Symptoms and Treatment of Depression

Depression is a mental health condition that affects tens of millions of people around the world. Estimates suggest that 10 to 17 percent of the American population will struggle with at least one major depressive episode during their lifetimes. While it is common -- and perfectly normal -- to feel the blues from time to time, especially after a major disappointment or shock, depression becomes a problem when you continue to experience an extreme low mood for no apparent reason. If you or someone you care out is experiencing symptoms of depression, or if you've been diagnosed with the condition, there are many effective treatment options which provide real relief.

Diagnosing Depression

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), at least five of the following symptoms must be present in order to diagnose major depression:

  • Extreme low mood nearly every day, for more than half the day
  • An inability to derive pleasure from activities once enjoyed
  • Major fluctuations in weight or appetite
  • Sleep disturbances nearly every day (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Suicidal ideations or behaviors
  • Restlessness or diminished activity speed
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness without specific trigger
  • Problems with decision-making
  • Inability to concentrate or think clearly

These symptoms must be severe enough to negatively impact your quality life, and they must have no other apparent cause. Also, they must not appear alongside episodes of "mania" in order for depression to be diagnosed. If they occur or recur between manic episodes, your doctor will more likely diagnose you with bipolar disorder.

Treatment of Depression

Your doctor will work with you to form a unique treatment plan, based on your health, your lifestyle, and the severity of your symptoms. The following approaches generally form the mainstay of depression treatments:

  • Medication. A wide range of pharmaceutical treatments are available to help people with depression manage their symptoms and reduce their severity. The most commonly prescribed drugs for depression include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), atypical or tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MOIs), and norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). Your doctor may need to try more than one drug to see which one you respond to best.
  • Depression
  • Therapy. Both individual and group therapy sessions can help you put your symptoms into perspective. Psychotherapy as well as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) can both be used to help you gain an understanding of your symptoms and alter your behavior patterns and reactions to reduce their severity and frequency.
  • Exercise. A large body of evidence suggests that getting regular, vigorous exercise can help relieve symptoms of depression. The belief is that because exercise releases endorphins, your body's natural "feel good" chemicals, it helps counterbalance low mood. When done regularly, exercise can effectively neutralize your low feelings and help stabilize your mood.
  • Residential treatment programs. In particularly severe cases of depression, an inpatient residential treatment program may be the best course of action. This is particularly true if the patient is experiencing strong suicidal or self-harm ideations or behaviors. Patients can remain in hospital environments, where they will be safe and connected to an extensive support network, until their condition stabilizes.

Magnetic treatments for depression have also become of increased interest to researchers and clinicians in recent years. A growing body of evidence suggests that the brain reacts favorably to electromagnetic stimulation; the hypothesis is that people who suffer from depression are unable to activate pleasure centers in their brains. Electromagnetic treatments, also called transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy, work by "waking up" these pleasure centers and growing numbers of patients are reporting positive outcomes. If other treatments haven't worked for you, talk to your doctor about this possibility.