What is Depression and How Can It Be Treated?

Sadness is a normal human emotion that we experience in response to painful or upsetting events. Different then depression, sadness is temporary and goes away with time.

Depression is a long-term mental state that impairs social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. It affects 1 out of 20 adults yearly. If left untreated, symptoms of depression can last for months or even years. Symptoms of depression may include:

  •  constant feelings of sadness

  •  loss of interest and enthusiasm for things which used to provide pleasure

  • feelings of deep, unwanted guilt

  • fatigue or difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings

  • lack of motivation or inability to meet goals

  •  changes in sleep or eating patterns

  • irritability

  • feelings of worthlessness

  • constant thoughts about death/ dying

  •  suicidal thoughts or actions

Depression is considered an ego-dystonic illness, meaning that the individual recognizes that her thoughts and behaviors are in conflict with her ideal self-image and therefore, wants to change these uncomfortable thoughts and behaviors. To reduce depression and its symptoms, professional counseling is recommended. Sometimes antidepressant medication can be supplemented with counseling. Both have been shown to treat depression successfully alone or together.

When I work with individuals who are depressed, I focus on the symptoms of depression.  I use the example of having the flu. When you have the flu you have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache and diarrhea. You go to the doctor and you are diagnosed with the flu! Now, you don’t really care what the diagnosis is called; you just want all the symptoms to go away. A similar approach can be considered when working with an individual who is diagnosed with depression. The individual may be fearful to be labeled as "depressed", but also they are dealing with uncomfortable symptoms. These symptoms are what cause impairments in functioning, and these impairments are what we want to decrease. In doing so, the individual will stop feeling depressed. But how do you treat depression?

As a primary treatment, therapy is recommended to treat depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two proven therapeutic interventions that reduce depression and its symptoms. CBT calls for first understanding the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Then challenging thought patterns in order to change the way we feel and change the way we behave. Similarly, DBT understands that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are related. However, rather than challenging automatic thoughts, we change our feelings towards these thoughts and then our behavior. To do this, DBT teaches new skills in mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.

In both of these approaches, depression is understood, challenged and changed using effective coping techniques. In changing the way we interact with the world, we can change the way we feel about it.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, reach out to a doctor or therapist and start to feel better.

Contact Jamie Kreiter here.