Major depression is a condition that affects millions of Americans and is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in the U.S. Despite their emotional distress, a person with any form of depression can appear to be relatively high-function and live somewhat normal lives. These individuals often struggle behind closed doors with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, loss of motivation, and low self-worth.
Still, many others are so severely affected that they can’t get out of bed for weeks or months and may engage in self-harm or experience suicidal ideations or behaviors. Unfortunately, many individuals who suffer from depression also choose to self-medicate with intoxicating substances such as drugs or alcohol, leading to physical dependence and addiction.
What Is Depression?
As noted, depression is a common and potentially severe mental health condition that adversely affects how individuals think, feel, and behave. Depression is hallmarked by feelings of sadness or a lack of interest in activities once considered important or enjoyable. It can lead to many unwanted psychological, emotional, and physical problems and impair one’s ability to function normally at home, work, school, or social environments.
Of note, almost everyone experiences feelings of sadness or grief at one time or another. Depression is different from these otherwise normal feelings in that it often lacks any apparent situational cause. Moreover, depression due to the loss of a relationship or loved one is entirely natural—at least for a time.
Clinically-significant depression may occur without a clear reason, last much longer than it should following a traumatic event, or be caused by a severe chemical imbalance (e.g., postpartum depression).
Depression symptoms range in intensity from mild-severe and may include the following:
- Feeling sad and exhibiting a low mood
- Loss of enjoyment from or interest in hobbies and activities once considered important or enjoyable
- Appetite changes leading to weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Sleep disturbances, such as sleeping too much or too little
- Low energy and increased fatigue and lethargy
- Increase in repetitive activities that have no real purpose (e.g., pacing or hand-wringing)
- Slow movement and speech, as observed by others
- Feelings of profound sadness, guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Re-occurring thoughts of suicide or dying
These symptoms must last for at least two weeks to qualify for a clinical diagnosis of depression.
Types of Depression
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depression is a life-altering condition that impacts the lives of sufferers daily. It is the most intense and debilitating form of depression and is also the most commonly diagnosed. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, irritability and anger may also be experienced. Negative feelings that are projected inward may to self-harm or harm to others.
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
Dysthymia is a mild-moderate form of depression that presents as a limited number of depressive symptoms experienced consistently for at least two years. Dysthymia tends to be moderately debilitating and significantly affects energy levels, emotions, and motivation.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorders (SAD) is a type of depression that produces symptoms similar to major depression. It typically occurs during the winter months when days are shorter, sunlight is less accessible, and those affected are forced to spend substantial time indoors.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD) is a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome characterized by emotional disturbances, such as extreme mood swings and symptoms that may, at times, resemble major depression.
Occasionally, women can experience deep depression following childbirth, although some symptoms may onset during pregnancy. Postpartum depression can be a particularly problematic disorder that can affect a mother’s ability to care for herself and her children. In severe instances, she may be be suicidal or even entertain homicidal ideations.
A Word on High-Functioning Depression
Persons who present with “high-functioning” depression can experience a wide range of symptoms of varying levels of severity. Despite these issues, they are still able to maintain employment and personal relationships, attend to parenting and household duties, and engage in day-to-day functioning in a way that appears normal.
Unfortunately, this type of depression can have a significant emotional impact on those affected if experienced for a prolonged period. Moreover, the person is usually unable to maintain this level of functioning indefinitely and may ultimately progress into episodes of major depression.
Of note, high-functioning depression is not a formal diagnosis and can sometimes be better identified as a persistent depressive disorder.
Treatment for Depression and Addiction
Substance abuse is prevalent among persons struggling with a depressive disorder. Indeed, an estimated 1 in 4 adults with a mental health disorder is also affected by a substance use disorder. When a person experiences both addiction and depression simultaneously, this is referred to as a co-occurring condition or dual diagnosis.
Clinical depression is associated with an increased risk of self-harm, accidental injury, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. When substance abuse occurs in conjunction with depression, risks to an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being increase exponentially. Fortunately, both depression and addiction are very treatable conditions when the right approach is employed.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment in addition to therapeutic care for co-occurring mental illness. We provide research-based services indispensable to the recovery process, such as behavioral therapy, family counseling, group support, health and wellness programs, experiential activities, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and more.