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How Am I Sure I’m Depressed?

Cartoon of a girl sitting down and looking sad.

How Am I Sure I’m Depressed?

Not everyone likes seeing a doctor for a physical ailment. Even fewer agree on the need to consult with a mental health professional if sadness lingers indefinitely. But when low moods, poor sleep habits, and eating problems happen every day for years, you may be experiencing early signs of depression.

WHAT IS DEPRESSION?

Depression is a severe mental condition. Also known as major depressive disorder, it’s a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to various emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and home.

HOW DOES IT AFFECT THE BRAIN?

According to many studies, depression can have a physical effect on the brain. Researchers have discovered that it can shrink vital brain regions (hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, and frontal prefrontal cortices), cause brain inflammation, restrict oxygen flow, and result in structural and connective changes. Depression can affect the brain in many ways.

ARE PEOPLE OF A CERTAIN AGE MORE LIKELY TO GET DEPRESSED?

Depression most often happens in adults, with recent statistics showing:

  • In 2019, 2.8 percent of adults had severe signs of depression, 4.2 percent with moderate symptoms, and 11 percent with “mild symptoms” in the past two weeks.
  • Adults aged 18–29 (21 percent) had the highest incidents of depression, followed by people 45–64 (18.4 percent) and 65 and older (18.4 percent), and lastly, by people 30–44 (16.8 percent).
  • Women were more likely than men to experience symptoms of depression.
  • Non-Hispanic Asian adults were less likely to experience depression than Hispanic, non-Hispanic whites, and non-Hispanic black adult Americans.

MAJOR CAUSES OF DEPRESSION

Just as everyone reacts to stressful events differently, there are different causes for what a doctor or clinician may diagnose as depression. According to the World Health Organization, 

Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. People who have gone through adverse life events (unemployment, bereavement, psychological trauma) are more likely to develop depression. Depression can, in turn, lead to more stress and dysfunction and worsen the affected person’s life situation and depression itself. There are interrelationships between depression and physical health. For example, cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa.

 

Risk factors for depression include:

  • Differences in certain brain chemicals.
  • Family history among blood relatives.
  • Low self-esteem, high pessimism, and low ability to handle stress.
  • Regular exposure to abuse, neglect, poverty, or violence.

TYPES OF DEPRESSION

You may be suffering from one or more kinds of depression:

  • Major depressive disorder. People experiencing major depressive disorder (also called major depression) have symptoms nearly all day, almost every day. On average, significant depressive symptoms persist for at least two weeks but can linger up to six months and perhaps several years.
  • Persistent depressive disorder isn’t as severe as major depression, but it continues longer. People suffering from persistent depressive disorder have symptoms of depression nearly every day for a minimum of two years. Still, they don’t suffer from a major depressive episode during that time frame. If you suffer from persistent depressive disorder, you might have been depressed so long that you don’t remember how it feels not to be depressed.

 

CAN I SELF-DIAGNOSE?

Everyone likes to think they know their brain and body better than anyone else, but the truth is that only an experienced mental healthcare specialist can accurately diagnose depression. It’s a process that generally involves a physical exam and psychiatric evaluation, often resulting in psychological counseling and/or treatments like ketamine.

KINDS OF TREATMENT

When you see a mental healthcare provider about treatment for depression, your options aren’t limited to the tried-and-true option of psychological counseling or taking certain medications. Self-care, diet, and exercise may relieve symptoms of depression, but research has proven the efficacy of ketamine, a treatment once solely used for anesthesia, to manage the condition. It’s advisable to ask your doctor or clinician about potential risks and benefits and which option provides the most positive outcomes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re sure you’re depressed, you’ve taken the first step in finding an effective treatment. The condition can’t be “cured” in the traditional sense like a scraped knee, but it’s not a death sentence, either. Many innovative options exist, including the possibility of depression symptoms being treated with options like ketamine.

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