If you are having intentions to act on suicidal thoughts, please call 911 or the Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 for emergency help.
– by Ross Palmer, M.D.
Depression is a complex neuropsychiatric phenomenon. It’s estimated that depression affects approximately 7% of American adults in any given year. Depression can have catastrophic effects on the sufferer’s personal and professional relationships, wreaking havoc on the ability to live up to his or her potential and obtain enjoyment from life. Depression is also correlated with higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.
Although periods of grief and sadness are part of the human experience and not an illness, when these periods become severe and extended in duration, it then becomes defined as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a medical condition for which effective treatment is available.
Depression can be caused by adverse life experiences such as the loss of a loved one, severe or chronic illness, medical issues or medication affecting the brain, pregnancy and childbirth, seasonal onset, or trauma and abuse. Sometimes there is no identifiable cause. We know that depression and other psychiatric illnesses have a genetic basis – if a family member suffered from depression, your risk is also higher.
Depression manifests itself in many different ways:
- Changes in mood – chronic sadness, irritability, anger (especially in men)
- Sleep – either sleeping too much or not enough.
- Loss of interests and motivation – not being able to enjoy the things one once did, or inability to start and complete tasks
- Withdrawing from family and friends – inability to enjoy personal relationships
- Guilt and worthlessness – feeling like one is a “bad person”, defective, or has done something wrong
- Loss of energy and concentration
- Changes in appetite – either eating too much, or not enough
- Feeling like one’s movements and speech are “sped up” or “slowed down” in a way that is noticed by others
- Thoughts of suicide or self harm
- Psychotic experiences – hearing or seeing things others can’t, or having difficulty agreeing with others about what is real
- Abusing illicit drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate
We know that there is a neurochemical basis to depression, in other words, the communication between brain cells is altered from what we see in a healthy brain. There exist medications which have a large body of clinical evidence supporting their efficacy in treating depression, by re-establishing healthier levels of neurotransmitters (molecules that brain cells use to communicate).
Medication is not the only effective treatment for depression. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) gives a sufferer of depression a safe, reliable, private, and nonjudgmental place to share and process thoughts and feelings related to depression. With an experienced clinician to guide the process, severity of depressive symptoms is reduced, and new coping skills and behaviors can be learned.
I sometimes refer to depression as “a problem that takes away your ability to deal with other problems.” When depression reaches that level of severity, reaching out for professional help is appropriate. Though there is no cure for depression, and it tends to recur throughout one’s life, effective treatment can shorten the duration of a depressive episode and reduce its severity.
A psychiatrist completes 4 years of training in general medical practice, and a further 4 years of specific training in psychiatry. As a psychiatrist, I am well-trained in the use of medication and psychotherapy to manage and alleviate depression. Unlike non-medically trained clinicians such as psychologists, counselors, or social workers, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, and well-trained to identify causes of depression that have a basis in physical problems or their treatments. Some medications used to treat physical ailments can have psychiatric side-effects, and many physical conditions have psychiatric manifestations.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, help is available. Reach out to me by clicking the link below, or call (619) 900-9750. I respond to all messages within 24 hours.