June 28, 2017

Depression

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

~ M. Scott Peck


Psychologist NH | NH Psychologist | DepressionEveryone occasionally feels blue or sad, and these feelings are normal and fleeting, usually passing within a couple of days. But when you have a depressive disorder, it interferes with your daily life and normal functioning, and causes pain for both you and those who care about you.

Depression is a common but serious problem, and unfortunately, many people never seek treatment. But the vast majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Intensive research has resulted in the development of medications, psychotherapies, and other methods to treat people with this disabling disorder.

The following information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov) and WebMD (www.webmd.com).

What are the different forms of depression? The most common forms of depression are major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. Other forms exhibit slightly different characteristics or develop under unique circumstances. However, not all scientists agree on how to characterize and define these forms of depression. They include psychotic depression, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar or manic disorder.

Major depressive disorder, or major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once–pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often it recurs throughout a person’s life.

Dysthymic disorder, also called dysthymia, is characterized by long–term (two years or longer) but less severe symptoms that may not disable a person but can prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.

Psychotic depression occurs when a severe depressive illness is accompanied by some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality, hallucinations, and delusions.

Postpartum depression is diagnosed if a new mother develops a major depressive episode within one month after delivery. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by the onset of a depressive illness during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in
combination with light therapy.

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or dysthymia. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes-from extreme highs (e.g., mania) to extreme lows (e.g., depression).

What are the symptoms of depression? People with depressive problems do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual. Symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

What illnesses often co-exist with depression? Depression often co-exists with other illnesses. Such illnesses may precede the depression, cause it, and/or be a consequence of it. It is likely that the mechanics behind the intersection of depression and other illnesses differ for every person and situation. Regardless, these other co–occurring illnesses need to be diagnosed and treated.

Anxiety disorders, such as post–traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive–compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder, often accompany depression. People experiencing PTSD are especially prone to having co-occurring depression. PTSD is a debilitating condition that can result after a person experiences a terrifying event or ordeal, such as a violent assault, a natural disaster, an accident, terrorism or military combat. People with PTSD often re–live the traumatic event in flashbacks, memories or nightmares. Other symptoms include irritability, anger outbursts, intense guilt, and avoidance of thinking or talking about the traumatic ordeal. In a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)–funded study, researchers found that more than 40% of people with PTSD also had depression at one-month and four-month intervals after the traumatic event.

Serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, hiv/aids, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease also often co–exists with depression. Living with any chronic or serious illness can have negative effects on emotions and behavior. Problems with depression, anxiety, anger, relationships and low self-esteem are common. Studies have shown that people who have depression in addition to another serious medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both depression and the medical illness, more difficulty adapting to their medical condition, and more medical costs than those who do not have co–existing depression. Research has yielded increasing evidence that treating the depression, with medication and/or psychotherapies, can also help improve the outcome of treating the co–occurring illness. Behavioral Medicine also offers treatments for these problems using a variety of therapies such as stress management, problem-solving, cognitive-behavioral, and insight-oriented. Treatment focuses on helping people to improve their ability to cope with their illness, learn techniques to decrease anxious and depressing thought patterns, and improve their ability to enjoy life.

Alcohol and other substance abuse or dependence may also co–occur with depression. In fact, research has indicated that the co–existence of mood disorders and substance abuse is pervasive among the U.S. population.

What causes depression? There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors. Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.

Some types of depression tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic link. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression as well. Genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of multiple genes acting together with environmental or other factors.

In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Subsequent depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.

How is depression detected and treated? Depression, even the most severe cases, is a highly treatable disorder. As with many illnesses, the earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is and the greater the likelihood that recurrence can be prevented.

The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications, and some medical conditions such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression. A doctor can rule out these possibilities by conducting a physical examination, interview and lab tests. If the doctor can eliminate a medical condition as a cause, he/she should conduct a psychological evaluation or refer the patient to a mental health professional.

The doctor or mental health professional will conduct a complete diagnostic evaluation. He/she should discuss any family history of depression, and get a complete history of symptoms, e.g., when they started, how long they have lasted, their severity, and whether they have occurred before and if so, how they were treated. He or she should also ask if the patient is using alcohol or drugs, and whether the patient is thinking about death or suicide.

Once diagnosed, a person with depression can be treated with a number of methods. The most common treatments are psychotherapy and medication.

Psychotherapy. Several types of psychotherapy can help people with depression. Some regimens are short–term (10 to 20 weeks) and other regimens are longer–term, depending on the needs of the individual. Two main types of psychotherapies, cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), have been shown to be effective in treating depression. By teaching new ways of thinking and behaving, CBT helps people change negative styles of thinking and behaving that may contribute to their depression. IPT helps people understand and work through troubled personal relationships that may cause their depression or make it worse.

For mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy may be the best treatment option. However, for major depression or for certain people, psychotherapy may not be enough. Studies have indicated that for adolescents, a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be the most effective approach to treating major depression and reducing the likelihood for recurrence. Similarly, a study examining depression treatment among older adults found that patients who responded to initial treatment of medication and IPT were less likely to have recurring depression if they continued their combination treatment for at least two years.

Medication. Antidepressants work to normalize naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, notably serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists studying depression have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways in which they work.

For all classes of antidepressants, patients must take regular doses for at least three to four weeks before they are likely to experience a full therapeutic effect. They should continue taking the medication for the time specified by their doctor, even if they are feeling better, in order to prevent a relapse of the depression. Medication should be stopped only under a doctor’s supervision. Some medications need to be gradually stopped to give the body time to adjust. Although antidepressants are not habit–forming or addictive, abruptly ending an antidepressant can cause withdrawal symptoms or lead to a relapse. Some individuals, such as those with chronic or recurrent depression, may need to stay on the medication indefinitely.

In addition, if one medication does not work, patients should be open to trying another. NIMH–funded research has shown that patients who did not get well after taking a first medication increased their chances of becoming symptom–free after they switched to a different medication or added another medication to their existing one.

What efforts are underway to improve treatment? Researchers are looking for ways to better understand, diagnose and treat depression among all groups of people. New potential treatments are being tested that give hope to those who live with depression that is particularly difficult to treat, and researchers are studying the risk factors for depression and how it affects the brain. NIMH continues to fund cutting–edge research into this debilitating disorder.

Do not let your depression persist. Call me to see if I can help at 603-448-3588. You may also e-mail me at Karen@Psychologist-NH.com.