Clinical depression is the existence of feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness most days or every day, keeping a person from functioning normally. It’s yet unknown what exactly causes depression on a biological level. Doctors believe that it could originate in physical changes in the brain, an imbalance of normal brain chemical levels, a hormone imbalance, genetic factors or a combination of the above.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of depression can vary in type, severity and length, in different people. Common symptoms include:
– Difficulty concentrating
– Feelings worthlessness and/or helplessness
– Loss of interest in normal life activities
– Overeating or appetite loss
– Suicidal tendencies, thoughts, or ideation
What are the treatments?
The first step is psychological intervention, which may be used in tandem with medication. The most common therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which, through talking with a mental health expert, aims to help a patient understand their thought patterns, identify harmful or negative thinking, and change thought patterns. Behavioral therapy, similarly, aims to change any behaviors which can harm or disadvantage a sufferer of depression.
Mindfulness cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) is a more recent form of therapy in which CBT is supplemented with mindfulness techniques. This type of therapy takes advantage of the changing nature of the brain – known as neuroplasticity. Therapists who specialize in MCBT emphasize things like meditation, breathing, experience, thought, sensations, and even drawing. The aim is to provide the patient with long-term solutions and tools that train the brain to think and experience in new and healthier ways. The patient therefore learns coping skills that address the root of the problem. This therapy may be augmented with antidepressants, which can act as a sort of short-term “band-aid,” temporarily freeing the patient from depression in order to work on long-term solutions.
Antidepressant medication is commonly used to combat symptoms involving mood, insomnia and more. These medicines can take several weeks before becoming effective. Generally, antidepressants are prescribed for periods of a few months, at which time a doctor will reassess the patient. Different antidepressants have different purposes and side-effects. Most people with moderate or severe depression show improvement with medication after a few weeks. If that is not the case, a doctor will advise on using a different medication or increased dosage.
Antidepressants medications address the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters – associated with depression, particularly serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), cause fewer troubling side effects. Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) like bupropion (Wellbutrin) are one of the few antidepressants not associated with sexual side effects like erectile dysfunction.
It’s important to note that each medication affects each person differently. For instance, if desvenlafaxine worked for your friend, that is not an indicator that it will also work for you. There is a certain amount of trial and error involved in finding the right antidepressant, which requires a lot of patience. For this reason, it’s very important that you are seeing your therapist, as well as your doctor or psychiatrist, regularly whilst taking antidepressants.
Many people will experience depression at some point in their life, and the most important course of action is seeking professional help. In addition to your therapy, there are also a few things you can do to reduce certain symptoms. St. John’s Wort, a herbal supplement that has been used for medicinal purposes since olden times, seems to benefit people suffering from depression.
Furthermore, yoga, meditation, and regular exercise have shown promise in alleviating depression symptoms. Many MCBT therapists recommend regular or daily meditation, which is known to produce physical changes in the brain.
Do you have questions about depression? Can you recommend treatments that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below…