What is Depression?

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‘Depression’ is a term used to describe a number of neuropsychological conditions that manifest in similar ways. While most of us know what it is to feel depressed, not many are aware of how it develops over time or how it can be treated.

Depression is diagnosed as a period of low mood for a period of more than two weeks, without any explainable cause, such as grief or a very recent traumatic event. There are a number of symptoms of depression, although people may only show signs of two or three. These symptoms include low mood, feelings of guilt, feelings of low self-worth, either sleeping too little or too much, not finding joy in activities that were once enjoyable, low sex drive, and low desire to interact with other people. Doctors and mental health professionals often use an anxiety and depression checklist (the K10) to ascertain whether or not a person may have diagnosable depression.

So do I have depression?

If you have experienced symptoms related to depression for an extended period of time without any change it is possible you may have depression. it is best to reach out for support even if you don’t have depression and you need support. For some people, the label of depression or a depressive disorder can be helpful and for others, it is a confined label that does not highlight the larger issues the person is facing.

Here are the symptoms under the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) that are needed to confirm a diagnosis of Major depression:

The specific DSM-5 criteria for the major depressive disorder are outlined below.

At least 5 of the following symptoms have to have been present during the same 2-week period (and at least 1 of the symptoms must be diminished interest/pleasure or depressed mood) [2] :

  • Depressed mood: For children and adolescents, this can also be an irritable mood
  • Diminished interest or loss of pleasure in almost all activities (anhedonia)
  • Significant weight change or appetite disturbance: For children, this can be a failure to achieve expected weight gain
  • Sleep disturbance (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate; indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide.

While these are the diagnostic criteria it is important to note that you shouldn’t try and diagnose yourself. This needs to be done a professional and there other factor that may be causing the above symptoms.

A number of forms of depression exist. These include major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, antenatal and post-natal depression and mood-affective disorder. They are separated based on their symptoms, timing of presentation and events leading up to the presentation. While it is possible to experience more than one form of depression over the course of a lifetime, they are rarely experienced together. Importantly, each form of depression is treated differently, and no one form of therapy suits all people.

While there isn’t a single cause, there are a number of factors that contribute to depression. These factors include genetic predispositions, personality and personal factors, recent events or stressors, long-term events or stressors, and even childhood traumas. Research indicates the more risk factors present, the more likely someone is to develop depression.

Traditionally, depression has been explained as a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain, usually due to too much or too little serotonin or noradrenaline, two neurotransmitters that regulate emotions. Current research is finding that this ‘chemical imbalance’ theory doesn’t fully explain the mechanism behind depression, and the neurological wiring of the brain may also be involved.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder is also called major depression, clinical depression, unipolar depression, or sometimes just depression. It is often the form that people are most familiar with, and as professions, is a form we most frequently treat. As many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience this form of depression at some point in their lives. Members of the LGBTI community and other marginalised groups often experience even higher rates of depression. Although it can affect people from adolescence through to old age, the median age of presentation is around early to mid-thirties.

While there are a number of various factors the can contribute to major depressive disorder, current research indicates genetics may be the primary factor. People who have a first-degree relative (parents, siblings, offspring) with depression are three times more likely to experience depression when compared to the general population. Other factors include socioeconomic factors, personality, past trauma, and recent or chronic stress. Depression often coincides with other physical or mental health conditions, and if frequently seen in individuals with a chronic condition, particularly when chronic pain is present.

Major depressive disorder has a fairly standard presentation, which includes feelings of sadness, loss of motivation, no longer enjoying activities that were once enjoyable, and often other general symptoms. These feelings are experienced on most days over the previous fortnight and can last for months, or even years. Importantly, these symptoms interfere with normal functioning in all areas of a person’s life, including with respect to work, socialising and life at home.

Major depression is also the best-understood form of depression and is often effectively treated through a combination of antidepressant medication and/or psychological therapy. Upwards of 80% of individuals with depression who seek assistance from a GP or a mental health counsellor show improvement within six weeks, although full recovery is dependent on a number of factors, including the severity of symptoms.
We want to hear from you about your depression story. We understand that every experience of depression is different and the signs and symptoms look differently for each person. At Safe Place Therapy our mission is to be in your corner and support you towards better mental health. Above are some further blogs for further reading and below you can go ahead and book a time with one of our mental health professionals?

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