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Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness today, affecting people of all ages. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that around 16 million adults in the U.S. – seven percent of the population – have had at least one major depressive episode within the previous year. Women are diagnosed with depression more often than men. Adolescents also struggle with depression, which has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to establish new guidelines recommending primary care doctors screen all patients between the ages of 12 and 21 for this condition.

What is Depression?

Depressive disorders are much more than brief feelings of sadness or what some people refer to as “the blues.” This illness is categorized as a mood disorder characterized by persistent sadness, emptiness, and loss of interest in people and activities. It is not something a person can control or change without medical treatment. The good news is depression is also a very treatable illness, once it is diagnosed by a mental health professional.

Types of Depressive Disorders

Depression encompasses a broad umbrella that includes the following depressive disorders:

  • Major Depression – consists of episodes of depression that may recur throughout a person’s life
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) – depressed mood that lasts for at least two years
  • Psychotic Depression – major depression accompanied by some type of psychosis
  • Postpartum Depression – severe, lingering depression that a woman experiences after giving birth
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder – depression brought on by lack of sunlight, common during the winter months
  • Situational Depression – occurs after a traumatic life event like death, divorce or job loss
  • Bipolar Disorder – although not an actual depressive disorder, one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder is periods of depression, alternating with manic episodes

Risk Factors for Depression

It can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of depression since there is not typically just one reason behind the illness. Factors that could increase your risk for the disorder include:

  • History of depression or other mental illness in the family
  • Hormonal changes (often presents around pregnancy or menopause)
  • Some types of medication (blood pressure remedies and sleep aids are common culprits)
  • Traumatic, stressful life events (death, divorce, move, job loss, abuse, financial problems)

Neurotransmitters in the brain may also be responsible for the onset of depression in some people. These brain chemicals are responsible for maintaining mood stability, and when they change, they can lead to symptoms of depression. Patients with these types of imbalances in the brain typically respond well to depression treatment.

Symptoms of Depression

The signs of depression can vary, and no two individuals exhibit the exact same symptoms. If you experience some of these symptoms most days for at least two weeks, it may be indicative of depression:

  • A persistent mood that might be described as sad, empty or anxious
  • Uncharacteristic irritability with no apparent cause
  • Ongoing, unexplainable hopelessness or pessimism
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you once loved
  • Significant fatigue or a noticeable decrease in energy
  • Guilt, self-blame or feelings of worthlessness
  • Restlessness or difficulty sitting still and focusing
  • Slowness in thinking, speaking or movement
  • Aches and pains (backaches, headaches) with no diagnosed cause
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Significant weight fluctuations
  • Suicidal thoughts, ideations or attempts

Some people with depression will experience many of these symptoms, while others might notice just a few. Physicians diagnosing the disorder will look at the number and severity of symptoms as well as their duration. They will also explore how much the effects are impacting the patient’s quality of life.

Depression and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and depression are commonly seen together. As many as 30 percent of individuals struggling with drug or alcohol abuse also have depression, according to NAMI. Some people with this condition turn to substances as a way to self-medicate their difficult symptoms. However, the drug or alcohol use quickly evolve from a solution to a bigger problem, as users discover they cannot manage either of their disorders on their own. In other circumstances, drug or alcohol users may find substance abuse brings on or exacerbates a depressive disorder.

Treatment Options

There are different methods of treating depression today, and many patients find a combination of therapies tends to be most effective. Medications such as antidepressants are thought to help the brain use the chemicals that regulate mood. Sometimes patients need to try different medications before they find the one that works the best for them.

Psychotherapies, also known as “talk” therapies help patients to better understand the issues surrounding depression so that they can manage their condition. There are different types of therapies uses for this disorder, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). Like medication, it might take more than one therapy experience to find the method that works best for each patient.

Treating depression as a co-occurring disorder with a substance addiction can significantly complicate the process for both conditions. It is essential to work with a treatment center experienced in co-occurring disorders to ensure the best outcome. The Center for Professional Recovery works with clients from high-pressure industries like medicine and law to identify the issues behind both conditions so they can achieve a higher level of health and long-term recovery. To learn more about our treatment programs, contact the Center for Professional Recovery today at 866.298.0056.

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