I call it the common cold of Mental Health. Major Depression is no respecter of status, income, success or failure. What is Major Depression?
Major Depression is a biological condition in which the chemicals in your brain do not appear is the proper amounts or in a balance that allows for you to function effective. You have little control over its appearance, duration or impact.
Major depression is different than feeling down. A person with Depression can win the lottery and still have symptoms and reactions despite good things happening.
You can’t measure Depression by the number of smiles, or degree of happiness.
Diagnosis: Major Depression is diagnosed by looking for key symptoms. You are considered to have it if you have 5 of 9 symptoms present nearly every day. Generally, symptoms need to be present for at least 2 weeks
- Depressed mood or in adolescents, irritability
- Changes in sleep pattern, often with difficulty sleeping or waking in the middle of the night
- Changes in appetite, not eating or over eating
- Loss of interest in normally enjoyed activities
- Loss of energy
- Apathy or not caring about things in life
- Feelings of worthlessness
- difficulty concentrating.
- Suicidal ideation
The presence of these symptoms must cause a significant change or impairment in functioning.
Treatment: two-fold, Antidepressants and counseling. Research shows that the combination is the most effective way to treat and manage Depression.
Tell me in laymen’s terms about depression.
At the core of the problem is that fact that a person with Depression’s brain cells are not communicating effectively. The cells rely on chemicals to pass messages along. In Depression, the brain does not have enough of the chemicals to pass all the messages. Antidepressants help the brain use the chemicals it has, to get the connections made. It is kind of like trying to talk with someone on a cell phone in an area that has spotty reception. Some of the conversation may get through, but not enough to have a full conversation. Medication can help with reception.
Counseling helps to build skills to cope with the missed communications. How you think about things can make depression worse or better.
I have often said, medications help the brain work better and counseling helps to use the better working brain to keep us getting better.
How can I help someone with Depression?
- Understand they did not want to feel this way and may not be able to just snap out of it.
- Listen and try and understand how the person is feeling.
- Encourage proper and continued treatment.
- Sit with them and share their world. Try not to make them be happy and think that they will be all better. Trying to make people laugh or smile may isolate them further.
- Get in some sun each day. At least 30 minutes. Research has shown sunlight helps with Depression.
- Talk with them, not to them. If they are not so talkative just sit with them
- Show them in your actions and interactions that they are worthwhile to you. They might not hear the encouraging words but will appreciate your actions.
- Be gentle with yourself and check your expectations.
Major Depression often starts to show up in the teen years. Teens may be more irritable than sad. As of this writing, we do not have a cure for Major Depression. It is a problem of managing and monitoring symptoms and mood. Much like diabetics, persons with Depression must learn a different way to live, but knowing that there is no cure.
About Suicidal Thoughts.
People with Depression can get so down, that they feel the only answer is to end their existence. It is okay to talk about those thoughts, they will NOT make the person suicidal. In fact, it helps a great deal to ask and then to listen.
If the person has suicidal thoughts and a plan, seek emergency care immediately. Emergency Rooms are the place to go at this point.
About 85% of people who have suicidal thoughts only want the seemingly unsolvable problem they are concerned about to be fixed. They are not interested in ending existence. If the problem can be addressed, the suicidal thoughts will fade. Most, if not all will be grateful you care enough to ask and to be of help.
Over the past 27 years of counseling adolescents, I have come across Major Depression quite often. It is not the end of the journey, but the start. I have watched people come to terms with this diagnosis and live highly productive lives. I also have Major Depression and fight that battle myself often. What I have shared here is the result of many years of helping others, trainings by psychiatrists, and counselors. It also come from my personal experience.
It is more than just feeling down. It is a treatable health condition.