We all have days that we feel sad or down. Everyone experiences challenging situations from time to time. Losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, divorce, and many other occasions can cause a person to experience intense grief, loneliness, or anxiety. Some days, after waking up, things just don’t seem to go right and a general sense of malaise or anxiety can take hold. These feelings are normal. It is when these feelings begin happening more frequently, almost daily, and for no apparent reason that a cause for concern is needed. For many, this state of depression begins to completely consume them, making it impossible to live a normal life. How do you know if your occasional sadness is something more serious? And, if it is, how can you overcome it?
Occasional Sadness or Clinical Depression: How to Tell the Difference
Major or clinical depression is more common than you may think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2015 the US. had roughly 16.1 million adults over the age of 18 reports experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the previous year. That accounts for 6.7 percent of American adults. This number has been shown to be even higher in teens, roughly 8 out of 100 teens have reported serious depression. Depression is a treatable illness, but how do you know if what you’re experiencing is, in fact, depression and not just passing emotions? There are many tests online that can help you determine the severity of your depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers a free online assessment can be taken by yourself or a loved one. You may consider taking the assessment if you have experienced any of the following consistently for a two-week period:
- Consistent feelings of sadness, anxiousness or emptiness
- Irritability and restlessness
- Consistent feelings of helplessness or guilt
- A decrease in energy or a general sense of fatigue
- Difficulty focusing on tasks, remembering details, or making decisions
- Loss of appetite or emotional overeating
- Lingering feelings of pessimism or general hopelessness
- Disruptions in normal sleep patterns such as insomnia or oversleeping
- Treatment-resistant physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, or digestive disorders that doctors have been unable to otherwise diagnose
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
If you find yourself feeling any of these symptoms consistently, please take the assessment and seek help.
Why is Depression Happening to Me?
Your mental health can be affected by many different forces. Understanding how and why depression has crept into your life is an important step towards recovery. It’s important to identify the causes of your depression. In some cases, past trauma has a way of manifesting itself internally. This can lead to depression that occurs suddenly and is hard to understand. For others, major life changes such as divorce, pregnancy, and death all have the ability to cause depression. When diagnosing clinical depression, mental health professionals look for patients to describe symptoms that fall in to four major diagnostic areas: affective, behavioral, cognitive, and somatic. Affective symptoms are tied to mood. Behavioral symptoms can be seen in those who are easily agitated or begin to withdraw socially. Cognitive symptoms often manifest in concentration and decision making and somatic symptoms are often related to lack of or too much sleep. A trained mental health professional can help you identify these symptoms and help you cope with the feelings associated with them. It will take time, but once you take the first step, recovery will be more attainable.
Following a Depression Diagnosis: The Next Steps
If you have recently been diagnosed with clinical depression, what happens next? There are many ways that depression is treated. Clinical depression (often referred to as Major Depression or Major Depressive Disorder) is often treated with a combination of medication and various therapies. Some common therapies include the following:
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, releases the feel-good hormones known as endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, which can help to alleviate depression.
- Eat healthier foods
Your body has a way of reacting to the foods you eat in many different ways. Diets that are heavy in sugar and fats tend to make you feel sluggish and bloated. Cutting back on these foods can help improve your energy levels and overall health, and limit the effect they have on your depression.
Getting enough sleep can have an immense impact on your life. One of the most common symptoms of depression is oversleeping or insomnia. It may be difficult, but is important to address this symptom. Most people function best when they get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Make an effort to avoid caffeine and other things that can keep you up.
- Reduce stress
Stress, like diet, has an effect on various hormone levels in your body that can increase the likelihood that you will experience depression. In particular, stress releases cortisol which increases irritability and uneasiness. While it’s impossible to completely avoid stress in your daily life, it is possible to reduce unneeded stress in your life. Using a planner, keeping a clutter-free environment, and avoiding taking on too many responsibilities can help you manage your stress levels.
- Support circle
Many people around you may not know that you are suffering from depression. Though it may be difficult or even impossible to talk about every aspect of your situation, it is important to surround yourself with people that help you be happy. These people, regardless of whether they know the extent of your situation want you to be happy and they will do what they can to assist you in your fight against depression if you let them.
If you are prescribed medication, it is important to understand that the medication alone may not effectively treat your depression. Studies have shown that combining prescription treatments with healthy lifestyle changes will result in better results. That being said, what happens if you do both and still feel depressed?
I Still Feel Depressed: What Else Could Be Wrong?
If you have made changes to your lifestyle and have been taking medication, there is a possibility that you are experiencing depression due to an undiagnosed health condition. The best course of action in this situation is to visit your primary care physician for a checkup. Your doctor will check for medical conditions that mimic the symptoms of depression and make sure that you aren’t suffering from a side-effect from a medication you are currently taking. One extremely common condition that causes depression-like symptoms is hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. If the underlying cause is the result of a medical issue, there is little that can be done with therapy and antidepressants. The underlying issue must be treated for you to begin treatment for your depression.
Depression Co-Occurring Disorders
It is quite common for depression to occur alongside other disorders. A co-occurring disorder is when an individual with a substance abuse disorder (drugs or alcohol) also suffers from a mental illness (depression, PTSD, etc.). In many cases, depression leads individuals to substance abuse, but it is possible for the substance abuse to cause depression as a side effect. Regardless of which disorder appeared first, it is crucial to seek out treatment for both. Centers that specialize in co-occurring disorders will create an integrated treatment plan catered to your unique situation. This plan will include medical, therapeutic, and holistic treatments that help heal physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds. Take the first step by looking for a center that specializes in co-occurring disorders near you. If you are suffering from substance abuse and depression in Washington, you are not alone. Contact us so that you can get on the road to recovery.