Depression is a widespread mental health disorder that is typically distinguished by a constantly depressed mood or loss of interest in activities once found enjoyable causing a significant affliction in everyday life. Depression may only occur once, but more often than not, individuals experience multiple episodes in which manifestations of this disorder are present for a majority of the day on most days. The exact cause of depression is unknown, but many factors can play a role in the onset of depression. A combination of biological, psychological, and social sources of distress along with an individual’s brain chemistry, hormones and inherited traits can all be circumstances which may lead an individual to become depressed. In the biological scheme of things, depressed individuals have physical changes in their brain, and these changes in brain functions can include altered activity of certain neural circuits in the brain which are involved in maintaining mood stability. Social distress can also feed into depression if an individual experiences trauma or an abundance of stress.
The glum mood or disinterest in activities that comes with depression can lead to many behavioral and physical changes in an individual’s everyday life such as changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior or self-esteem. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm occur frequently as well. Additional symptoms may be mixed feelings of sadness, emptiness and/or hopelessness without any real cause, angry outbursts, irritability, tiredness and lack of energy so even small tasks take extra effort, anxiety, agitation and/or restlessness, slowed thinking, speaking and/or body movements, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or fixating on past failures. The symptoms of depression are usually severe enough that an affected individual has noticeable difficulty in day-to-day activities like work, school, social activities or relationships with people.
The diagnosis of depression consists more of mental analysis than anything else. Doctors usually begin with a physical exam and questions and an individual’s health or a psychiatric evaluation. Sometimes lab tests like a complete blood count test or a thyroid test are used to ensure there are no physical factors triggering an individual’s depression. A doctor might also utilize the criteria for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if a patient has depression. Usually the symptoms of depression must be existent for at least two weeks before a person is classified as clinically depressed.
The treatments for depression are medicine, talk therapy or both, and sometimes a hospital stay may be required for very severe cases of depression in which a patient is in danger of hurting themselves or others. Doctors often start by prescribing an SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These drugs are considered safer and typically cause fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants. Other types of antidepressants include
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs),
- Atypical antidepressants,
- Tricyclic antidepressants,
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), or other medications.
Atypical antidepressants don’t fit neatly in any other category of medications, and Tricyclic antidepressants come with the most severe side-effects out of all the medications. The prescription of medication to treat depression can depend on the severity and type of depression an individual has. An individual with atypical features of depression that includes the ability to temporarily be cheered by happy events may require a different medicine than someone with mixed features that has simultaneous depression and mania.
Depression medications have the risk of causing withdrawal-like symptoms upon abruptly stopping the medication, and sudden discontinue of antidepressants can cause depression to worsen due to a patient’s body becoming dependent on the medication for hormone/chemical regulation.