Depression is also called major depression, major depressive disorder, or clinical depression. It is a serious mood disorder, and the leading cause of disability in the U.S. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that as of February 2023, 36.8% of adults in Texas reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, as compared to 32.3% of adults in the U.S.
Major depression is a severe and pervasive mental health condition characterized primarily by a profound and persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. This condition significantly impacts one’s daily life, including their emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being.
Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and include:
- The hallmark symptom of major depression is a persistent and pervasive low mood. Individuals with major depression often describe feeling sad, empty, or hopeless for most of the day, nearly every day.
- Loss of Interest or Pleasure: Anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure from previously enjoyable activities, is a common feature of Major Depression.
- Other Common Symptoms: Alongside the core symptoms, individuals with depression may also experience a range of other symptoms, including changes in appetite and weight, disrupted sleep patterns, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, difficulty concentrating, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
The exact cause of depression is complex and multifactorial, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors. Research suggests that depression isn’t simply about variable amounts of brain chemicals. There are many possible causes including faulty mood regulation in the brain. It appears that several forces interact to cause depression.
Some common risk factors include:
- Genetics: Depression can run in families. That is why you will be asked about your family history.
- Biochemistry: Alterations in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, are believed to contribute to the symptoms of depression.
- Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress or are generally pessimistic seem to be more likely to experience depression.
- Stressful Life Events: Traumatic experiences, chronic stress, or major life changes can trigger the onset of depression in susceptible individuals.
- Environmental factors: Continual exposure to violence, neglect or abuse or poverty may make a person more vulnerable to depression.
- Brain Structure and Function: Abnormalities in brain structure and function, particularly in regions like the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, have been associated with depression.
There is no blood test for depression. Rather, depression is diagnosed with a clinical assessment conducted by a qualified mental health professional, typically a psychiatrist or psychologist. The diagnosis involves a comprehensive evaluation that considers various factors, including the patient’s symptoms, medical history, and the duration and impact of those symptoms on their daily life. Here’s an overview of the diagnostic process for depression:
Your Mercie Health mental health professional will conduct an interview with you. During this interview, the following aspects may be explored:
- The presence and persistence of depressive symptoms, including low mood, anhedonia (loss of interest or pleasure), changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.
- The duration of these symptoms, typically lasting for at least two weeks to meet the diagnostic criteria for MDD.
- The impact of these symptoms on the individual’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life.
A thorough medical history will be obtained to rule out any underlying medical conditions or medications that could be contributing to the symptoms. Some medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders or chronic illnesses, can mimic depressive symptoms.
The clinician may assess you for other psychiatric conditions or co-occurring disorders, as individuals with depression may also experience anxiety, substance abuse issues, or other mental health conditions.
The clinician will differentiate between depression and other conditions that may have similar symptoms, such as bipolar disorder, dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder), or adjustment disorder.
Rule Out Other Causes
It’s essential to rule out medical conditions, substance use disorders, and situational factors that can contribute to mood disturbances.
In some cases, standardized assessment tools and questionnaires, like the Beck Depression Inventory is widely used to screen for depression and measure severity and behavioral manifestations.
Once the clinician has gathered all necessary information and determined that the individual meets the criteria for depression, a formal diagnosis is made. This diagnosis serves as the basis for developing an appropriate treatment plan, which may include psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these approaches. It’s crucial for individuals who suspect they may have depression to seek help from a qualified mental health professional for a proper assessment and diagnosis. Early intervention and treatment can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with depression.
Mercie Health is a psychiatric and wellness clinic in Katy, Texas. We take a humane and personalized approach to treating mental health disorders. Stigma is associated with mental health disorders and can keep a person from seeking help. Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. You will always be treated with respect and dignity at Mercie Health. Contact us to schedule a consultation to learn more about depression, receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options.
At a Glance
Dr. Sylvia Udokoro Nwakanma
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
- Double Board Certified in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C)
- SAMSHA Certified Addictions Nurse Practitioner
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