How to Diagnose and Manage Depression

Many millions of people suffer from depression, also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder. It’s fairly common, when compared to other mental health disorders, but a proper diagnosis is important for managing the condition. Though there are many ways to take care of yourself at home, working with a doctor is vital to ensuring that your symptoms are under control and that you are able to cope and function on a day to day basis. 

Understanding Depression

General depression is something that many people suffer from, but there are some specific kinds to be aware of too. Persistent depressive disorder is characterized by symptoms of depression that last for more than two years and that wax and wane in severity. Postpartum depression occurs in women after having a baby, which makes it hard to care for their infant. Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by symptoms of depression that occur during the winter months and that tends to lift when there’s more sunlight in the spring and summer. Psychotic depression occurs co-morbidly with delusions or hallucinations. Bipolar disorder is typically a mix between periods of depression and periods of mania.

Signs of Symptoms of Depression

Generally doctors look for signs and symptoms of depression that last for more than two weeks. These symptoms usually interfere with daily functioning, making it hard to enjoy activities, perform and work and care for pets and children. Some symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Emptiness
  • Hopelessness
  • Pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities you formerly enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Oversleeping
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive problems

Each person with depression experiences different symptoms. You may have a few or all of them, while someone else will have others. For a firm diagnosis of depression, you must have a low mood and persistent symptoms. Even if you aren’t classified as having major depression, treatment for your mild symptoms is also beneficial. The severity and length of symptoms also varies among individuals and may also vary based on the stage of your depression. 

Risk Factors for Depression

Certain people are at a higher risk of depression and knowing if that includes you is valuable to being prepared if you experience symptoms. Research has found that depression is caused by a combination of genetics, the environment, mental health in general and biology. It can happen at any age but is typically diagnosed during the adult years. 

Many people experience depression in combination with other health issues. That includes heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Depression can make each of these illnesses worse and the medications that are prescribed for them can cause depression as a side effect

Other risk factors for depression are:

  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Major life changes
  • A family history of depression
  • A personal history of depression

Treating Depression

Fortunately, even severe cases of depression can be treated. The sooner professional treatment starts, the more successful it is. Most cases of depression are treated with a combination of therapy and medication. In severe cases, or cases that don’t respond to these methods, electroconvulsive therapy can be beneficial. 

Again, cases of depression look different for different people, so treatment won’t look the same either. It’s customized to meet your specific needs and sticking with your treatment plan is vital for successful management of your symptoms. 

Medication is one of the predominant options for treating depression. Antidepressants are commonly used to control symptoms and improve mood. They typically take two to four weeks to begin working and it’s important to take them only under the care of a doctor. Be on the lookout for symptoms, which may include an increase in suicidal thoughts, in which case your medication will need to be changed. 

Psychotherapy is another treatment option. It involves talking things over with a therapist and working through the feelings of depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are two techniques that are particularly beneficial for people who are depressed. 

Brain stimulation therapies are a last resort if medication and psychotherapy don’t work. Other things you can do to manage your depression include getting enough exercise and eating a healthy diet, as well as spending time with supportive people and postponing major life decisions until you feel better. 

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