Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) is a mental disorder that is characterized by persistent low mood and accompanied by low self-esteem and loss of pleasure and interest in normally enjoyable activities. Sense of despair and hopelessness accompany individuals affected by this disorder, and it is often difficult for them to do everyday activities like working, studying, eating, sleeping, enjoying friends and activities. Some individuals may be affected only once, while others may be affected several times during their lifetime. The disorder seems to occur from one generation to the next in some families, but it can affect individuals with no family history of clinical depression.
Clinical depression affects the individual’s personal relationships and everyday activities, and its impact on well-being and functioning is similar to that of chronic medical condition like diabetes. Symptoms of clinical depression are numerous and the most common ones include:
- Loss of energy and fatigue on an everyday basis
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Indecisiveness and lack of focus
- Insomnia, hypersomnia
- Diminished interest in everyday activities
- Restlessness, feeling slowed down
- Anger, irritability
- Weight loss or gain (5% or more of body weight within a month)
- Drug/alcohol abuse
- Recurring thoughts of suicide or death
Causes and Triggers of Clinical Depression
Three types of factors play a role in clinical depression development: biological, psychological and social factors. A pre-existing vulnerability is often triggered by various life events. The vulnerability can be genetic as well. One other cause of depression is direct damage to the cerebellum. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as social isolation, major life changes and grief from losing a loved one due to divorce, separation and death are all known triggers of depression.
Some individuals are more at risk of clinical depression. The disorder affects about 6.7% of the U.S. population over the age of 18. Between 20% and 25% of individuals suffer from an episode of major depression at some point during their lifetime. Older adults, teens and children are also affected, but it often goes unnoticed in these populations. The number of women affected by clinical depression is twice as high, the reason behind it being hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and miscarriage.
There are some other factors that boost the risk, like increased stress at home or work. Women who raise a child on their own are often more susceptible to depression as well. Clinical depression in men is underreported because they are less likely to seek professional help.
Major depression is diagnosed by a health professional – either a primary care doctor or a psychiatrist – after performing a major medical evaluation. The evaluation includes:
- Personal and family psychiatric history
- Depression screening test
- Blood work may be done to exclude medical issues that have similar symptoms
Clinical depression is treatable and treatment varies depending on the severity of symptoms. Psychotherapy, talk therapy and antidepressant medication are the most common way to treat clinical depression. Other medication may be added to antidepressants to boost their effectiveness. It might take some time to find the right type of medication and dose for each patient, as they all react differently.
Shock therapy is another option, if drugs prove to be ineffective or if the symptoms are severe. Taking the necessary precautions, such as reporting any symptoms to your doctor as soon as they appear, reduces the risk of development.