Major depression is a serious psychological disorder that is caused by chemical imbalances in the part of the brain that manages emotions, impulse control and anxiety response. If left untreated, this disease can lead to additional mental health challenges and can eventually compromise physical health.
Great strides have been made in recent years in the treatment and management of major depression, but the first step is always for the affected individual to seek help. This is something that many depressed individuals struggle to do.
Major depression, also referred to as clinical depression, is a mood disorder that affects an individual for at least a two week period. To be diagnosed as major depressive disorder, the disorder must have impaired the individual’s social, occupational, educational or health functioning for two weeks or more.
Recognizing Major Depression
Many people mistakenly believe that depression is a simple matter of mood. “Snap out of it,” concerned bystanders might say. The truth is that depression is a disease that chemically changes the way a person processes emotions. Some of the most common symptoms of major depression include the following:
- Emotional numbness (an inability to feel positive or negative emotions)
- Persistent melancholy or crying
- Emotional outbursts
- Self medication through substance abuse
- Marked changes in eating and appetite (eating too much or too little)
- Marked changes in sleep habits (sleeping too much or too little)
- Loss of interest in previously important activities, hobbies or passions
- Self medicating through compulsive behaviors such as gambling, thrill-seeking, hoarding, eating, sex addiction or self injury
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Fatigue, sluggishness or tiredness of the mind or body
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Reoccurring feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- A constant sense of hopelessness and despair
- Feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Difficulty concentrating, indecisiveness
- Anhedonia or the inability to feel pleasure or joy from any activity
- Lack of interest in activities
- Restlessness and irritability
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Recurring thoughts of suicide or death
It is extremely common for depressed individuals to develop additional psychological issues as well. Successful treatment requires that each unique aspect of the individual’s mental health is diagnosed and addressed as part of a fully integrated and holistic therapeutic plan.
Untreated Depression Can Lead to Substance Abuse
Major depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The mood disorder can be triggered by numerous causes, including the following:
- Witnessing or experiencing trauma
- Being a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Relationship problems
- Major life changes
- Low self-esteem
- Social isolation
- Experiencing grief from losing a loved one, being diagnosed with an illness or going through divorce or separation
If major depression is left untreated, it is common for an individual to turn to substance abuse in order to cope with the symptoms of the disorder as well as the issue that may have triggered its manifestation. Drugs and alcohol are often sought out because they have the ability to temporarily alter one’s mood as well as numb the physical and emotional pain.
Conquering Major Depression
Depression is treatable, but the disorder does put people at risk for substance abuse and addiction. For this reason, it is important to address the disorder quickly to prevent the dangers of substance abuse. While antidepressant medications certainly can be effective in treating depression, there are many other options, especially for those have struggled with substance abuse in the past.
Other treatment options can also be beneficial because they work to treat the underlying issues that may have triggered major depression originally. If a patient only receives medical treatment, he may only be treating the symptoms of the disorder, but not the cause of the disorder.
The most successful depression treatment programs go to great lengths to bring comprehensive emotional healing to their clients. This is often accomplished through the development of unique treatment regimens that include many of the following tools:
- Personal counseling
- Medical treatment
- Support group counseling sessions
- Medically supervised detox if needed
- 12-step programs
- Spiritual support
- Nutritional counseling
- Specialized coping skill development
- Adventure therapy
- Creative expression
Treatment may be done in an inpatient facility or on an outpatient basis. A professional therapist can help you decide which kind of treatment is best for you.