Did you know that clinical depression is not just sadness? Sadness is a part of being human, a natural reaction to painful circumstances. All of us will experience sadness at some point in our lives and for many different reasons.
Depression is different. It’s an illness with more symptoms than just unhappiness, and there are telltale signs:
- Changes in appetite, weight, and sleep patterns
- Decreased sex drive
- Feeling anxious, hopeless, or helpless
- Feeling irritable and restless
- Persistent feelings of sadness or an “empty” mood
- Physical symptoms (such as headaches, digestive issues, body aches, and pain) that don’t go away with treatment
- Loss of interest in actives you once enjoyed
- Low energy or feelings of fatigue and
- Trouble with concentration, memory, and decision-making.
Even in 2020, there are still many myths around depression: “just snap out of it”; “it’s all in your head”; “it’s a weakness”, and many more. The truth is a person can’t “just snap out of it.” Depression is a real psychological, social, and biological disorder. It’s chronic and takes treatment to manage.
Researchers believe depression is mainly caused by imbalances in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters play an important role in regulating our moods as well as being involved in many other functions throughout the body:
- Dopamine: Helps regulate emotion, memory, thinking, motivation, and reward
- Norepinephrine: Makes our heart rate and blood pressure sore during a “fight or flight” response or stressful time
- Serotonin: The “feel-good” chemical that helps regulate mood and plays a role in our overall sense of well-being
Some experts are starting to frame depression as a systemic disease — meaning depression may affect the whole body rather than just a single body part or organ system. This differs from a localized illness that only affects a single part of the body. Therefore, mental and physical illness may overlap more than researchers previously thought, blurring the lines between illness of the mind and illness of the body.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people with mild depression and those who haven’t been depressed for long. This form of therapy helps us modify thought patterns in order to change moods and behaviors. It’s based on the idea that negative actions or feelings are the result of current distorted beliefs or thoughts, not unconscious forces from the past. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recommends psychotherapy as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression. A typical course of CBT is around 12-16 weekly sessions of about 45 minutes each, but treatment may last from 3 to 6 months, and longer. During that time, you learn to plan and complete activities that bring enjoyment and reward, and to change thought patterns that contribute to depression.
For individuals with more severe or long-term depression, the APA recommends a combination of both CBT and medication. The newest drugs for depression tend to have milder side effects than earlier medications. Some of the most common side effects associated with Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc. are nausea, weight gain, agitation, insomnia, and loss of sex drive. Some people decide against medication because of the side effects, while others choose to tolerate them because of the medication’s benefits.
When substance use happens with depression, it’s called a co-occurring disorder – and it’s common. L.A. CADA provides both residential and outpatient treatment for co-occurring disorders. This October, during National Depression Education & Awareness Month, take the opportunity to find out how to get help. Call us at (562) 906-2676 for information. You don’t have to accept depression; many others have recovered, and we know you can, too.