You may be suffering from clinical depression if you:
- Find yourself feeling low for weeks at a time
- Are no longer interested in the activities you once enjoyed
- Are isolating yourself from friends and family
This condition can affect your appetite, your ability to get restful sleep, and even your ability to think clearly—all reasons it’s important to seek help as soon as you can.
In this article, we discuss the ins and outs of this mental health condition, the importance of identifying your symptoms, the types of mental health treatment available, and what you can do if you or someone you love is suffering from clinical depression.
What is Clinical Depression?
Everyone feels sad, lonely, or down in the dumps from time to time. This is sometimes referred to as “situational depression.” But what differentiates situational depression from clinical depression is twofold: the severity of the symptoms and the length of time they last.
Clinical depression is more than just sadness; it involves changes in your appetite (either loss of appetite or binge eating), changes in your sleeping patterns (including insomnia or excessive sleeping), and a loss of interest in activities you usually love. Some may find that, instead of feeling sad or depressed, they simply feel “flat” while they’re in the throes of a clinical depression episode.
One of the sad ironies of depression is that it saps your ability to seek help when you need it. Depression can also cause you to isolate yourself from those who want to help. But if you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone—around one in every 10 Americans deals with depression at some point in their lives, and this figure has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Types of clinical depression
There are seven different types of clinical depression, each categorized by cause and symptoms.
- Major depressive disorder involves single or separate episodes of depression, plus at least four additional depression symptoms that last for two weeks or more.
- Persistent depressive disorder is a milder but chronic depression that lasts at least two years. Those dealing with persistent depressive disorder generally experience two or more symptoms of depression for the entire two-year period.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is caused in part by hormones and tends to track one’s menstrual cycle. PMDD can cause angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, and a depressed mood. These symptoms generally subside after menstruation.
- Substance-induced depressive disorder occurs when a depressed mood is caused by a substance the person ingests. This can include both prescription drugs and illicit drugs, as well as legal substances like alcohol.
- Health-condition-induced depressive disorder is a type of depression that is secondary to another medical disorder, including certain thyroid conditions, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, or cancer.
- Recurrent or short-duration depressive disorders are classified as “other” depressive disorders; both are similar to major depressive disorder but tend to be short-lived. Recurrent depressive disorder involves episodes of depression that last between two and thirteen days and recur on a regular basis, while short-duration depressive disorder is a nonrecurrent depressed mood that lasts between four days and two weeks.
- Unspecified depressive disorders are broken into four subtypes, including postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, atypical depression, and melancholia (the most severe type of depression).
Every type of depression is treatable, though treatments may vary.
Signs and Symptoms of Clinical Depression
Depression is characterized by emotional, physical, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms. Some of the most common signs of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Increased irritability
- Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
- An unexplained increase or decrease in your appetite
- Slower speech, decreased movement, and changes in your mental functioning
- Changes in your sleeping patterns
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Low energy, sleepiness, or fatigue
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm, reach out immediately—in the U.S., calling or texting 988 will lead you to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, where you’ll be immediately connected with someone who can talk you through what you’re experiencing.
Causes of Clinical Depression
As with many mental health conditions, researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes clinical depression. In many cases, it can be attributed to a combination of biological, environmental, and genetic factors, as well as certain co-occurring mental health conditions.
The most common biological causes of clinical depression involve brain chemistry—generally an imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Antidepressant medications are designed to treat these imbalances.
Other biological factors can include comorbid disorders, either mental health disorders or physical illnesses. For example, those who have social anxiety disorder or panic disorder are more likely to also suffer from clinical depression. Those who are undergoing treatment for another serious medical condition, like cancer, may be more likely to develop clinical depression.
You’re about three times more likely to develop clinical depression if your parent or sibling also has clinical depression. Unfortunately, because societal stigmas can still discourage transparency when it comes to discussing mental health conditions, you may not even be aware that a close relative is dealing with clinical depression. If you’re comfortable discussing your condition openly, you could be helping those around you get a diagnosis more quickly.
If you grew up in a violent, impoverished, or abusive household, you may be more likely to develop clinical depression as a teen or young adult. Other stressful life events, including divorce, the death of a loved one, or job loss, may be enough to trigger a bout of clinical depression if you’re already more vulnerable to this condition.
Diagnosing Clinical Depression
Unlike many medical conditions that rely on X-rays, CT scans, or blood panels for a diagnosis, clinical depression is a symptom-based diagnosis.
However, you don’t need to go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor to be diagnosed with depression—your primary care provider (PCP) can begin with a diagnosis and even prescribe antidepressants to start your treatment. Your PCP may refer you to a mental health professional for further treatment and monitoring of your condition.
To be diagnosed with clinical depression, you must have at least five of the symptoms in the “Signs and Symptoms” section above, including low mood and loss of interest in activities you enjoy. These symptoms (except for suicidal ideation) must last nearly all day, every day, for at least two weeks. Your healthcare provider will likely provide you with a questionnaire and then talk through your answers with you before making a diagnosis. Your provider may also order tests to rule out other conditions, including blood panels to screen for thyroid illnesses.
Treating Clinical Depression
There are a number of different treatments for depression, with new ones being developed all the time. Successfully treating your depression may often require a combination of medication-based treatments, therapy-based treatments, and lifestyle changes.
Medication, most commonly antidepressants, are often the front-line treatment for clinical depression. When combined with therapy, they tend to be the most effective. There are a number of different types of antidepressants, and each of these types works a bit differently. It may take some trial and error to figure out the best one for you.
Though you may notice a difference after just a week or two, it could take two to three months for your antidepressants to really begin changing your mental state. If you’re not noticing much of a difference in your symptoms after the first month, talk to your doctor to see whether it’s worth switching antidepressants or adding another one for better results.
In therapy, you’ll talk with a mental health professional like a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Your therapist can help you identify some of the root causes of your depression and help you develop healthy coping mechanisms that can keep you from spiraling. However, just like antidepressants, therapy isn’t a quick fix—it may take a few months for you to really unpack the issues that led you to therapy and begin implementing your new coping mechanisms.
Complementary and alternative treatments
Some people battling clinical depression find comfort in complementary or alternative treatments such as aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, or acupuncture. These therapies can help manage symptoms (including insomnia, fatigue, and low mood) and may also help manage some of the side effects of antidepressant medication.
Lifestyle changes and self-care
When you’re depressed, it can be hard to focus on a healthier lifestyle. You may find yourself gravitating toward comfort and convenience food or skipping trips to the gym because you simply can’t find the energy to get off the couch.
However, sticking to a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can help give you the energy you need to tackle your day. Regular exercise—even something as simple as walking around the block—can also be a natural mood-booster. And because alcohol is a nervous system depressant, reducing your consumption or abstaining entirely can help get you into a better frame of mind.
These lifestyle changes don’t need to be overwhelming, nor do they need to happen all at once. Something as simple as swapping out a candy bar for a banana once a day can help you move toward your goals.
Clinical depression can strike without warning and sap your ability to feel joy from the activities you once loved. However, depression is treatable, and it’s important to seek help if you’re experiencing any symptoms of clinical depression. The sooner you begin treatment, the sooner you’ll begin feeling better.
If you or anyone you know is showing signs of clinical depression, contact Anuvia online or give us a call today. Our experienced, compassionate team of mental health professionals will work with you to find the best solutions for what you’re facing.