“I feel depressed.” —when I’m a little down
“Why are you so depressed?” — when someone else is a little down
“Well, that’s depressing.” — when something doesn’t go our way
So many statements using the term “depression” truly only describe someone’s less-than-elated mood. These statements are problematic because depression is a real disorder that has a specific definition.
Depression is the commonly used term to describe depressive disorders, a category that includes seven or more diagnosable conditions. The blanket term ‘depression’ is usually used when referring to clinical depression, which is also known as major depressive disorder.
Defining Major Depressive Disorder
The current version of the DSM clearly defines this disorder. Major depressive disorder is present when someone experiences (for two weeks or longer) sadness, a feeling of emptiness, and irritability. The person’s mind and thinking are impacted so greatly that their ability to function in their daily life is hindered when they have a major depressive disorder.
Biopsychological Contributing Factors: Yes, Depression Can Be Biological
Two times as many women have depression than men. This is true in cultures all across the world. In children, this ratio is not the case; just as many boys are diagnosed with depression as girls. It is around the teenage years that the shift happens and only half as many males are diagnosed with depression. On the X-chromosome, which females have two of, there is something called the MAOA gene. This gene more frequently shows that there is vulnerability to depression in women more often than men. This gene has to do with the regulation of brain function because of its link to dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Since it is with the onset of puberty that the gender shift begins to happen within the population of those diagnosed with clinical depression, researchers suggest that there are ties to sex hormones and the potential for depression. One key indicator is that the early onset of puberty is often disadvantageous for girls because this makes them more likely to experience depression.
Behavioral Manifestations: How You May be Able to Tell if You or a Loved One is Suffering From Depression
There are many symptoms that may point a psychiatrist to diagnosing a patient with clinical depression. A depressed mood is one of those symptoms. A clinically depressed person may struggle with weight loss or weight gain. Someone who is suffering from depression may also have trouble sleeping or be very fatigued and sleep much more than they usually would. Anger and irritability are also associated with clinical depression frequently. Feelings of worthlessness and unnecessary guilt are two things that a clinically depressed person may feel. For example, someone with depression might not be able to sleep at night (insomnia) but be so fatigued and have no energy during the day that they may sleep for several hours. In addition to ruminating on thoughts and feelings of worthlessness and guilt, a person with clinical depression might be very irritable and angry toward their loved ones. Another typical behavior of someone who is suffering from depression is indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, and simply not having the ability to function cognitively as they normally would. It is often true that clinically depressed people will have suicidal thoughts.
Neurodiagnostic Assessment Methods/ Diagnostic Techniques
Studies indicate that patient history and symptoms have typically been the diagnostic technique utilized. While a structured interview method is used universally, there are limitations to it because the facilitator must interpret what is being told to them by the patient. This leaves room for error and misdiagnosis can occur. Also, because the major depressive disorder is oftentimes coexisting with another disorder, symptoms can overlap, leading to confusion for patients and doctors alike.
The dexamethasone suppression test (DST) is another method of diagnosing depression. This method is completed in a laboratory and looks for the cortisol response to dexamethasone that is administered.
Part(s) of the Brain this Disorder Impacts
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a molecule that is responsible for signaling the reward center in the mesolimbic region as well as signaling the dopaminergic circuit of the human brain. Also, according to research, a subject who had committed suicide had low levels of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the hippocampus. However, patients who had been treated with antidepressants had elevated levels.
Researchers explain that the frontal lobe in an individual with clinical depression has decreased activity. The limbic structures, in the brain of someone who is suffering from clinical depression, have increased activity. These two parts of the brain actually have roles in regulating emotions. Also, the hypothalamus communicates between the frontal lobe and the limbic structures and is responsible for creating cortisol. These are possible causes or they are effects of major depressive disorder, it is unclear which. Neurotransmitters also play a role in what is happening within the brain of a person with clinical depression.
Approximately 6.7% of the people in the US population have major depressive episodes in a year. It is important that someone who is suffering from clinical depression symptoms seek medical treatment, especially if severe symptoms are present such as suicidal thoughts. The issue with encouraging a person with clinical depression to seek help is that their cognitive functioning, decision making, and ability to take care of themselves often leaves them forgetting to eat and take care of basic hygiene, so seeking help for medical treatment might not be something that they are capable of. You can take care of your loved ones by helping them come to terms with the fact that their disorder does not define them and that seeking treatment can help them have a better experience in daily life.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)