressive disorder.
Major depression tends to be more the more severe of the two, and is typically characterized by periods of approximately two weeks of moderate to severe depression.
Persistent depressive disorder, on the other hand, is far more long lasting, and is characterized by ongoing symptoms for at least two years, including periods of more and less severe symptoms.
The NIMH says depression is thought to be caused by a variety of factors, including genetic, biological, environmental and psychological ones. Have diabetes or high blood pressure? Not getting exercise, sunlight, or social time? A lot of things could be to blame for your depressive symptoms.
Depression looks different in every person, but there are some common symptoms beyond general sadness and down feelings that might help you better answer whether you have it or not.
In men, the symptoms of depression can manifest differently than in women in a few key ways, according to the NIMH. Men are more likely to be tired, irritable or angry, may have sleep and motivation problems, behave recklessly, and abuse substances.
Signs of depression form a long, long list, but some of the common ones are losing interest in things you once enjoyed, weight fluctuations, irritability, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, hopelessness, as well as physiological symptoms like headaches, cramps, and digestive problems. You can check out a more complete guide to depressive symptoms here, and check out our “Am I Depressed” checklist here.
Depression doesn’t have a cure, but there are a variety of styles and approaches to treatment, including pharmaceutical and therapeutic. Here’s an outline of
Antidepressants are drugs that directly affect the serotonin levels in your brain and the way your brain reacts to serotonin. They can be effective treatments for depression when safely prescribed by a medical professional.
TCAs work to keep more serotonin in your brain. They’ve been around since the 1950s and are also commonly used to treat things like migraines and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The major side effects include constipation, dizziness, and dry mouth.
SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They work by blocking serotonin from being reabsorbed into neurons, and therefore keep more serotonin available to improve transmission between neurons.
SSRIs cause fewer side effects than TCAs due to their mechanism of action, however they do have the potential to cause sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbances, weight changes, anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, and others.
It’s also worth noting that the FDA has issued a blackbox warning for SSRIs and other antidepressant medications due to the increased risk of suicidality among young adults ages 25 and younger.
Talk to your healthcare provider to see which one is right for you.
There are a range of therapies available, from the now-rare electroconvulsive to the more traditional psychotherapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most well-known modern forms of psychotherapy. CBT can help you recognize disordered thinking that may be worsening your depressive symptoms.
Learning about your disordered behavior is an important first step in beginning to correct it, and bringing your attention to those behaviors will help you begin to craft an individual strategy for managing them. A mental health professional might be able to help you decide if this is the right treatment for you.
But therapy doesn’t have to fit the psychotherapeutic model. Meditation practices might be an effective part of treatment and strategy for responding to low moments and other symptoms.
Limited studies provide evidence that a meditation practice could help reduce symptoms of depression. Mindfulness practices in particular showed moderate evidence, even as other forms of meditation like mantra meditation did not show results.
A healthcare provider may advise you that your weight, blood pressure, diet, lifestyle or other habit could be impacting your disorder and some of its symptoms. Taking care of your health, diet, and exercise is always a good idea.
Lifestyle changes may be major contributors to your improved mental well being. Reduce drinking and tobacco intake, and start exercising. Exercise can be as effective as drugs in some cases.
Talk to your healthcare provider about how changes might help you.
Though a variety of treatments exist, beginning the search for some form of treatment is the first and most important step in getting depression under control, and that means talking to a healthcare provider.
If you’ve noticed one or several of the symptoms listed above and feel worried that you may be depressed, reach out for help.
If you have a trusted friend or family member that you can talk to, consider getting in touch with them for support and assistance. If your depression symptoms are severe or you’re unsure who to talk to, contact a mental health professional for personalized advice and treatment.
Most importantly, don’t wait. By identifying your symptoms and seeking help, you’ll put yourself in the strongest position to treat your depression and real progress towards recovery.