Depression is a common mood disorder that affects many each year. It is estimated that about 9.5% of US adults will suffer from a depressive illness (major depression, bipolar depression, or dysthymia) each year (www.hopkinsmedicine.org). While it is normal for us humans to feel within our lives periods of sadness, this differs from depression. Depression (with its symptoms) is a serious mental illness that can negatively impact individuals and their loved ones if left untreated. While some people may only experience one depressive episode in their lifetime, for others, it is a recurring cycle.
Here at FEBO we understand how difficult it can be to live daily life when one has depression. We also know that there is still lots of stigma that surrounds this condition. We hope this article will help you and others understand depression and the impact it may have in one’s daily life. If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to others. You could also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a common and serious mood disorder that severely impacts how one feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. It often causes sadness, despair, hopelessness, loss of energy, or overwhelming feelings when trying to accomplish tasks within one’s everyday life. While it is normal for us to feel sad throughout our life, symptoms of depression are more persistent and can occur daily for a more than two weeks (without an underlying medical cause).
Is Depression Different from Sadness?
Yes, depression is different from sadness. Sadness is a human emotion we often feel throughout many points of our life and after specific situations. However, sadness is temporary and fades with time. Depression is a more severe mental condition that is long-term and often impairs one’s ability to live their daily life. Symptoms of depression also tend to encompass one’s entire life and make it nearly impossible for an individual to find enjoyment in the things they once loved to do. It can also affect our emotions, thinking, behavior, and physical well-being. Because symptoms of depression are more severe, it often requires us to seek medical advice from doctors to see what treatments can help improve our mental health.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
Some common symptoms of depression may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiousness, or emptiness
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
- Low self-esteem
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you typically enjoy doing
- Increased fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, or oversleeping
- Changes in weight and/or appetite
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive issues that occur without a clear physical cause (or don’t ease with treatment)
- Moving or speaking slower than usual
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Avoiding contact with loved ones and avoiding social situations
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How Is Depression Diagnosed?
It is normal for people to experience low periods throughout their life. However, those feelings can be diagnosed as clinical depression once an individual experiences more intense symptoms that last for two weeks or longer. When rising your doctor, we highly encourage you to bring up any issues or concerns you may have if you think you may have depression. Your doctor may then ask you to complete a questionnaire and request your family history. They may also perform exams or lab tests to rule out any possible underlying medical conditions.
What Causes Depression?
The direct cause of depression is still unknown. However, research shows that a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors often play a role. Other factors that may play a role include:
- Certain medications
- Death or loss
- Major/stressful events
- Personal problems
- Serious illnesses
- Substance abuse
- Giving birth
What Are the Types of Depression?
People often use the term depression as an umbrella term. However, healthcare providers have different classifications for the types of depression a patient may have. The different types of depression include:
- Major Depressive Disorder (aka Clinical Depression): Major depression is a severe form of depression that often causes intense and overwhelming symptoms that last longer than two weeks. People often feel symptoms nearly everyday and can last for weeks or even months.
- Bipolar Depression: This is an outdated name that is different from depression. However, it is sometimes used to refer to the periods where people with bipolar disorder get these very low moods or extremely high-energy (manic) periods. During low periods, people may feel symptoms similar to major depression (sadness, hopelessness, or low energy).
- Perinatal and Postpartum Depression: Perinatal depression occurs during pregnancy and up to one year after having a baby. Meanwhile, postpartum depression only refers to feelings of depression after giving birth. Both types of depression may result from hormonal changes during pregnancy or childbirth that lead to changes in the brain (such as mood swings). Lack of sleep and discomfort may also play a role.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (also known as dysthymia): People often experience depression symptoms and feelings for at least two years. The severity of symptoms can vary each month. Some days may be less intense and then get worse later on. People can also have major depression at the same time.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): PMDD is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (aka PMS) that can lead to physical and psychological symptoms. It affects people a few weeks or days leading up to their period. It can affect an individual by making them experience a level of sadness/depression that gets in the way of living their daily life.
