Major Depressive Disorder: What You Should Know
MDD, or major depressive disorder, is a serious mood disorder that can ultimately consume a person's life, preventing them from carrying out normal day-to-day activities. It is a medical condition that causes an individual to experience chronic states of sadness consistently.
MDD can also affect the individual physically, disrupting sleeping patterns and hindering the individual's appetite.
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?
As humans, we all experience signs of joy and sadness. Mostly, sadness is known to be a quite natural part of human nature, and it is said that people mostly feel sad or they get depressed when someone close to them has passed away or their life is undergoing a lot of challenging instances or emotional turmoil, which can include separating from one’s partner, divorce, or the diagnosis of a major illness. But all of these feelings are usually short-lived or a temporary phase. However, when an individual starts to experience a continuous or intense feeling of depression or sadness that goes on for an extended period of time, then it is known as major depressive disorder, or MDD. This is also called clinical depression. MDD is known to be a significant medical condition which is said to cause a negative impact on most of the areas of life for an individual. MDD may cause an impact on the sleep, mood, behavior, as well as other physical functioning of the individual. It also has an impact on the individual’s appetite. Such people often tend to lose their interest in any of the activities that they used to enjoy at one time, and they may also find it difficult to perform normal day-to-day activities which were otherwise quite easy for them before this disorder. They tend to drag through the day, and they also have the feeling that life is not worth living anymore. In the United States, MDD is said to be a rather common form of mental disorder, and in the year 2015, there were almost seven to eight percent of individuals suffering from MDD who were above the age of 18 years.
Reaching out to a doctor or a physician would be of great help in diagnosing the condition. They would diagnose the condition based on the individual’s behavior, symptoms, and their feelings. Hence, the doctor would ask multiple questions of the individual or would provide them with a questionnaire with a list of questions to accurately determine if the individual is suffering from MDD or some other mental disorder.
There are certain criteria which the individual has to meet to be properly diagnosed with MDD. Those criteria are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. This manual is useful for the doctor to better diagnose any mental help conditions. So, the individual would have to have five or more of the below mentioned symptoms to be diagnosed with MDD. Also, these symptoms would have to be experienced by the individual at least once each day for a continuous period of more than two weeks:
- The individual feels sad or gets irritated most of the day, and this happens nearly every day.
- The individual hardly enjoys any of the activities that they used to enjoy previously.
- There are sudden changes in the appetite of the individual, wherein either they gain or lose a significant amount of weight.
- Individuals mostly feel tired (unusually so) and do not have enough energy to perform even a simple task.
- They have difficulty falling asleep or may sleep more than usual.
- Individuals become restless too often.
- There is a tendency to harm oneself or have suicidal thoughts.
- They have a feeling that they are worthless, or feel guilty about things which otherwise wouldn’t make them feel that way.
- They have difficulty making accurate decisions or even concentrating on anything.
Today, there is no exact known cause of MDD. But several factors have been identified which are known to increase an individual’s risk of getting this condition. It is said that a combination of stress along with genetic factors is known to affect the chemistry in the brain, thereby reducing one’s ability to maintain the stability of their mood. Certain changes in one’s hormonal balance can also lead to the development of MDD in an individual. A few of the triggers that are known to cause MDD are drug abuse; the existence of certain medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, HIV, or cancer; and using certain medications, which can include steroids and alcohol abuse.
A combination of psychotherapy and medications is known to be commonly used for the treatment of MDD. Apart from these, carrying out certain changes in one’s lifestyle is also known to ease the symptoms caused due to MDD. Those individuals who suffer from severe cases of MDD or who start to have thoughts about harming themselves in some way or another would be required to stay at the hospital during the course of treatment. There are certain patients who would have to take part in the outpatient treatment program until their symptoms show signs of improvement.
- Medications: The doctor would initially start the treatment by prescribing medications such as antidepressants. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are basically antidepressants that are often prescribed by the doctor for such individuals. These medications are known to help by inhibiting the breakdown of the chemical called serotonin present in the brain, thereby leading to an increase in the amount of this neurotransmitter. Serotonin is a brain chemical that is known to be heavily responsible for any changes in the mood of an individual. It can help improve one’s mood and also produce a healthy pattern of sleeping for the individual. Those who suffer from MDD are known to have low levels of the serotonin chemical in their brain. Use of SSRIs is known to provide relief from symptoms caused due to MDD by bringing about an increase in the level of serotonin in the brain. A few of the well-known SSRIs are citalopram and fluoxetine. These medicines generally have side effects which are of a low enough intensity that any individual can tolerate them pretty well. Apart from SSRIs, some of the other medications include tricyclic antidepressants and atypical antidepressants, which can be used by the doctor if the other drugs do not show any relief from the symptoms for the patients. However, these medicines are known to cause several forms of side effects, such as feeling sleepy all the time after taking the medicines or sudden weight gain.
- Psychotherapy: This is also known as psychological therapy, or talk therapy. This is said to be very effective for those individuals who suffer from MDD. In this treatment plan, there would be a meeting held between the therapist and the individual who is suffering from MDD. There would be regular meetings with the therapist, wherein the individual would be required to talk about their condition and any other issues they are facing. This therapy is known to provide help in certain areas, such as: making the individual adjust to a crisis or any other stressful events; trying to replace any negative thoughts or beliefs with new, positive thoughts; bringing about improvement in the individual’s communication skills; and helping the individual to cope with certain challenges as well as helping them solve their problems. These talks or sessions are also known to be useful in increasing the individual’s confidence as well as self-esteem, and there would be a sense of satisfaction in the mind of the individual as well, wherein they feel they now have control of their life.
Apart from therapy and medications, it is also important to bring about certain changes in one’s lifestyle, such as ensuring to eat right and healthily and avoiding drugs, alcohol, and certain processed foods.