WHAT WE TREAT

Depression

Depression is a prevalent mood disorder in U.S. adults.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 16.2 million American adults—6.2% of the population—were affected by at least one major depressive episode in 2016.

 

Depression is most common in adults between the ages of 18-25, but it can affect individuals of all ages.

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What Is Depression?

Many people have a misconception about what depression is. Clinical depression is more than just feeling a little down. It is a medical condition that often requires professional psychiatric care to manage. Moreover, depression can affect not just how you feel but also how you think and behave. For some individuals, depression can make it hard just to get out of bed in the morning.

 

There are several types of depression. However, depression most often refers to major depressive disorder. Different types of depression may be triggered by genetic or environmental factors in an individual’s life.

  • Major Depressive Disorder – Major depressive disorder affects an individual’s mood with persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and grief. In addition, it can cause a loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies. There are many other possible effects of depression, including loss of appetite or overeating, mood swings and irritability, changes in sleep habits, and thoughts of death or suicide. Depression may only occur once in a person’s life, but most people with depression will experience repeated episodes.

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  • Persistent Depressive Disorder – With persistent depressive disorder, individuals will experience symptoms like major depressive disorder but on a milder level. Persistent depressive disorder is characterized by low level depression symptoms that last for two years or longer. This is a chronic condition that affects women more than men. About half of all cases of persistent depressive disorder are considered serious.

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  • Bipolar Disorder – Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of depression that follow periods of mania, wherein an individual may feel an increase in energy and accompanying feelings of euphoria. Manic episodes are also associated with reckless behaviors, such as hypersexuality.

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  • Seasonal Depression – About 5% of the U.S. population will experience seasonal depression each year. Seasonal depression is a pattern of major depressive disorder that coincides with the seasons. As sunlight hours become limited in the autumn and winter, depression symptoms set in. Seasonal depression can be manageable with changes in diet to increase vitamin D and magnesium. In addition, sun emulating lights may help to mitigate seasonal mood changes. 

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  • Postpartum Depression – The baby blues are very common in new moms. This condition is attributed to the significant hormonal fluctuations that come with childbirth along with sleep deprivation and pressures of parenthood. Typically, symptoms will pass within a couple weeks. However, new moms may experience ongoing symptoms of depression, also known as postpartum depression. Symptoms may include mood swings, sadness, fatigue, lack of appetite, and negative trains of thought. Men may also experience depressive episodes as new parents. Treating postpartum depression is not only essential for the health of new parents, but also for the health and wellbeing of their newborns.

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  • Psychotic Depression (Psychosis) – Some patients experiencing major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder will also have symptoms of hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. This is a very serious mood disorder and subtype of depression known as psychotic depression, which accounts for about one quarter of hospital visits related to depression annually.

What Causes Depression?

Depression may affect anyone, even people who seem to have picture perfect lives. It is not limited to any single age group, gender, or other demographic. There are also complex and varied potential causes for depression. Both biological and environmental factors are usually at play. 

 

  • Brain Chemistry – Differences in brain chemistry may account for the onset of depression symptoms. Brain chemistry may be affected by alcohol use and the use of prescription or illicit drugs.

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  • Family History – If members of your family have experienced major depressive disorder, you are likely to suffer with depression yourself at some point in your life.

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  • Personal History – Individuals with a history of social anxiety or low self-esteem have a higher chance of experiencing depression.

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  • Environmental Factors – A person’s upbringing and home environment can significantly affect his or her depression risk. For example, exposure to violence, neglect, abuse, or poverty during childhood can contribute to depression later in life.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression can look vastly different in two separate individuals. However, there are some common symptoms that occur during depressive episodes. During an episode of major depressive disorder, an individual may experience the following symptoms on most days for large periods of each day: 

  • Feelings of guilt, grief, sadness, and hopelessness

  • Withdrawal from social activities and hobbies

  • Changes in relationship status

  • Changes in academic standing or performance at work

  • Mood swings, outbursts, irritability

  • Slowed thinking, low energy

  • Reduced appetite or increased food cravings accompanied by weight loss or weight gain

  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as oversleeping or insomnia

  • More frequent physical ailments, such as unexplained body aches or headaches

  • Recurrent thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide

  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks

  • Feelings of worthlessness

Depression can occur in all age groups. However, symptoms may look different in children and teens as well as in older adults. For teens and children, depression may cause clinginess, worry, refusal to go to school, frequent complains of stomach aches or other physical ailments, or being underweight. In addition, teens with depression may be more likely to use drugs and alcohol, transition to different friend groups or withdraw from social situations altogether, feel misunderstood and sensitive, and be at a higher risk for self-harm.

 

In older adults, depression may manifest more memory difficulties, fatigue, loss of appetite, and seclusion at home.

Treatment of Depression

Depression is treatable with medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these therapies. However, the World Health Organization estimates that less than 50% of people who suffer from depression worldwide ever receive treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing depression, your first step in treatment will be to consult your primary care physician or a psychiatrist. There are many medications that may be prescribed to address depression, including SSRIs, antidepressants, anxiolytics, and antipsychotics. Often, doctors recommend attending psychotherapy in addition to using medication. While the two treatment options are about equal in their efficacy, the highest rates of treatment success are achieved through a combination of these therapies.

 

In severe cases, depression may be treated through medical procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy. An individual may need to be hospitalized for depression if they are a potential harm to themselves or others.

When to Seek Help

Some individuals may successfully manage depression symptoms through self-care, such as an increase in exercise, changes in diet, and cessation of alcohol use. However, it is essential to seek treatment when symptoms are persistent and affecting your daily quality of life. Care for depression may be coordinated between your primary care physician, psychiatrist, and psychologist or clinical therapist.

 

If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide or considering self-harm, call 911 for emergency care. Warning signs of suicide may include talking about self-harm or feelings of worthlessness, displaying extreme mood swings, isolating oneself at home, or increasing use of drugs and alcohol.

This page offers general health information to facilitate discussion with your telehealth provider. You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor, therapist or other professional healthcare provider.

MeMD is a convenient and private way to receive treatment for depression online, over the phone, or by app in as few as 24 hours.

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