Depression is a disorder that affects an estimated anywhere from 6 to 20% of the population in any given year, depending on how it’s measured. Depression is a serious and common mental health condition, affecting around one in four people at some point during their life. It can be hard to beat because it has both biological and psychosocial factors contributing to its cause. This post will give you insight into what depression is, how it’s diagnosed, and how you can manage or even heal from depression with help from our therapists in Vancouver.
Situational versus clinical depression
Before we get into what depression is, how it’s diagnosed, and how it’s treated, it’s important to note that there are two broad types of depression: situational and clinical. Many of us will be able to tell right away whether we have one or the other (thought they do commonly overlap), and knowing which form we have is important to getting the upper hand on the problem.
Many of us will feel sad, blue or down in the dumps at various points throughout our lives. These feelings are usually triggered by specific events that cause us to change how we think about ourselves and/or life in general (for example, if you didn’t get picked for a promotion at work). This type of depression is called situational because it’s related to an outside event or problem.
Situational depression can also be caused by changes in your body. For example, when someone goes through menopause they may experience symptoms like sadness due to hormone fluctuations. Or another common trigger could be after having a baby since pregnancy hormones often change drastically during this time which can lead some women into feeling depressed while their hormones readjust back to pre-pregnancy levels.
In these cases, the change in mood is related to a specific situation or event that can be resolved with time and external support. Situational depression usually goes away on its own when you resolve whatever was causing it in the first place (for example, you get over not getting picked for a promotion at work), while clinical depression continues even after resolving this outside issue since it’s caused by internal changes like brain chemistry or genetics.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that can be characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. It can also cause a person to feel irritable and restless. These negative emotions can interfere with a person’s ability to function normally in daily life. Depression is often accompanied by physical problems such as headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, and changes in appetite or weight.
Depression is also marked by changes in motivation and energy. Things that used to give us a sense of excitement, joy or purpose no longer do so. Hobbies and recreational activities lose their appeal, and things we didn’t usually get excited about before — say, our jobs or other responsibilities — often become completely draining.
Depression is also characterized by changes in our thoughts. Depression can cause negative patterns of thinking, such as focusing on the negatives instead of the positives or dwelling only on the past (rumination) rather than looking towards a positive future.
The most well-known form of depression takes is major depressive disorder (MDD). MDD is a mood disorder that causes a person to experience symptoms like those mentioned above for at least two weeks. To be diagnosed with MDD, the symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in daily life. In other words, to be considered a “disorder,” the thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with the depression cause a clinically-significant impact on your physical and mental health, and your functioning.
Depression can also take on other forms such as bipolar disorder (BD, previously called manic depression), dysthymia, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Bipolar disorder is marked by episodes of mania (high energy, euphoria, impulsiveness) and depression. Dysthymia is a less severe form of depression that lasts for at least two years. SAD is a type of depression that occurs during specific times of the year, usually winter when there’s less sunlight (but you may be surprised that it also occurs for many people during sunnier months).
You may have also heard of a condition called dysphoria. Dysphoria is similar to depression, but it’s often characterized by feelings of anxiety and restlessness rather than sadness. People who experience dysphoria may also have difficulty sleeping and concentrating on tasks they normally would be able to focus on with ease. Unlike MDD, SAD and BD, dysphoria itself is a symptom or experience rather than a clinical diagnosis.
People will use different words when describing how they feel in the throes of a depressive episode. Some common ones include:
- Hopeless or helpless
- Worthless or inadequate
How is depression diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with depression, you’ll need to have experienced the symptoms mentioned above for at least two weeks. A healthcare practitioner may also look into other possible causes of your depressive episode using questionnaires or interviews. In many cases, this will involve asking about family history and personal background as well as providing examples from friends and loved ones as to how they’ve noticed your behaviour changing over time since you began experiencing these feelings.
Although there are no physical tests available (such as blood work) for diagnosing mental health conditions like depression, there are reliable screeners and other psychological instruments that a diagnostician (a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist) can use to reliably diagnose the condition.
What causes depression?
What causes depression? While we don’t know for sure what causes everybody’s depression, there are certain risk factors that can make some people more susceptible to developing major depressive disorder (MDD). These include: genetic predisposition, biology, our experiences in life, and the way we think about ourselves.
Many scientists believe that depression is caused by an imbalance of several brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine dopamine). There are many other factors thought to play a role too. As mentioned above, there’s also evidence suggesting that certain genes may make people more susceptible to depressive disorders than others who don’t carry them. What this all means is that while it can be helpful for treatment purposes to understand what causes depression so you can identify ways it might have developed over time
The exact biological factors that contribute to depression are not fully understood yet but there are several theories about why it happens: -Low levels of brain chemicals like serotonin may be responsible for triggering depression-Serotonin helps regulate moods, sleep habits, appetite, pain response etc.-Hormonal imbalances can also contribute to depressive symptoms-People with low levels of the hormone cortisol are more likely to suffer from depression than people who have normal amounts, according to some research.
