Understanding Common Depression Symptoms and Ways to Manage Them
Published | 8 min read
Depression is a common condition that can be hard to identify. Understanding depression symptoms can provide the best course of treatment for recovery.
Did you know that depression affects around 19 million American teens and adults annually? This common yet serious medical condition can make those who suffer feel hopeless, empty, and despair. Depression symptoms are varied, depending on the person. They can change how you function, leading to emotional and physical problems.
Some people might also feel ashamed and never reveal that they are suffering or seek treatment, which is why it’s important to spot symptoms both in yourself and others. While the exact cause is unknown, it is important to recognize the symptoms of depression, types of depression, and to find ways to effectively manage them.
What is Depression?
Depression is caused by a variety of factors related to our genetics as well as environmental and psychological factors. If untreated, it can affect our lives profoundly. Apart from affecting how we feel and make decisions in life, it also impacts our daily activities, such as working, eating, and sleeping.
Life is like a roller coaster. Everyone has good days and bad days. However, it becomes a problem if one continues to feel down and cannot get out of it. If negative thoughts persist for two weeks or longer, they might be suffering from clinical depression. Fortunately, depression can be managed, and improvements are often seen in a matter of weeks with proper treatment.
Sam Ng Teck Xian, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician at Eu Yan Sang says, “TCM believes that depression is caused by emotions affecting the three organs – the liver, heart, and spleen.”
“Most depression sufferers have long-term life and work pressure, or experience negative life events, emotions that cause body system and viscera dysfunction, resulting in yin-yang and imbalance in qi and blood over time,” he adds.
Depression usually affects adults. However, children, teens, and adolescents are also susceptible to this disorder. Depression is also more common in women due to hormonal, biological, and social factors. Signs of depression in women include persistent sadness, irritability, feeling restless, and difficulty concentrating, to name a few.
Depression can also present in older adults who have other medical conditions, such as cancer, chronic pain, stroke, diabetes, heart diseases and Parkinson’s disease. In some instances, depression can worsen their existing medical conditions.
What are Some Common Depression Symptoms?
Depression varies from person to person. Nonetheless, there are some common signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Feelings of helplessness and/or hopelessness
- Feeling sad
- Anger and irritability
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Frequent thoughts of suicide
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Loss of energy
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Slower thinking, speaking and bodily movements
- Unexplained back pain or constant headaches
- Having trouble sleeping, or staying asleep
- Trouble focusing on tasks or remembering things
- Thoughts or suicide or self-harm
In general, these symptoms are usually very severe in people suffering from depression. They affect their daily lives, from work to social activities or relationships, making life seem impossible.
What are the Common Types of Depression?
Depression is a broad classification of a growing list of disorders. Depending on the underlying factors and what defines or triggers them, here are some common types of depression and their respective signs and symptoms:
- Persistent depressive disorder is depression that lasts at least two years, regardless of severity.
- Perinatal and postpartum depression can affect women during pregnancy or after delivery. This condition is more serious than the common “baby blues” that many women experience after birth. Mothers suffering from depression may have difficulties taking care of themselves and caring for their babies.
- Psychotic depression is when a person has severe depression coupled with a psychological disorder, such as delusion (i.e., the feeling of worthlessness) or hallucination. Individuals suffering from psychotic depression can get angry easily, make little sense in conversations and have poor life habits.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) occurs during the winter months. This type of depression generally goes away when summer approaches. Symptoms of SAD include social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain. However, SAD is uncommon in tropical regions as daylight hours are rather constant throughout the year.
- Bipolar disorder is a condition that warrants its categorization outside depression. However, in this disorder, individuals experience oscillating episodes of major depression and mania.
Individuals suffering from depression may often feel helpless, be in denial, or don’t seek help. They may need to be strongly persuaded by family members and friends to consult a psychiatrist and get proper treatment.
How Can you Treat Depression?
Understanding the underlying cause of depression is crucial to finding the most effective course of treatment. The earlier the treatment begins, the more effective it will be.
Clinically, depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. If these treatments fail to bring the symptoms under control, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies may be considered. For some people, certain herbal and dietary supplements can help with depression management.