- Psychotic Depression: Individuals with psychotic depression experience severe depression symptoms (both mental and physical) accompanied by hallucinations or delusions.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): SAD is a type of depression affected by the seasons. This type of depression usually occurs in individuals during late fall and early winter (when there is typically less sun). It typically goes away during the spring and summer (when there is more sun).
- Situational Depression: Situational depression looks like major depression- but triggered by specific events or situations (such as the death of a loved one). Symptoms tend to occur within 3 months of the event and interfere with one’s daily life.
- Atypical Depression: Atypical depression is when one’s depression may temporarily go after experiencing a positive event. One may seem like their normal selves or not as depressed as others. This type tends to occur during long episodes of major depression or persistent depression.
Can Depression Be Cured?
The word “cure” is tricky because it often refers to a permanent solution. As of right now, there is no cure for depression. However, there are many effective treatments one can choose to help improve their symptoms and daily life. Don’t lose hope- and know that you can get back to your everyday life!
How Is Depression Treated?
There are many routes one can take to treat depression. Some may even use a combination of these treatments. As always, we highly encourage you to talk with your doctor to see what treatment plan will best suit your needs. Some of these treatments include:
- Counseling/Psychotherapy:This often includes therapies where you talk with a mental health professional (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy [CBT], interpersonal therapy [IPT], or psychodynamic psychotherapy). During these therapies, you usually learn how to dress your problems and develop more healthy cope skills. The number of sessions you will need will depend on your condition and how well you respond to this treatment.
- Brain stimulation therapy:Those with severe depression or psychotic depression may choose to take this route if they find that medications do not reduce their symbols of depression. These types of treatment include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
- Medication: Prescription medications (such as antidepressants) can help change the way your brain uses chemicals to control your mood or stress. It may take some time to figure out what medication is best for you (about 2-4 weeks). As always, consult with your doctor first before starting or stopping any medication.
- Alternative medicine:Therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis, or biofeedback may interest some individuals. These therapies may help people with mild depression symptoms or ongoing symptoms.
- Mental health teams: You may be referred to a mental health team (usually consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists, social nurses, and occupational therapists) if you have severe depression. These teams can help you find what combination of intensive specialist talking treatments and prescription medication will best suit your needs.
- Self-help: There are many things you can also do to help improve your depression symptoms. You can engage in activities such as regular exercise, spending time with loved ones, postponing important decisions, making sure you get enough sleep, practicing meditation, developing a simple self-care routine, etc.
What Is Treatment-Resistant Depression? Can It Be Cured?
Treatment-resistant depression is when an individual has been treated for depression- but their symptoms have not improved (or they are stuck in a constant cycle where their depression always comes back). This recurrence of depression may mean that standard treatments may not be enough to help treat your depression. In this case, you would work with your doctor to see a specialist that specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. From there, you can work closely with them and try to identify what helps improve your symptoms/mental health.
Can Depression Go Away on Its Own?
It is a very tricky question because depression affects everyone differently. As mentioned above, there are many different types of depression. Some symptoms may linger for longer than two weeks- others for at least two years. For some people, one may experience only one episode of depression- for others it can be a lifelong struggle. Those with severe depression have less of a chance of it going away on its own. However, the good news is that you don’t have to wait and see if your depression will go away on its own. With the help of your doctor, you can develop an effective treatment plan that can help improve your mental health and get back to your daily life.
Can My Diet Help with My Depression?
According to a Harvard Health article, diet can often play an important role in our mental health. Studies show that diets with a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and low-fat dairy are associated with a decreased risk of depression. It also means that we should limit our intake of added sugars, white flour, animal fats, processed meats, and butter. However, enjoying these foods in moderation is fine- but make sure to speak with your doctor about the ways in which you can include healthy food groups in your diet.
How Can I Help Someone with Depression?
