What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health disorder that is characterized by persistent sadness, low mood, and low energy levels. It commonly also comes with low self-esteem, periods of numb or empty feeling, and feelings of shame or guilt.1
Many people think that the shame and guilt of depression are a result of the cultural stigma associated with the disorder. While stigma doesn’t help, it isn’t the only cause of shame and guilt in people with depression. Shame and guilt are two of the primary emotions of depression, so people with depression will often feel ashamed or guilty without any specific cause.
Scope of Depression
To qualify as depression, people dealing with the disorder must have had symptoms for at least two weeks at a time, though they might have periods without the depressive symptoms between depressive episodes. Depression is also sorted into several different types, which we’ll talk about more later.
Roughly 8% of adults in the United States have or will have at least one depressive episode in their lives, and depression is slightly more common among women than men.2
Signs Of Depression
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are a wide range of signs and symptoms of depression, and you must have at least five or more of these symptoms to qualify as having major depressive disorder.3
However, if you have less than five of these symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t experience depressive episodes or that you don’t have a different mental health disorder. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms to a large enough extent for it to impact your day-to-day functioning or mood, it’s a good idea to speak with a health care provider about your concerns.
Common Indications of DepressionThe most common signs of depression are:
- Reduced interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- A loss of sexual desire
- Changes in appetite
- Unintentional weight loss or gain
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Agitation, restlessness, and pacing up and down
- Slowed movement and speech
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or an attempt at suicide
- Persistent depressed mood the majority of the time
What Are the Different Types of Depression?
Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)
Persistent depressive disorder is typically less severe than major depressive disorder, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to live with or deal with. This disorder may persist for years at a time and causes a low level of depressive mood most or all of the time.4
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Major depressive disorder is largely similar to persistent depressive disorder but can be more severe. Both can last for years at a time, but major depressive disorder is more likely to cause suicidal ideation, self-harm, or suicidal attempts than PDD.5
The low mood associated with MDD is also typically more severe, with more symptoms and more severe versions of the common symptoms.
Bipolar disorder is technically its own disorder rather than a form of depression, but the two disorders have a lot of symptoms and treatments in common. However, in bipolar disorder, you will also experience periods of mania in addition to periods of depression. While bipolar disorder is usually chronic and long-lasting, the periods of depression or mania are shorter, usually lasting between days or weeks, and in some cases, months, before easing.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)Seasonal affective disorder shares its primary symptoms with PDD and MDD but is seasonally caused. Most people with SAD experience the worst of their symptoms in the autumn and winter, though some people may also have SAD symptoms during the spring and summer.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)PMDD is much more severe than PMS, even though both are thought to be caused by changes in hormones and natural hormonal cycling in patients. PMDD may also come with loss of control and more extreme emotions than PDD, and requires specialized treatment to help control symptoms and prevent episodes.
Postpartum (or Perinatal) Depression (PPD)
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that occurs in some women after giving birth. Most new mothers experience some form of the “baby blues” in the first few days after giving birth, but those feelings usually resolve within a week or so of giving birth.
PPD, on the other hand, may be more intense, is longer lasting, and can interfere with normal bonding with the baby as well as with daily activities like taking care of yourself and the baby. Treatment of PPD is critical to help resolve symptoms as well as to keep both the mother and the baby safe through a medically and emotionally challenging part of life.
What Causes Depression?
Brain Chemistry and Neurological FactorsPeople with depression have also been shown to have an imbalance in the neurotransmitters regulating mood, emotion, energy, and motivation. These imbalances can both cause depression and may be caused by depression. Additionally, people with higher levels of inflammation or an inflammatory disorder may be at higher risk of developing depression, though the exact mechanisms for this connection are unknown.
Life Challenges and Trauma
Hardship and abuse may also have a significant role to play in developing depression. In some cases, depression may be a natural and even normal reaction to severe situations and unmet physical and mental needs.
Lastly, people who experience a traumatic brain injury are at significantly higher risk for developing depression both during their immediate recovery from the injury and in the following months and years. Subsequence traumatic brain injuries (TBI) may further increase the risk of depression.
Diagnosis of Depression
Is Depression Genetic?Depression has some genetic risk factors, but that’s not quite the same as saying that depression is genetic. While genetics can make it more likely for you to have depression, we don’t know of any genetic sequence that guarantees the disorder. There are other factors at play that can increase or reduce your risk.
Is Depression A Disability?
Depending on the level of your depression and how much it interferes with your daily life, depression can be a disability. In fact, it counts as a disability even if you’re able to continue working and taking care of yourself.
However, depression alone might not be enough to qualify for disability assistance depending on doctor recommendations, the severity of your symptoms, and how well you can function despite your symptoms.
Treatment For Depression
Medications for depression can help reduce or eliminate the symptoms of depression, but it can take some trial and error to find the right medications for you, as well as the right dose of each medication. You might have to take more than one medication to get relief. There are several different kinds of medication for depression, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants
- Noradrenaline and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Each of these types works in a slightly different way and has different effects on the user. However, all of them can have side effects and unintended consequences, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting a good balance of relief with as few side effects as possible.
Psychotherapy is another treatment tool where you will work with a therapist to help deal with the symptoms of your disorder and make them less invasive and disruptive. Different kinds of therapy are good for different symptoms, situations, and causes, and you will likely need a combination of different approaches to fully deal with the symptoms of depression.
Psychotherapy treatments for depression include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Light therapy
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Some of these treatments are common, while others are rarer or only used in cases of more severe depression or more treatment-resistant depression.
Get Help Overcoming Your Depression
For women dealing with depression, it can be important to work with care providers who understand the unique risk factors and health reasons underlying depression and who can work with them to find solutions that work with their lifestyle and with their goals.
At Soledad House, we believe that having a women-only recovery space helps the women in our care speak more freely about their experiences and symptoms, and also helps make sure women are listened to and taken seriously when reporting their symptoms. Additionally, we offer personalized postpartum treatment plans for new mothers.
You deserve to have your depression care designed for you and the specific symptoms you’re experiencing. You also deserve to have care providers who understand PMDD and PPD along with other stressors for depression that might be unique to women.
If that sounds like the kind of place you need to start your healing journey, contact Soledad House to learn more about our program and how we can help you.