1. Prescription medications
Antidepressants are the most common type of medication that is used for the treatment of depression. Prescription medications can help to improve mood or reduce stress by releasing certain brain chemicals. However, they aren’t a “quick fix” and generally take 2 to 4 weeks to achieve therapeutic effects.
Other functional aspects such as sleep, appetite, and concentration may improve before the person’s mood starts to show a positive change. A course of treatment typically lasts around 6 to 12 months. It is crucial to complete the treatment to achieve the best outcome. However, antidepressants and their dosages should be moderated. If your mood does not improve or gets worse, it is important to get adjustments from your doctor.
Psychotherapy, counseling, or “talk therapy” can also help those who suffer from depression. This can be both short or long-term where you will meet with a trained therapist who can help you to establish new ways of thinking, help you to develop coping skills, and provide tools to change your behavior. They can also help you to change inaccurate perceptions of yourself. In addition, psychotherapy may involve members of your family to achieve better results. It may also be conducted in a group setting with people who have similar disorders. Patients usually make significant progress after 10 to 15 sessions of psychotherapy.
3. Brain stimulation therapy
ECT is generally used for patients with severe depression. Performed under general anesthesia, ECT involves the use of electric currents that are passed through the brain. This, in turn, triggers a brief seizure that can change the chemistry of the brain. This also happens over multiple sessions. However, it can cause side effects such as confusion, disorientation, and memory loss.
Another form, Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), is noninvasive and uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. This can improve symptoms of depression. While considered safe, it can cause headaches, tingling, and lightheadedness.
4. Herbal remedies
A good night’s sleep can greatly help to alleviate depression. Additionally, rooibos tea can help alleviate stress and anxiety levels by improving sleep quality. Consumed in Southern Africa for centuries, this beverage has become a beloved drink around the world. Rooibos tea is caffeine-free and a good alternative to black tea.
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant containing hypericin, hyperforin, and flavonoids that can potentially help ease depression symptoms. It is available in many forms, such as tablets, capsules, teas, and topical creams. Don’t take it with prescription drugs or antidepressants as it may have reactions with other medications.
Ginseng can also reduce stress, which can contribute to depression. This medicinal root is effective in protecting the nervous system. Studies also suggested that the active ingredients of ginseng possess antidepressant effects. Ginseng is a very versatile ingredient in Asian cuisines. You can also enjoy the health-promoting goodness of this root in soups, a soothing cup of ginseng teas, or capsule form.
Lastly, Xiao Yao San (XYS) is a common TCM treatment that has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, especially among menopausal women. In fact, one study found that XYS, which contains a blend of several TCM herbs, was superior to antidepressants, and could enhance their effectiveness when taken together.
5. Lifestyle changes
“The main treatment of depression in TCM are Chinese medicine prescription and acupuncture. However, patients should consult a qualified Chinese physician to have their treatment,” explains physician Ng.
He adds, “patients can also participate in social activities, do regular exercises, such as running and swimming, for 30 minutes a day, and sunbathing. These can help restore the balance of qi and blood. Taking deep breaths can also help improve the mood.”
It is also important to eat a healthy diet rich in fatty acids such as fish that is rich in omega-3s and omega-6s, amino acids, complex carbs such as legumes, and refrain from alcohol and excessive sugar
Depression takes time to treat, but as we develop a deeper understanding of this disorder and find better ways to treat it, there are ways to manage its symptoms and make it less debilitating. While medication and psychotherapy form the backbones of depression management, TCM fills the gaps by helping to reduce stress levels and improve the quality of your sleep. Together with a healthy diet and regular exercise, depression can be manageable and even treatable.
- American Psychiatric Association. 2020. What Is Depression?
- CDC. 2021. Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety.
- Medline Plus. 2021. Depression .
- Mayo Clinic. 2021. Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
- Mayo Clinic. 2021. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
- National Institute of Mental Health. 2021. Depression in Women: 5 Things You Should Know.
- British journal of pharmacology. 2020. Clinical relevance of St. John’s wort drug interactions revisited.
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