Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder that affects about 15 million adults in the United States every year, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry. It is often referred to as clinical depression, and it can develop at any age. However, it seems to be most diagnosed when individuals reach later adulthood, or when they are in their thirties. Major depressive disorder is depression that can be chronic or subject to specific episodes that may be due to circumstances, environments or changes in brain chemistry. Effectively managing this type of psychiatric disorder depends on the patient, the symptoms and any other mental, physical, emotional or behavioral things that might be going on in a person’s life.
Defining Major Depressive Disorder
There are many different types of depression. Major depressive disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as depression that comes with severe symptoms which are so intense that they interfere with a person’s ability to work or study. A person suffering from major depressive disorder will also experience disruptions to eating and sleeping habits. It becomes impossible to enjoy life or participate fully in one’s own education, career and family life.
This type of illness goes way beyond brief feelings of sadness or hopelessness that everyone experiences. A non-depressed person will have their low points or their feelings of insecurity and misery. However, someone who lives with major depression or clinical depression gets stuck in that low point and cannot seem to emerge from it without intervention. Many people who deal with major depressive disorder are also at risk for having anxiety as well. This can develop into a dangerous cycle where the depressed and anxious person feels like he or she simply cannot cope anymore, and suicide can become a concern. Major depressive episodes can occur once or twice a year, and they can last for as little as a day and as long as several weeks or months at a time.
Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder
A major depressive disorder has a list of symptoms that accompany the illness. Most trained psychiatrists and mental health workers will look for at least five of the symptoms to diagnose a person as experiencing major depression. When a person expresses feelings of sadness, anxiety or helplessness, it’s an indicator that there may be depression. Many people who suffer from clinical depression also report feeling hopeless and helpless. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness are also common. You may hear someone say that he or she just feels empty and like nothing good can possibly happen.
In addition to feelings, other symptoms can be found in behavioral changes. If there is a loss of interest in recreational activities, socializing or sex, it can indicate major depression. Changes to appetite and sleep patterns are also symptoms. People who are suffering from major depressive disorder might suddenly start staying up all night or being unable to wake up and get out of bed during the day. They might lose weight because they have no appetite or gain weight because they cannot stop eating in an attempt to feel better.
A decrease in energy, constant fatigue and even physical symptoms that cannot be explained such as constant headaches or physical pain might be due to major depressive disorder. Every patient experiences symptoms differently; the important thing is to recognize them and take immediate action.
Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder
The best way to treat major depressive disorder really depends on the patient, the patient’s medical history and the severity of the symptoms. Many people respond well to therapy, medications and even treatments that were once considered alternative, such as meditation, herbs and acupuncture. Severe depression could require inpatient treatment, but most people who suffer from this disorder are able to manage their symptoms and get their illness under control with intensive therapy and some changes to their coping skills and emotional management.
Antidepressants are often prescribed to change the way the brain functions and responds to emotional triggers. While medication can be effective, finding the right type of medication and dosage can be a frustrating run of trials and errors. There are also consequences to abruptly stopping a medication, so make sure you understand your treatment plan and discuss any side effects or plans to stop taking the drugs with your doctor.
Talk therapy is another useful type of treatment for major depressive disorder. With your therapist, you can discuss what triggers your depression and why you feel the way you do. You’ll learn how to avoid getting lost in negative thoughts and how to be aware of your symptoms and triggers. Group therapy can be helpful too, where you’ll find support from others who are going through similar experiences.
Whatever you decide to do to treat your major depressive disorder, getting help quickly greatly increases your chances of overcoming it.