Depression is a complex mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is more than just feeling sad; depression involves a range of emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. While antidepressant medications have traditionally been the go-to treatment, emerging therapies like Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), psychotherapy, ketamine-assisted healing, and stellate ganglion block promise comprehensive relief from depression’s debilitating grip. In this article, we will delve into the 11 common symptoms of depression, their impacts, and how these advanced treatment approaches offer new avenues of healing.
What is Depression?
Depression, sometimes known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is a common mental health condition characterized by persistent sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in once enjoyable activities. It goes beyond normal feelings of sadness or temporary mood fluctuations that everyone experiences occasionally.
Depression affects a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical well-being. It can interfere with daily life, relationships, work, and overall quality of life. The condition varies in severity, with some individuals experiencing mild symptoms that might not significantly impact their functioning, while others may experience severe symptoms that lead to significant impairment.
The causes of depression are multifaceted and can involve a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Some common risk factors include:
- Brain chemistry
- Biological factors
- Environmental factors
- Personality traits
- Medical conditions
The 11 Common Symptoms of Depression
Depression is often characterized by the typical symptoms listed below. However, it is essential to note that depression can manifest differently in everyone. Some people might experience physical symptoms like headaches, aches and pains, while others might grapple with irritability or feelings of worthlessness. In addition to the well-known signs, there could be various other symptoms that aren’t listed here. Depression is a complex mental health condition, and its presentation can vary widely from person to person. If you or someone you know is experiencing any concerning symptoms, seek professional help and support for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
1. Consistently Low Mood
Consistently low mood characterized by prolonged sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness, is a hallmark symptom of depression. This emotional heaviness can significantly impact one’s ability to engage in daily activities and maintain healthy relationships. Persistent sadness is often linked to imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are crucial in regulating mood, emotions, and feelings of pleasure. A decrease in serotonin, for example, can lead to persistent sadness and a decreased ability to experience joy, characteristic of depression.
2. Disinterest or Avoidance of Once-Enjoyed Hobbies
People with depression often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Hobbies, socializing, and personal relationships can become less appealing or burdensome. The loss of interest or pleasure, known as anhedonia, is a core symptom of depression.
Anhedonia is closely related to dysfunction in the brain’s reward circuitry. This circuitry involves regions like the ventral striatum, which is central to processing pleasurable experiences. In depression, there’s reduced activity in these regions, making it difficult for individuals to find joy in previously enjoyable activities. Prolonged depression can lead to brain structure and function changes, which may contribute to anhedonia. The brain’s ability to adapt and change (neuroplasticity) can be disrupted in depression, impacting how it processes pleasure.
3. Trouble with Concentration or Memory
Cognitive functions such as concentration and decision-making can be impaired by depression, which impacts work, relationships, and overall quality of life. Difficulty concentrating is a common symptom of depression due to how the disorder affects cognitive function, energy levels, and emotional regulation. Depression can make a person feel overwhelmed to the point where even simple tasks can feel like a huge burden. This feeling of being overwhelmed often disrupts concentration.
4. Significant Changes in Eating or Sleeping Patterns
Fluctuations in eating and sleeping patterns are common indicators of depression. Some may experience changes such as overeating and oversleeping, while others may struggle with appetite loss and insomnia. These disruptions can further compromise overall well-being.
Depression often disrupts the normal sleep-wake cycle. While some individuals with depression may experience excessive sleepiness and find themselves sleeping more than usual (hypersomnia), others may struggle with insomnia, finding it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Depression can also lead to significant changes in appetite and eating patterns. Some people may experience a decrease in appetite, resulting in weight loss. This is often accompanied by feelings of guilt or worthlessness related to the inability to eat.
On the other hand, others may turn to food as a form of comfort, increasing appetite, and potential weight gain. This overeating might be driven by emotional eating, where individuals use food to cope with their depressive symptoms.
5. Decreased Self-Care
Individuals grappling with depression may neglect self-care routines, such as personal hygiene and grooming. This neglect can stem from feelings of worthlessness and a lack of motivation, perpetuating a cycle of low self-esteem.
6. Physical Pains and Additional Health Issues
While depression is primarily known as a mood disorder, it can affect the body, causing or exacerbating physical symptoms. Central sensitization is when the central nervous system becomes more sensitive to pain signals. Additionally, some individuals with depression may manifest their emotional distress through physical symptoms. This phenomenon, known as somatization, involves converting psychological distress into physical sensations. Aches and pains can be a way for the body to express the emotional pain experienced in depression.
A growing body of research suggests a link between depression and inflammation. Depression may trigger an inflammatory response in the body, which can contribute to feelings of pain and discomfort. Inflammatory chemicals released by the immune system can affect pain receptors and nerve signaling.
7. Feeling Pessimistic or Hopeless
A pervasive sense of pessimism and hopelessness can dominate an individual’s thoughts. This emotional state can hinder the ability to envision a positive future and can contribute to feelings of helplessness.
8. Increased Anger or Irritability
Increased anger or irritability is indeed a recognized symptom of depression. While sadness and low mood are commonly associated with depression, it’s important to understand that depression can manifest in various ways and affect individuals differently. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, which play a role in mood regulation, can be imbalanced in individuals with depression. These imbalances can contribute to mood swings, including irritability and anger.
Depression can strain relationships, both personal and professional. As individuals withdraw from social interactions or struggle to communicate effectively, they may become frustrated with themselves and others, resulting in increased irritability and anger.
