What is Clinical Depression: An Explorative Guide to Define and Answer What Clinical Depression is and How it is Treated
What is clinical depression and how is it treated? This broad question is best addressed with the psychiatric definition of clinical depression accompanied by a brief explanation of specific methods of treatment. Clinical depression, otherwise known as major depressive disorder or major depression, is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. Clinical depression interferes with your daily life, such as your job duties, school responsibilities, or social activities. However, the disorder is manageable with therapy, medication, or a combination of both. After considering the symptoms and definition of clinical depression, you may find you don’t meet the criteria. Other forms of depression exist, such as dysthymia and minor depression, so you might consider other depressive disorders as the culprit of your troubles.
What Is Clinical Depression?
Clinical depression is defined as a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, frustration, or anger disrupt daily functioning for periods of two weeks or longer. Doctors consider clinical depression the more severe form of this type of mental illness. You must have five symptoms for a period of at least two weeks to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of clinical depression. These symptoms are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
The DSM is the guidebook for diagnosing mental illness and can help in addressing the question of what clinical depression is. Some symptoms refer to emotional states, such as feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, irritability, or anger. Some listed symptoms refer to activity levels. These include loss of interest in usual activities and constant fatigue or lack of energy. Yet other symptoms deal with any changes in sleep habits or appetite.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Most people who suffer from major depressive disorders rely on a combination of psychotherapy and medication, but some people benefit from psychotherapy, or talk therapy, alone. Regardless of which type of person you are, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) should be a consideration for treatment. Although CBT is used to treat many disorders, it has an especially extensive history for treating depression and anxiety. CBT is the most commonly used form of psychotherapy for treating clinical depression, and much research supports its effectiveness.
CBT is the integration of cognitive and behavioral therapies. Cognitive therapy helps you adjust your behavior by challenging depressive thoughts. Behavioral therapy helps you associate reinforcing stimuli with healthy behavior and objectionable stimuli with unhealthy behavior. Rather than deeply exploring the cause of your depression, CBT seeks to resolve unhealthy behavior and thinking in a short amount of time by changing your patterns of thinking.
Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) was developed at Yale University in the 1970s and has been effective in treating different forms of unipolar depression. IPT is time-limited psychotherapy with a focus on factors that form the basis of mental distress. This type of talk therapy normally takes anywhere from six to twenty sessions with follow-up maintenance sessions as they are needed.
IPT concentrates on improving your interpersonal functioning, resolving symptoms of depression, and increasing your social support system. The goal of the therapy is to improve your self-esteem and your communication skills in a short amount of time. The techniques used in interpersonal therapy include analyzing communication, examining interpersonal incidents, and role-playing.
A classical approach to treating major depressive disorder is psychodynamic psychotherapy. This is a type of psychoanalysis that focuses on the root cause of depression. Psychodynamic talk therapy explores your entire range of emotions, some of which you may be unaware. This helps to draw unresolved issues to the surface so they can be dealt with. During psychodynamic psychotherapy sessions, you gain an understanding of how your mood and behavior are symptomatic of unconscious feelings about unresolved issues. Unlike the time-limited forms of psychotherapy, this is an open-ended type of talk therapy.
Although depression is categorized as a mental illness, it is caused by a physical malfunction that takes place in the brain. Your brain cells send signals to other cells to direct your body’s various functions. These signals are sent using chemicals called neurotransmitters. After the signals are sent from your brain cells to the other cells, your neurotransmitters return to the sending brain cells where they are reabsorbed and prepared to send new signals. People who suffer from depression may have an imbalance of these neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters that affect mood are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Antidepressants resolve the consequences of any imbalances in serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The four main types of medications used to treat clinical depression are tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors
The first type of antidepressants to be developed were monoamine oxidase inhibitors. MAOIs have largely been replaced by other types of antidepressants that are safer and cause fewer side effects. MAOIs are still used by patients who experience no relief from other types of medication. Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that helps remove norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine from your brain. MAOIs make more of the neurotransmitters available in your brain by preventing the monoamine oxidase enzyme from removing them. The resulting improvement in cell communication is believed to cause a boost in mood. Common side effects of MAOIs include digestive problems, dry mouth, headache, sleep problems, and dizziness. MAOIs often react negatively with other medications.
Tricyclic antidepressants were some of the first medications developed to combat depression, and they are still considered good options for treatment. Tricyclic antidepressants tend to relieve depression when other treatments are ineffective or can’t be used. TCAs work by blocking the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. This makes more of the chemicals available in your brain to send signals to cells, alleviating the effects of an imbalance and boosting your mood. The most common side effects of TCAs include blurred vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, constipation, weight gain, increased sweating, and a drop in blood pressure.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
The most commonly used antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs work well in treating depression and cause fewer side effects than other medications. These antidepressants are termed selective because they seem primarily to limit the reabsorption of serotonin and no other neurotransmitters in your brain. Common side effects of SSRIs may include nervousness, nausea, drowsiness, insomnia, dizziness, weight fluctuation, headache, and dry mouth.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors block the reabsorption of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, making these neurotransmitters more available and relieving depression. SNRIs have limited common side effects, which include dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, and excessive sweating.
If you’d like to learn more, consider reading our articles on the symptoms of depression.