We’ve all heard of the expression “January blues” which refers to the feelings of sadness experienced once all the excitement of the holidays is behind us. January 18th is also popularly known as Blue Monday for being the most depressing day of the year. However, it’s important to know the difference between these short-term post-holiday blues and the more serious mental health condition known as depression. Depression impacts approximately 25% of Canadians at some point in their lifetime and is a mood disorder that causes persistent dark feelings and disinterest. In mild cases, an individual with depression may feel sad, helpless, fatigued, excessively guilty, irritable, or angry. When more severe, depression can be paralyzing, causing the sufferer to be unable to leave their bed or house. In this case, the person may experience symptoms such as:
- Feeling suicidal and worthless
- Suffering from insomnia or being unable to sleep
- Overeating or undereating
- Suffering aches and pains
- Being uninterested in activities or social interactions
A depression diagnosis is made if an individual is experiencing multiple symptoms of depression over a period of at least two weeks. Depression is not an easy condition to recover from and can have a damaging impact on a person’s daily life, affecting their eating habits, sleep, relationships, work and health. Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) found depression to be the second biggest cause of disability globally. However, the good news is that depression is treatable.
Risk Factors for Depression
Certain factors can make someone more at risk of depression. It helps to be aware of these factors so that if you suspect someone may be suffering with depression, you can help get them the most appropriate treatment. These factors include:
- Genetics. Having a family history of the condition can increase the likelihood of developing it.
- Environmental stressors. Events and triggers, such as trauma, stress, abuse, illness, or substance usage can increase risk.
- Personality. Those with high scores for neuroticism can be more susceptible along with individuals who suffer from low self-esteem, or pessimistic tendencies.
Different types of depression
In order to recognize when a person may be suffering from depression, it helps to know the different kinds of the disorder. This is because each type has its own unique triggers or traits.
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Otherwise known as clinical depression, this might be diagnosed if an individual exhibits several depression symptoms every day for at least two weeks. It is 2.5 times more prevalent in 18-29-year-olds compared with individuals over 65, and women are twice as likely to develop MDD. It is usually accompanied by signs of anxiety.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder. Someone who has been suffering from chronic depression for most days over at least two years may be diagnosed with this condition.
- Bipolar Disorder. This causes extreme mood swings in the sufferer with some intense ‘ups’, where they have lots of energy and are upbeat, followed by intense ‘lows’ which are depressive periods.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). This form of depression usually impacts individuals in fall or winter and is characterized by feelings of sadness and helplessness associated with the changing of the seasons.
- Psychotic Depression. The symptoms of this are the same as MDD, but also include psychotic symptoms of hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions.
- Postpartum Depression. This is a form of MDD that occurs in a female during the months after giving birth to a baby, often due to the significant hormonal shifts experienced.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). A female may exhibit signs of depression at the start of her period, along with other symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, and changing eating habits.
- Atypical Depression. With this form of depression, an individual may experience temporary relief from symptoms due to the occurrence of a positive event which may falsely lead you to believe they have recovered.
How to Help Someone with Depression
If you suspect that someone you know is suffering from any type of depression, it is important to encourage and help them to see a medical professional to get the treatment that they need to return to their usual selves. Other tactics that can help are:
- Providing unconditional support. Be patient with your loved ones and make it clear that you are there to support them and give them hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Avoiding being critical or judgmental. If you have not experienced depression yourself it can be difficult to relate and understand how that person is feeling, but depression is a very real condition and you need to avoid isolating the individual by making them feel that their symptoms are not genuine or valid.
- Educating yourself. Reading guides such as this one and learning more about the symptoms and signs of depression helps you to better understand and be equipped to get them the treatment they need.
- Encouraging them to spend time with you alongside exercising and eating well.
- Removing the stressors that could be causing the depression.
Treatments for Depression
The different methods available for treating depression are used based on the type, severity, symptoms, and pattern of the condition an individual has. Treatment options may include:
- Talk therapy. This involves speaking with a doctor or psychologist about the symptoms of depression and detecting any triggers that may be contributing to it.
- Antidepressants. There are a variety of medications commonly used to treat and reduce symptoms of depression including tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Self-help strategies. These may be an option for an individual with mild symptoms and include options such as support groups, books and meditative practices.