What is Clinical Depression?

Depression goes by several names, including clinical depression, major depression, and depressive disorder. Overall, it is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world with more than 300 million people experiencing it globally. In just the United States, about 15 percent of adults live with depression. 

People with depression experience symptoms such as feeling hopeless, disinterest in their daily lives, and trouble sleeping. The severity of the symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. Regardless of how severe the symptoms are, anyone with symptoms of depression should seek professional help.

Defining Major Depression

Regardless of someone’s mental state, it is completely normal and healthy to get sad sometimes. Although unpleasant, sadness is a healthy reaction to certain events in life. However, when it comes to depression, sadness becomes so severe that it interferes with a person’s ability to have a healthy life. 

If someone feels sadness in a healthy way, the initial feelings may pass in a few days. However, people who have depression feel hopeless for several day or weeks at a time. In some cases, people with depression are unable to complete daily hygiene tasks, clean the home, eat, or go to work. 

In order to be diagnosed with major depression, a patient must have five or more symptoms of depression for at least 14 days. The symptoms that clinicians look for include:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Significant changes in weight or appetite
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless or sad
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling disinterested in activities they once enjoyed

If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

What Causes Depression?

Researchers agree that while there is no single reason some people develop depression, several factors may cause a person to have the disorder. Unfortunately, it remains difficult to tell which causes play a role in each individual case. However, trauma, physical illness, genetics, and biochemistry can all contribute to the development of depression.

Trauma or Stress

The death of a loved one, witnessing something traumatic, having a chronic illness, or losing a job are just some example of events that can leave people feeling stressed. This sometimes leads to depression. Sometimes, depression begins immediately after the negative event. Other times, someone may not show symptoms until much later. Similarly, chronic stressors like abusive relationships can cause depression.

Physical Causes for Depression

Sometimes a physical injury or illness can cause depression. For depression is a symptom of some autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, certain medications, like antivirals and corticosteroids, can cause someone to develop depression. Medication for other mental health issues can also cause depression as a side effect. That’s why proper medication management services are vital.

Genetics and Depression

Some research points to genetic factors as a cause of depression in some patients. Compared to people with no first-degree relation to depression, people with a sibling or parent who has depression are three times more likely to develop the disorder. However, shared living conditions and situations may be to blame for these statistics, rather than genetics.

Biochemistry Causes Depression

Some scientists believe that the human body goes through billions of chemical reactions per day. Every one of these reactions changes something in the body, including the person’s mood. When the chemical reactions become imbalanced, it can cause mood disorders like depression.

Is Depression Chronic?

As of yet, there is no permanent cure for depression. However, some patients are able to go into remission from the disorder with therapy and/or medication. About 80 percent of people who get professional help from depression see improvements in their symptoms within six weeks. However, less than half of people with depression actually get treatment.

Ending the Stigma

One of the reasons some people with depression do not seek treatment is that there is a social stigma attached to mental healthcare. Some people believe that depression is a character flaw or weakness. However, depression is a disease. People with the disorder are no less deserving of compassion than patients with physical disorders.

Seek Emergency Care

Although depression is treatable, it can be life threatening. If you have thoughts of suicide, reach out to one of the following emergency care options:

  • The Crisis Text Line: text CONNECT to 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Your nearest emergency room

Seeing a Therapist or Counselor for Depression

If you have symptoms of depression but do not need emergency medical intervention, contact a therapist. Such a professional may suggest any of the following types of talk therapy:

  • Group therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Couples’ therapy
  • Psychoanalysis

Seeing a Psychiatrist

Although therapy can help people make significant improvements, some people also need medication for depression. A psychiatrist is a medical professional who is qualified to prescribe these types of medications. Depending on the patient’s needs, the psychiatrist can also prescribe TMS or ECT therapies.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help

Lifestyle changes alone are often not enough to combat depression, but they can be part of a balanced treatment plan. The following actions can help some people with depression:

  • Spend extra time with loved ones
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Counselors can also make recommendations for lifestyle changes that help. 

Clinical Depression vs. Bipolar Disorder

People sometimes call bipolar disorder “manic depression.” However, you should not conflate this disorder with major depression. In bipolar disorder, patients do experience periods of depression that have similar symptoms to major depression. However, people with bipolar disorder also have manic episodes that people with clinical depression do not have.