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Major Depressive Disorder and You

Sadness is something everyone experiences during their lifetime and can easily be classified as part of the human condition. Feeling “down” or “blue” is natural when someone experiences a loss or a disappointment. Depression, on the other hand, is prolonged sadness accompanied by other physiological and social consequences that can severely interfere with a person’s life and the lives of everyone around them.

Fortunately, nearly everyone who experiences Major Depressive Disorder recovers. A combination of psychotherapy and medication is the most common treatment for depression. If depressed individuals begin to experience hallucinations or mania, they may need to be screened for other mental disorders and treatment options.

What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder is a diagnosis in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For diagnosis to be made, a patient must have five of the follow symptoms for a two week period or longer:

  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Feelings of worthless, helplessness or guilt
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Increased sleeping or insomnia
  • Difficulty staying focused and poor short term memory
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Agitation of a co-existing chronic condition, such as HIV or high blood pressure
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Lethargic speech or movements
  • Headaches of digestive trouble
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depressed individuals may have difficulty functioning at work or school. Major Depression can literally destroy someone’s social life and lead them to dangerous behaviors like self harm or drug abuse. Some depressed individuals may be able to make it through the workday but recuse themselves from social events and immediately curl into bed when they get home.

What Causes Major Depressive Disorder?

According the current theories, people can be genetically or biologically predisposed to depression, though environmental and social factors, like prolonged stress or the loss of a loved one, often trigger a Major Depressive episode.

Where Do I Turn If I Think I Have Major Depressive Disorder?

If you or someone you know is thinking of harming themselves or someone else, immediately call 911 or go to an emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is toll-free and staffed 24/7, at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) where a trained counselor will listen to you and give you advice on how to cope with the pain while you develop a plan to seek further help.

If you have health insurance, most insurance companies have services that helps clients locate providers near them. If you are without insurance, you can contact your local health department.

If you have a regular doctor, he or she can inform you of local mental health resources. General practitioners can prescribe antidepressants, but some do not feel comfortable doing so and will recommend you see a psychiatrist, who specializes in mental disorders.

A doctor can, however, rule out some factors that may contribute to depression. Poor diet and some medical conditions like thyroid disorders can cause or worsen depression, as can some medications.

Treatment for Depression

Psychologists provide different methods of psychotherapy that focus on the individuals behaviors and internal coping mechanisms. Psychiatrists specialize in neuroscience and prescribe medications that affect chemicals in the brain associated with depression and other mental disorders. People with mental disorders often see both types of doctors.

These doctors will ask you questions about your symptoms and family history. They may also ask questions about drug abuse or personal traumatic experiences, like sexual assault. After an assessment interview, they will work with you to develop a plan, whether it be weekly counseling sessions, medication or a combination of both.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. While studies have shown them to be affective, how they work is a subject of debate. Most of these medications do not start producing effects until a few weeks after the patient begins taking them, and they must start at a low dosage and gradually increase the dosage. Patients should not discontinue antidepressants on their own, as withdrawal can occur.

Unfortunately, severe side effects have been documented with these drugs, including thoughts of suicidally, particularly in teenagers and young adults. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration required that all antidepressants come with a “black box” warning which advises all individuals to closely monitor themselves or their children while taking the drugs.


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