Major Depressive Disorder, known commonly as depression, is a frequently diagnosed mental health condition that is one of the leading causes of disability and mortality across the entire world. It is a recurrent disorder associated with persistent low mood, low self-esteem or loss of interest in previous interests that is sustained for a period of at least two weeks. Depression causes many people to suffer multiple bouts of illness and frequently affects all aspects of an individual’s life.
Symptoms of depression universally involve low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, weight changes, energy level changes, sleep difficulties, poor concentration, guilt, and can include recurrent thoughts of death. In its most severe form, depression can often lead to suicidal actions or attempts, and can be a life-threatening disorder. These symptoms often permeate into all aspects of life, and can often lead to withdrawal and isolation, with poor insight into what is causing these issues. It is important to note that depression very closely overlaps symptoms of other disorders and conditions, and often appears alongside symptoms of anxiety, traumatic exposures, obsessionality, and physical ailments. Depression is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics, psychological stressors, and environmental factors.
Depression is not limited to adults, and symptoms can extend into adolescence or childhood. Symptoms in younger age groups may also include agitation or irritability, mood swings, hallucinations, and non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors. In these populations, depression is often under diagnosed, yet it is important to recognize and bring to the attention of primary care or pediatric medical specialists, such as a child & adolescent psychiatrist.
Assessment for depression typically involves a formal evaluation by a psychiatrist. Current research suggests that depression is likely a result of genetic factors, brain changes, physical or medical conditions, and life circumstance (such as trauma). Informational tools such as rating scales, checklists, and evaluations can also be helpful in clarifying whether symptoms meet criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. It is important to rule out any medical or neurological issues that may be contributing or accounting for symptoms.
Treatments for depression are based on severity of symptoms, and often involve the use of psychopharmacology, individual psychotherapy, or a combined treatment with both modalities. Individual therapy can assist with altering cognitive distortions, and negative thoughts, with popular modalities including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), supportive psychotherapy, and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Medications similarly can improve symptoms, which depending on the individuals specific circumstances could include the use of antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, anti-anxiety treatments, or medication for insomnia. Working with a psychiatrist can help alleviate depressive symptoms which can affect day-to-day functioning and quality of life. It is recommended to consult closely with a your doctor to discuss benefits and risks of medications. Effective treatment typically involves family support, as well as close monitoring and follow-ups with your doctor and/or therapist. Additionally, lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise can be helpful in improving some symptoms of depression.