What is Depression and How is it Treated?

Depression is a common mood disorder that regularly affects an estimated 4.7% of adults in the United States, reports the CDC. Clinical depression causes a wide range of symptoms that can reduce your quality of life and make you feel less like yourself. When left untreated, depression can become progressively worse to cause serious problems including social isolation, substance abuse, and suicide.

Here’s more information about depression and how this serious mood disorder can be effectively treated.

What Are Symptoms of Depression?

Depression is characterized by a wide range of symptoms that often affect each person differently at varying severity levels. Some people may only experience depression once in their lifetime, while others may experience repeated episodes of depression.

According to the National Library of Medicine, common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or anxiety
  • Extreme changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Sudden angry outbursts over small matters
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in favorite hobbies and activities
  • Sleep disturbances including insomnia
  • Tiredness
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, and concentration
  • Physical aches and pains, such as headaches, back pain, and digestive problems
  • Suicidal ideation or suicide attempts

What Causes Depression?

Depression may primarily be triggered by imbalances in brain neurotransmitters that regulate mood, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, reports Frontiers in Psychology. Imbalances in these brain chemicals can be caused by factors such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and genetics.

Some people who suffer from depression are shown to have a brain structure that is physically different from those without depression — indicating that biological differences may also cause this mood disorder. Factors that can physically change brain structure include disease, stress, diet, and heavy use of drugs and alcohol.

Other direct causes of depression include having a family history of depression and experiencing hormone imbalances such as that related to pregnancy and menopause.

What Are Risk Factors of Depression?

Some people meet certain risk factors that make them more predisposed to depression than others.

Common risk factors of depression include:

  • Having relatives with a history of mood disorders, substance use disorders, or suicide
  • Having a history of other mental health disorders such as anxiety or borderline personality disorder
  • Being dependent on or addicted to drugs and alcohol
  • Having low self-esteem, being pessimistic, or being overly self-critical
  • Having experienced a traumatic event
  • Having a chronic medical condition such as heart disease or cancer
  • Using certain medications such as sleep aids and anti-hypertensive drugs

Meeting one or more of the above risk factors for depression doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to have this mood disorder, though it does mean you should stay aware of your risk factors so you can seek treatment when necessary.

How Can Depression Be Treated?

The most common treatments for depression are medications and psychotherapy. An estimated 6% of people with depression are treated only with medication, while an estimated 65% receive both medication and psychotherapy, reports the National Institutes of Health. An estimated 35% of adults with depression do not receive any type of treatment.

Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) work by balancing levels of brain neurotransmitters to improve your mood. Your doctor will work closely with you to ensure the medications you’re using are effectively treating your depression, as each person responds to medications differently. It’s possible your doctor may switch your medication if depression symptoms persist.

Psychotherapy allows you to talk about your depression with a therapist or another licensed mental health professional. You may receive one or more therapies depending on what your treatment provider offers. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common and effective forms of psychotherapy, and it helps you change negative beliefs and behaviors with those that are healthier and more positive. Psychotherapy may also help you identify the root causes of your depression, develop healthy coping methods, and set realistic life goals.

If you think you may be suffering from depression, give Alter Behavioral Health a call to ask any questions or to schedule a consultation about available treatment options.