We know that seeing a loved one depressed can be difficult/worrisome- and it can start to feel overwhelming at times (especially if you yourself feel lost on how to deal your loved one’s emotions). However, know that your love and support greatly benefits your loved ones in their recovery. You can start by looking into reliable sources to learn more about depression and the ways in which you can approach your loved one. Approach them with open ears and in a manner where they won’t feel pressured. Let them know that you are there to listen. You could also help them seek treatment or help them with some of their daily tasks. For those whose loved ones have started treatment, you could be on the lookout to see how a treatment is working or not working. Also take mental notes of recognizing signs of relapse.
While all your efforts are appreciated, make sure you are also looking after your own emotional health!
What can I do to help myself?
We understand that taking the first step to seek help/treatment is always hard. Especially when dealing with symptoms of depression. We encourage you to take one small step at a time. Every step you take towards recovery is a big win for the overall picture. You could do these small but positive activities:
- Reach out and stay connected with loved ones or people you trust:
Despite there being much talk about mental health these days- there are still a lot of stigmas that often surround depression. While some may feel ashamed or guilty, we highly encourage you to seek trusted loved ones for help. If you don’t have friends or family near, you could always join a support group that helps those with depression. The main point is to make sure you don’t become stuck in isolation by reaching out to others. Our FEBO app also has a connect feature that allows you to connect with others who may be facing similar health issues!
- Do things that make you feel good:
Make sure to do things that you enjoy and find relaxing. It can be as simple as creating an easy self-care routine (such as washing your face) or listening/singing to your favorite songs. We know this can be difficult, but each small activity is a small win. Getting out there and doing fun activities will gradually help lift your mood.
- Find ways to support your health:
Depression often affects the way you take care of yourself. Things such as lack of sleep, getting too much sleep, or facing an increase in stress can make depression worse. We encourage you to keep your health in mind during a period of depression. You can start by doing small things such as practicing healthy sleeping habits, making sure you drink plenty of water, practicing relaxation techniques, etc. You could also use our Febo health toolbox app to help you out.
- Engage in exercise you enjoy:
Depression often affects our energy levels, and sometimes exercise may feel like a difficult task. However, many studies show that exercise can help relieve symptoms of depression. You do not have to go to the gym or engage in high-intensity exercise to see the results. You could start by simply taking a 10-minute walk each day or dancing to your favorite songs. The point is to move your body in ways that you enjoy!
- Eat a healthy diet:
As we have already mentioned above, your diet impacts your mental health. Make sure to eat a diet with a high intake of fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and low-fat dairy. Studies show that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, herring, tuna, etc.) can help stabilize our mood. With vitamins, you also want to make sure your B vitamins (such as folic acid and B-12) are steady since deficiencies can trigger depression.
- Make sure to get some sun:
The amount of sunlight we get can affect how we feel (especially if we struggle with seasonal depression). Find the time to go outside for a least 15 minutes each day to get some sunlight. You could take a walk during your lunch break, exercise outdoors, open blinds and windows to let the sun in, garden, enjoy your meal outside, etc. If it is wintertime or you live somewhere where the sun does not come out too often- you could invest in a light therapy box. Of course, enjoy the sun safely by making sure you wear protective clothing and put on enough sunscreen!
- Learn how to challenge negative thinking:
We know that one can not just tell their brain to think positively. However, one can start learning to redirect negative thoughts into a more balanced way of thinking. It does not have to be perfect. The key is to identify/challenge these negative thoughts- helping you come to a more balanced perspective. Meditation is a great way to help you slow down and learn to come at peace with your mind.
- Journal your feelings:
If you find it challenging to share your thoughts and feelings with others, you may want to consider journaling instead. Keeping a journal will help you process your emotions, serve as a creative outlet, and help you understand and indenting any possible causes or triggers of depressive episodes.
Here are some additional sources (for yourself or as a caregiver/supporter) you can visit for more information: