Having a Major Depressive Disorder
It is normal for people to feel sad. As a matter of fact, it is one of our distinct characteristics as humans. We feel sad or depressed when a loved one passes away or we’re going through something challenging. However, this emotion is normally short-lived. So when a person experiences persistent and intense feelings of sadness for extended periods of time, then he or she might be dealing with major depressive disorder (MDD).
Knowing Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder, sometimes called major depression or unipolar depression, is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. It affects approximately 17.3 million American adults or about 7.1 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. Major depressive disorder is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest. It affects how you think, feel, and behave. It can result in severe impairments and can affect an individual’s day-to-day activities. Luckily, major depression is treatable through a combination of medication and talk therapy.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. It affects people from all walks of life. It can also affect people of all ages.
A journal published by the American Medical Association shows that major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than in men. Hormonal changes during menstruation, puberty, pregnancy, miscarriage, and menopause could increase the risk of having the condition.
Because of the stigma that surrounds mental health illnesses, people who experience depression don’t seek treatment. But recognizing how widespread it is could reduce this stigma and might encourage people who have depression may actually seek professional help.
Major Depressive Disorder Causes
The cause of major depressive disorder is actually not known. However, several factors may be involved in developing the condition. This could include:
- Genetics – Medical journal Neuron cites genetics as a prevailing cause of the major depressive disorder. It means that the single biggest determining factor of depression could be traced back to a person’s family tree. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have the same condition.
- Hormones – People go through some changes in the body and it may be involved in triggering depression. Hormonal changes can result in pregnancy, menopause, or other conditions.
- Biological differences – People who experience depression seems to have physical changes in their brains. In addition, the extent that anatomical and physiological factors have on major depressive disorder is unknown, but it is thought to be significant.
- Brain chemistry – In an article published by Harvard Medical School states that certain areas of the brain help regulate mood. Researchers believe that nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression.
Major Depressive Disorder Signs and Symptoms
To know if you have major depressive disorder, you need to meet the symptom criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is the handbook used by healthcare professionals in the U.S. in diagnosing mental disorders. It provides a common language for clinicians to communicate about their patients and establishes a reliable diagnosis that can be used in the research of mental disorders. According to its criteria, you must have five or more of the following symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least 1 of the symptoms must be diminished interest/pleasure or depressed mood to have MDD:
- Significant weight loss when not dieting
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday
- Depressed mood
- Sleep disturbance (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Diminished ability to concentrate
- Diminished interest or loss of pleasure in almost all activities (anhedonia)
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal thoughts
A combination of these symptoms can hugely affect a person’s social and occupational functioning.
Major Depressive Disorder Treatments
Major depressive disorder is a serious illness but it is treatable. It is usually treated with medication and talk therapy (psychotherapy). For those people who have severe MDD or those who have thoughts of harming themselves may have to stay in the hospital during treatment.
- Medication – Healthcare providers usually start treatment for MDD by prescribing antidepressants. One of the most prescribed antidepressants is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine and citalopram. They are relatively safe and typically have fewer side effects than other types of depressants. SSRIs ease depression by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers that carry signals between brain cells and is believed to be responsible for mood. Tricyclic antidepressants and atypical antidepressants may also be used when other drugs don’t work.
- Psychotherapy – This can be an effective treatment for people with MDD. It involves the patient talking to a licensed and trained mental health care professional who helps the person identify and work through the factors that may be triggering their depression. It helps understand the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that contribute to the patient’s depressed state as well as learn coping techniques to regain a sense of control and pleasure in life.
- Electroconvulsive Treatment (ECT) – ECT, sometimes referred to as electroshock therapy, is used to treat people with severe or hard-to-treat depression. It is a painless medical procedure that is considered to be the most effective treatment for severe depression. During ECT, patients are under general anesthesia and given medicine that helps still their muscles. A doctor will then apply electrodes directly to specific areas on the head. When a button is pushed, a low-voltage electrical pulse is delivered to the person’s brain. ECT is often considered a last resort when antidepressants fail.
What Living with Major Depressive Disorder Looks Like
Living with MDD can be challenging and difficult. It may seem like you have no one to turn to because nobody will understand. You might feel lost and you have no one can help you heal. However, you don’t have to feel that way. Yes, MDD can be unpredictable but it is manageable. The following stories from Healthline can be a guide on your journey in fighting MDD.
D. Doug Mains, 30 – Diagnosed in 2016
“There is no quick remedy for MDD. Treating MDD effectively requires medication, therapy, and making smart lifestyle choices. For me, it means keeping my closet clean, playing crossword puzzles, and being open to new hobbies and practices. I try to be proactive by having a healthy routine. Still, there are days I’m unable to fight. When I’m feeling weak and worthless, I lean on those closest to me. Their love and support is my secret weapon when I can’t fight for myself.”
Rene Brooks, 33 – Diagnosed in 2010
“My depressive episodes can come without warning. They make me unhappy, despondent, and unable to get out of bed. I feel like a shell of my usual self. Some people think I’m lazy, some think I live in a world of self-pity, and others think I’m making it up. But I’m not. You have to be patient and not allow the pressure to be “normal” get to you. Your version of normal may be different from someone else’s, and that’s OK. It’s frustrating, but don’t blame yourself if the depression comes back unexpectedly.”
If you suspect that you’re suffering from a major depressive disorder, you need to talk to a healthcare provider. He or she can assess your symptoms and help you with a treatment plan. If you’re looking for a psychiatrist in the Los Angeles area that provides electroconvulsive treatment, Dr. Mark Herbst can help you. He is a trusted and experienced psychiatrist who diagnoses and treats individuals with cognitive, emotional, behavioral and addictive problems. Schedule a meeting with him and let him help you deal with your mental health issue.