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What is Depression? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment


October is National Depression Awareness and Mental Health Screening month.

An estimated 8.3% or 21 million American adults and a staggering 20% or 5 million children ages 12 to 17 suffer from major depression.

How do you know if the physical and/or mental challenges you or a loved one is facing are depression, or just a really bad week?

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Depression?

Not everyone experiences depression in the same way, but there are some common symptoms to be on the lookout for with adults and children.

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Unexplained or excessive fatigue
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Difficulty concentrating

“There is also a decrease interest in activities they used to derive a lot of joy and happiness from,” says, Larisa Vivolo, Licensed Mental Health Counselor. “I think the most important and concerning symptom is thoughts of suicide, suicidal ideation and of course, self-harm.”

What Causes Depression?

Depression is a complex disorder that can result from genetic, psychological or biological changes affecting behavior.

For some, depression is the result of an inherited predisposition to symptoms, for others environmental or physical changes might influence mood, how life is perceived and the strategies used to cope.

For yet others, specific life stressors might influence or trigger depression. Financial challenges, divorce or the loss of a loved one are just some of the protentional life events that might induce depression.

While two individuals might have the same symptoms of depression, the root cause might be different, thus influencing treatment options. One medication or therapy might work well for one, while not at all for another.

Is Depression Curable?

Depression is highly treatable but the potential for cure depends on the type of depression an individual is experiencing.

“Every individual experiences depression a little bit differently,” says Vivolo. “For example, if someone is going through a life stressor, financial hardship, divorce, loss or grief, depression can stem from that.”

Types of Depression

  • Major Depressive Disorder (clinical depression) – can be long term and persistent and might include specific forms of depression like seasonal affective disorder, postpartum depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (situational or reactive depression) — can last for up to two years but can go away on its own with time and healing
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder – chronic, intense irritability with frequent outbursts that begins in childhood
  • Premenstrual Depression – extreme irritability, anxiety or depression associated with hormonal changes
  • Medically Induced Depression – this form of depression is associated with an underlying medical condition like hypothyroidism, heart disease, Parkinson’s or cancer.

“It’s very important to know, depression is 100% treatable and in a lot of cases curable with the help of therapy, medication and self-improvement.” adds Vivolo.

Why Do People Stop Treatment?

Individuals concerned for loved ones suffering from depression often notice their loved ones have stopped their medication or are no longer seeking treatment.

Patients may choose to stop treatment due to:

  • Side effects of medication which might include lethargic or numb feeling, weight gain, sleeping too much or insomnia, or changes in libido
  • Financial cost of medication or therapy
  • Belief medication or therapy is no longer needed
  • Stigma of medication or therapy
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • No longer feel medication is working

“If your loved one has stopped their medication or treatment, be curious,” says Vivolo. “Ask, why did they feel the need to get off their meds.”

It may help to remind your loved one that treating depression is much like treating any other medical condition.

Help them equate their condition to some other physical condition. You wouldn’t suddenly stop medication for diabetes without consulting your physician.

If financial concerns are the cause, reach out to your doctor or local health center for payment alternatives. In many cases, depending on the type and symptoms a patient is experiencing, insurance companies will categorize treatment as a major illness and provide broader financial support for both medication and therapy.

When Should I Seek Help?

Feelings of sadness or a sense of being overwhelmed can often be temporary and no need for concern. This can be a normal part of the ups and downs of life’s events and will pass on their own in a short time.

But when any of the symptoms of depression become more persistent it may be time to seek professional intervention.

“It really comes down to if it’s affecting your daily life,” notes Vivolo. “If this sadness, this sense of worthlessness or emptiness is affecting what you do on a daily basis, if it’s really affecting your level of functioning it’s time to seek help.”

Most importantly, anytime someone exhibits suicidal thoughts or self-harm actions, it’s important to seek help right away.

In the case of an emergency, contact 911 or the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988.

The best thing a family member can do is to be present, listen to their loved one’s concerns and help them seek out a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed mental health professional.

You’re Not Alone…We Can Help

We encourage you to reach out to one of our many locations to connect with a provider who can help.

We also offer high-quality, stable, and confidential telehealth sessions through Zoom.

You can be assured of getting a therapeutic experience just like you’d have in the office.

Whether in person, or virtually, our mental and behavioral health experts are here to support you and your family every step of the way.

The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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