9. Co-Occurring Disorders
Co-occurring disorders are not necessarily a symptom of depression; instead, they refer to the simultaneous presence of multiple mental health conditions in an individual. These conditions can include depression and other disorders like anxiety, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, and more.
When discussing the symptoms of depression, it’s important to differentiate between the symptoms of depression itself and the potential presence of other mental health conditions that can occur alongside it. Co-occurring disorders add complexity to diagnosing and treating depression, as the interaction between different disorders can influence the severity of symptoms and treatment outcomes.
10. Substance Use
Substance use can become a coping mechanism for those dealing with depression. Many people with depression turn to substances to cope with their emotional pain, feelings of hopelessness, and other distressing symptoms. This is known as “self-medication.” Individuals might use substances to alleviate their depressive symptoms temporarily or to escape from their emotional distress. Unfortunately, this form of self-medication only exacerbates the underlying issues and increases the risk of addiction.
Depression can make individuals more vulnerable to substance use disorders. The emotional turmoil and lack of effective coping strategies can lead them to rely on substances. Both depression and substance use can affect the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. People with depression may be more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of substances, which can contribute to developing addictive behaviors.
11. Suicidal Thoughts or Attempts
Suicidal thoughts are a distressing and severe symptom that can be associated with depression, particularly in its more severe forms. These thoughts can emerge due to psychological, biological, and environmental factors. Depression often involves a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair. When individuals feel trapped in their emotional pain and believe things will never improve, they might contemplate ending their lives to escape the suffering.
Neurochemical imbalances in the brain, particularly involving serotonin, are believed to play a role in depression and suicidal thoughts. These imbalances can affect mood regulation and contribute to the emergence of suicidal ideation. Depression can also lead to cognitive rigidity, making it difficult for individuals to see alternative solutions or perspectives. This rigidity can limit the ability to envision a future beyond the current pain.
It’s important to emphasize that not everyone with depression will experience suicidal thoughts. However, suicidal thoughts are signs of significant distress, and professional support from mental health providers, crisis hotlines, or emergency medical services is essential.
Impact of Depression Symptoms
The impact of depression symptoms is far-reaching and can impact various aspects of an individual’s life. Relationships suffer due to social withdrawal and irritability. Academic or professional performance declines as concentration and energy levels plummet. Physical health deteriorates due to disrupted sleep patterns, changes in appetite, and somatic symptoms. Additionally, the emotional toll of depression can lead to a diminished sense of self-worth, causing a vicious cycle where negative thoughts reinforce the symptoms.
Advanced Treatment Approaches Beyond Antidepressants
While traditional antidepressants have helped countless individuals manage their depression symptoms, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Many people do not experience significant relief from these medications, and some may encounter undesirable side effects. This has led to exploring alternative treatment options, offering new hope and healing avenues.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Deep TMS is a non-invasive procedure that uses electric impulses to stimulate specific brain areas implicated in depression. It has shown effectiveness in cases where traditional antidepressants have failed. TMS works by promoting neural activity and balancing neurotransmitter levels, relieving symptoms without the systemic side effects of medications.
At Plus by APN, a Deep TMS technician oversees and answers any questions before, during, and after each session. Deep TMS has been tested in over 60 clinical studies for various indications and is FDA-approved for treating Major Depressive Disorder, OCD, anxious depression, and smoking cessation.
Ketamine, traditionally used as an anesthetic, has gained attention for its rapid antidepressant effects. Administered in controlled settings, ketamine can significantly reduce depressive symptoms within hours or days. Its mechanism of action involves targeting different neurotransmitter systems, providing an alternative for individuals who have not responded to conventional treatments.
Combined with psychotherapy, ketamine-assisted healing can reverse chemical imbalances and help you achieve sustained long-term relief. At Plus by APN, the goal of ketamine-assisted therapy is to help clients struggling with depression find relief from the overbearing weight of their symptoms and get to the root of their troubles without difficulty
Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB)
SGB is a procedure primarily used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but has shown promise in depression treatment. By blocking certain nerve signals in the neck, a Stellate Ganglion Block can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. This approach is beneficial for individuals who experience trauma-related depression. While research is ongoing, the growing body of evidence suggests that the Stellate Ganglion Block could be a valuable addition to the therapeutic options available to treat depression.
At Plus by APN, we believe in a whole-body approach to mental and physical health, addressing trauma at the physiological, neurophysiological, and psychological levels. We have partnered with Stella as their official partnered therapy provider. Two care plans are available to help you sustain and deepen the benefits of SGB with psychotherapy.
Various types of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), provide individuals with coping strategies and tools to manage their symptoms. Therapy helps change negative thought patterns, develop healthier behaviors, and build emotional resilience.
Progress is Possible
The toll that depression has on individuals and society is undeniable. Its symptoms permeate all aspects of life, from physical well-being to emotional resilience. While antidepressants have long been the primary treatment, emerging therapies like Deep TMS, ketamine-assisted healing, and Stellate Ganglion Block offer new possibilities for those who don’t respond adequately to traditional approaches. These advanced treatments address depression’s complexity by targeting specific brain regions, underlying thought patterns, and even the body’s physiological responses. As research advances, these treatments provide hope for a brighter future for individuals battling the shadows of depression.
No matter how many times you’ve tried before or where you are now, there is hope for you. At Plus by APN, we exist to help you find your way forward – through in-person treatment or virtual programs. We can help you manage your symptoms, address root-cause issues, and reclaim your life. If you’re ready to take the next step in your recovery, call 424.644.6486 or fill out our online contact form.