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Major Depressive Disorder: What It Is and What Can Help

Depression is a common mood disorder that can affect how you think, feel, and function overall. Many of us have experienced periods of sadness that we may refer to as depression. These episodes are likely to co-occur with grieving from the loss of a loved one or as a side effect of a medical disorder, although symptoms of depression can exist without a root cause. Major Depressive Disorder is a more severe form of depression and is a serious mental health disorder that can significantly affect a person’s daily functioning. Major depressive disorder is a clinical diagnosis that can be extremely debilitating if left untreated. 

What Is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)?

Depression and major depressive disorder are terms often conflated with one another. While everyone may feel depressed from time to time, major depressive disorder involves severe impairment in daily functioning. Other names used for this condition could be clinical depression, unipolar depression, or depressive disorder. MDD is a psychiatric disorder that causes extreme and prolonged feelings of emptiness, loneliness, sadness, or hopelessness. It can also cause an individual to lose interest in activities, and it interferes with sleep and appetite. 

Warning Signs and Symptoms

If you or your loved one has been experiencing any of the following signs for most of the day almost every day for at least two weeks, consider seeing a physician or psychiatrist as you or your loved one may be suffering from depression. Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom, but these signs and symptoms can help you bring awareness to others when they may be suffering. 

  • Persisting sadness or hopelessness
  • Feeling “empty” or numb
  • Feelings of worthlessness or unresolved guilt
  • Decreased energy/ fatigue
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable hobbies or other activities
  • Trouble concentrating or sitting still
  • Insomnia or other sleeping troubles
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Constant irritation

Risk Factors for Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Depression can develop from biological, environmental, or psychological factors. Although depression can happen at any age, it is most likely to begin in adulthood. Depression may look different depending on the age of the individual experiencing it, but one risk factor for developing chronic mood or anxiety disorders as an adult begins with having high levels of anxiety as a child. Depression often co-occurs with other serious medical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease. Depression can often make chronic medical conditions worse if left untreated. Other risk factors for depression may include:

  • History of depression in self or family members
  • Life events (good or bad)
  • Trauma
  • Persistent stress
  • Physical illnesses
  • Medications, as depression could be a side effect
  • Motherhood or having a child
  • Substance use issues
  • Financial instability
  • Unemployment
  • Social isolation
  • Childhood abuse or neglect

While genetic factors can play a crucial role in the development of depression, non-genetic factors can also be significant. Depression can be triggered through life events, even when those events seem generally positive. When a mix of genetic susceptibilities and overwhelming environmental factors combine, the more likely an individual is to develop major depressive disorder. 

Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder 

Like many mental health conditions, there is a range of treatments available for individuals suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD). Even the most severe cases of depression can be treated. Generally, the earlier treatment starts, the more effective the treatment will be in providing long-term relief for the client. 

If you are not ready for treatment, there are many actions you can personally take that may reduce your depression symptoms. Healthy eating and regular exercise promote mental wellness. Be sure to set realistic and achievable goals for yourself as you try to move beyond your symptoms. If you experience loneliness or isolation, try to find a friend group that encourages you to hang out with them. Find a close family member or friend that you can confide in when you are experiencing debilitating symptoms. Keeping yourself isolated will also only make symptoms more intense. Most of all, be patient with yourself. Practice mindfulness and allow yourself to be present in a temporary moment. If you are seeking mental health treatment, here are some options to consider:

  • Medication: The most popular medicines associated with treating depression are antidepressants. Antidepressant medication helps regulate the chemicals in your brain that control mood, anxiety, and stress. It is common for individuals to have to try several different medications before finding one that works with their specific chemical makeup and depression type. These medications take between 2 and 4 weeks to adapt to your body and may affect your ability to sleep, eat, or concentrate before you experience an improvement in mood. Always give your medications a proper chance to work effectively.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy,” is a form of traditional therapy when you work directly with a therapist to discuss your internal thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There are many different types of psychotherapy, each with its own goals. These options may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), problem-solving therapies, interpersonal therapy (IPT), or other skill-enhancing therapies.

Depression is a condition that many of us will experience throughout our lifetime. Depression is used synonymously with major depressive disorder, which is a psychiatric condition that negatively affects the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It may develop from genetic or environmental factors, surface as a medication side effect, or co-exist with other chronic mental illnesses. If you or your loved one are experiencing persistent symptoms of loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, or a loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, you may want to contact your doctor. There are many treatment options for major depressive disorder, such as antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, or using personal mindfulness techniques. At SoCal Mental Health, we understand how debilitating depression can be. Let us help you find your sense of worth so that you can enjoy a meaningful life. To learn more about the treatment options we offer, give us a call today at (714) 328-4760.