We all experience moments when we feel sad or melancholy. These feelings are part of the natural range of feelings we have as the pendulum of emotion swings. For many of us these feelings are temporary and pass after a few hours or a few days.
However, there are some who consider these feelings the norm not the exception. Those are the ones that could truly say they are clinically experiencing a depressive episode.
What is a depressive episode?
A depressive episode is considered to be present when there is a significant impact on ones functioning for over 2 weeks.
The person may experience a combination of different symptoms. If you or a loved one may be having some problems you should watch for the following signs:
- Has there been a diminished interest in normal activities, a lack of motivation, problems with sleeping, changes in appetite or weight, or thoughts of hurting themselves?
- There may also be other traits to watch for such as an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, tearfulness, poor concentration or changes in energy levels.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of all possible symptoms but will hopefully give some guidance as to some of the common signs to look out for.
Depression: a common issue
Depression is one of the most common issues that Australians deal with. Unfortunately, 1 in 7 Australians will experience depression at some point in their lifetime. The World Health Organization even estimates that Depression will be the number one health concern in developed and developing nations by 2030.
There are several times when we may be especially vulnerable to experiencing depression. Below is a brief summary of some of the possible causes of depression:
It is fairly common for parents to experience some depressive symptoms after having a baby. Many new moms bring home a case of post partum depression along with their new bub. A major factor in this has to do with the upheaval caused to the body’s hormones, and overall stress on their systems.
There have even been some studies that have found that some new dads also experience their own version. Of course not directly linked to the physical strain of pregnancy but they believe it is more due to the impact of such a major life change.
It may also be expected to have some symptoms of depression after your body experiences a significant medical issue. They have found that the rates of depression is higher for folks who have recently had a heart attack, stroke, head injury or other major health event. Individuals who have recently had heart surgery for example may be at a higher risk of experiencing depression.
On a related note there is an interesting interactive relationship between depression and pain. Those who experience any kind of chronic pain may also experience depression.
Part of what is happening is that depression lowers the pain threshold so the experience of pain is greater and our ability to tolerate it is lowered. This paired with loss of energy, motivation, low self-esteem etc. that may be associated with the person’s decreased capacity to do what they once could due to the pain feeds into their experience of depression. There are even medications that target both depression and pain management at the same time due to this strong association.
There are many things that may improve depression. This allows for you to select the types of treatment that best suit your lifestyle and the specifics of how you experience depression.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
For those experiencing mild to moderate depression the treatment of choice is typically a version of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This is a style of therapy that provides tools that help build skills that can be used to manage depression.
As the name implies it focuses on relearning the relationship between your thoughts and behaviours. Some of the interventions focus more on taming the thoughts e.g. excessive worrying, poor concentration, low self-esteem etc.
Others focus more on changing behaviours e.g. taking baby steps towards a goal even if feeling unmotivated. This is the most commonly used therapy as a quick front line approach. For those looking for a do this not that this is where you want to start.
I have had some clients who have had a round or two of CBT in the past & found that it didn’t have lasting results for them. By adding in a bit more work around understanding what factors lead to their depression possibly even looking at themes or behaviours over multiple years they have been able to better understand what their risk factors were & how to manage them better.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
Another popular treatment for depression is Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), which focuses on the interaction between people’s functioning in relationships and their personality. This may be an especially good fit for those who do better if they have a bit more context to get their head around why some of these things happen or repeat as the case may be.
As with many things in life if you are experiencing symptoms of depression you will be well served to focus on really good self care. Things like eating well, getting plenty of sleep and exercise help with depression as well as general well being. They have repeatedly found that exercising 20 minutes 3 times a week can be as effective as prescription antidepressants for those with mild to moderate depression.
Treating depression with medication
Many people prefer to attempt the least invasive approach to treating their depression so they seek out counselling and lifestyle changes.
For those with more severe cases of depression they may need to consider augmenting these techniques with the use of medication.
There are dozens of varieties of antidepressants to choose from. Though many work off of similar processes in the body one may be a bit more effective for one person than another. Some are more likely to have particular side effects for example. Around 80% of all antidepressants are prescribed by GPs.
However, if you want to make sure you have the most up to date advice you may want to seek the advice of a Psychiatrist who could guide you on whether you should take medication and if so which one may be best suited to your particular needs.
This would be an especially good choice if you have other health conditions or are in a complex situation. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized experience in the treatment of mental health issues. They often work in partnership with a psychologist who provides therapy while they monitor the effectiveness of the medications.