How is depression treated?
There are many different ways to treat depression, and the approach that will be most effective for you may vary over time. The goal of treatment is usually to reduce or get rid of the symptoms so that you can feel better and enjoy life again.
Two two most common treatments for depression are psychotherapy (aka counselling) and antidepressants.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a type of therapy where you talk to a therapist about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It can help you understand why you’re feeling depressed and learn how to cope with difficult emotions. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – This is a type of psychotherapy that helps you change the way you think about yourself and your. It can help improve your mood and behaviour.
Antidepressant medications are drugs that help to correct the chemical imbalance in your brain that is thought to contribute to depression.
Your doctor will work with you to figure out what treatment might be best for you. You may need to try different things before you find something that works well for you. Some people also find it helpful to combine different treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy. Indeed, evidence shows that for many people, the combination of medication and counselling work best.
How effective is treatment?
Treatment can help improve symptoms for many people with depression but it’s not effective for everyone. For example, research shows that medication on its own isn’t likely to work if you have mild or moderate depression. Talk therapy may also be more helpful than antidepressants alone when dealing with less severe forms of the disorder because there’s evidence showing that talk therapies like CBT are better at preventing relapse (when someone who has been feeling healthy starts feeling depressed again) compared to using antidepressant medications alone. Unfortunately this means that only about half of all patients get the most benefit from treatment options available. That being said no matter what kind of depression you have, the first step to feeling better is recognizing that you need help and seeking it out.
How can I find treatment?
You may want to start by checking in with your primary care doctor about what kinds of treatments they recommend for depression and which ones might be right for you. They may refer you to a mental health professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist who has experience helping people experiencing depressive disorders. They can make make an assessment, form a diagnosis, and offer recommendations for what might be most helpful.
Of course, a diagnosis isn’t necessary for treatment of depression. At Fieldwork, all of our counsellors are trained in effective talk therapy for depression, and we can offer help regardless of whether you’re experiencing signs or symptoms of situational or clinical depression. Often, simply talking to a counsellor can be immensely beneficial, because you have the opportunity to give voice to experiences that you may otherwise not had the opportunity to.
How long does treatment last?
This really depends on the individual. Some people need treatment for a relatively short period of time, while others may benefit from longer term medication or counselling. Generally speaking, the most intense the symptoms, and the longer a person has been experiencing them, the longer treatment will be required.
That said, our mental health is such a subjective experience that there are no hard and fast rules to treatment. Some people experience profound results quickly, either through medication or counselling, while others see slower gains. What is most important is that whatever you decide to do, you make a commitment to sticking with it: antidepressant medications take at least a few weeks to ‘kick in’ for most people, and counselling requires developing a level of comfort with the counsellor before the most benefit is apparent.
It’s important that you remain hopeful throughout the process, and while sticking with whatever you’ve committed to, remain open to suggestions and possibilities.
What if treatment isn’t working?
If your treatment isn’t effective, consider trying something new. Keep an open mind about different options and give them a chance to work before you dismiss them as not working for you. If it has been quite some time since you’ve started experiencing symptoms of depression or if this is the first time that medication or counselling hasn’t seemed to help much, consider speaking with your doctor. They may offer suggestions, refer you to someone else who might be able to better understand what’s going on, and ultimately prescribe other ways in which they can support you through depression recovery.
While Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most evidenced form of treatment for depression, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the most effective. There are many other highly effective treatments for depression — particularly situational depression — including Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Narrative Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) that have been shown to bring about impressive results as well. If a particular form of talk therapy hasn’t worked for you, exploring other forms can be beneficial.
What works besides talk therapy and medication?
Exercise can be a great way to lift your mood, but it’s important that you seek proper guidance and support in finding an exercise routine that works for you. Even if exercising isn’t something you’ve done much before, the benefits of regular exercise are well documented and there is no harm at all in giving it a try: perhaps hiring a personal trainer or joining with others who want to work out together will help motivate you to get started.
Eating a healthy diet is also important, as deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can aggravate depressive symptoms. Again, it’s best to speak with a professional about what kind of dietary changes you might need to make in order to support your mental health.
Finally, spending time with loved ones can be incredibly helpful, both emotionally and practically. Whether you spend time talking, watching TV or a movie together, going for walks or hikes, or simply being around one another, quality time spent with those we love can work wonders in boosting our mood and helping us feel connected.
It also makes sense to explore how your overall lifestyle might affect depressive symptoms. Are there foods (or chemicals) which make things worse? How about certain drugs like caffeine — does drinking coffee regularly contribute to depression severity? The mind-body connection when it comes down to mental health issues isn’t always obvious, but it’s been well researched, and we know that there is a strong connection between them.
As you can see, there is no shortage of options when it comes to depression treatment. It’s important that you feel good about the choices that you’ve made and not be afraid to try something new if one approach isn’t working for you: finding a way through depression doesn’t have to counselling exclusively, but it’s a good place to start. There are myriad ways in which we can support our mental health and find happiness again!