Orange County Christian Counseling
When we think of depression, what often comes to mind is sadness. But symptoms of depression, some of which can be sadness, are different from depression, though the causes of depression may be similar.Depression is a medical condition that does affect your mood, but that doesn’t mean someone with depression is automatically sad. Causes of depression can vary, but some include experiencing a traumatic event, genetic history, stressful life events, certain health conditions, low self-esteem and personality type, or brain chemical variances.
The general term, depression, can be applied to many different types of depression. These include clinical depression or major depressive disorder, seasonal affective depression, persistent depressive disorder, perinatal and postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, bipolar depression, and psychotic depression.
Depending on the type of depression you have, treatments will differ. But contacting a licensed, professional counselor who can determine the source and type of your depression is an excellent first step.
Causes of depression and how they are diagnosed
Seeing a clinical psychologist or therapist is the first step toward an accurate diagnosis. However, the exact cause of depression may not be easy to pinpoint.
Certain risk factors make a person more susceptible to developing depression. These include:
Inherited or genetic traits. If someone in your family has struggled with any type of depression, you may be more likely to develop it. Research is still unclear as to why, but researchers are continually studying this to see if there is an identifiable gene that contributes to this correlation.
Brain chemistry. Everyone has over 40 different neurotransmitters, and causes of depression can be linked to certain neurotransmitter deficiencies. These are the chemical messengers that carry messages from one nerve to other internal parts of our body.
They communicate messages such as how to move an arm or when to elicit an emotion of pleasure. Some scientists have recorded that some neurotransmitters’ functions may change or become altered, and these alterations have a significant impact on how mood disorders, such as depression, develop. An example is a decreased level of transmitter norepinephrine can be one of the contributors to depression.
Hormonal changes. It is normal for the hormones in our body to change and fluctuate over time and during different seasons of life. These hormonal changes can contribute to depression in some people, for example in pregnancy or after a mother has a baby. Due to hormonal shifts, some mothers may experience varying levels of depression and/or anxiety.
While these three risk factors can contribute to depression, it is important to note that it’s often a combination of factors that are causes of depression. Having one of these alone doesn’t necessarily mean a person will experience symptoms of depression. However, if a person is under a great deal of stress, has a genetic history of depression, and goes through some hormonal shifts, depression can develop.
To find out if you or a loved one has depression, it is important to seek a professional counselor. It’s too easy to miss symptoms, to brush off important warning signs, or to assume everything will get better when a specific life change or stressful event goes away.
Friends and family, as well-meaning as they may be, should not try to diagnose depression in a loved one. Instead, our offices have multiple counselors throughout the area who can meet with your loved one and help determine how they’re suffering and what their best treatment plan should include.
There are no tests that diagnose depression. This is why a trained, licensed professional counselor is key to finding the help you need. A counselor will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition to evaluate your symptoms.
One of the key things you can do at home is to monitor your symptoms. Write down what they are, how often you experience them, and if they occur at the same time as other life events or stressful periods. This kind of information can be one more helpful tool for your counselor to use in his or her assessment.
A counselor will also ask about your medical history. This gives him or her a more holistic picture of how your family genetics may play a role in your mental health overall. Sometimes, your symptoms alone are enough reason for your health care provider or physician to refer you to a counselor.
Make sure your doctor listens when you explain your symptoms. It’s important to be an advocate for your health if you feel a counselor can help you determine what’s going on.
Symptoms to write down or monitor include:
- Difficulty falling asleep or waking up multiple times each night
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Feeling worthless or guilty for no known reason
- Difficulty making decisions or thinking through steps to get to a decision
- Impaired ability to function in everyday life
- Feeling tired or having low energy for tasks you once enjoyed
- Losing interest in hobbies or friendships
- Recurring thoughts of life being easier if you died or of others’ lives being better if you were not in this world
- Feeling like you are going through the motions and barely existing
- Lack of enjoyment of seasons and life moments in which you used to find pleasure
It is very important to monitor and report your symptoms to a physician or counselor so that he or she can help you. Medical conditions, medication changes, and illness can mimic symptoms of depression. So it’s important to share these with your medical provider.
The American Psychology Association also put together a self-screening assessment where a person can determine his or her likelihood of having depression. Still, the best and most accurate method of diagnosis is seeing a licensed counselor who specializes in mood disorders.
Treatments for depression
If a clinical counselor diagnoses you with depression, there is hope. You can find health and healing through a variety of treatment options.
Taking care of your health can include physical, mental, and emotional health. In addition to seeing a counselor who can help you process stressful life events, taking care of your physical health helps alleviate depression symptoms. Exercise, getting enough sleep consistently, and spending time with people you love doing activities you enjoy are all pieces of the puzzle.
Not everyone who has depression needs to meet with a counselor long-term. Many are helped with a handful of sessions to explore problem-solving and coping mechanisms. These are things they can change about how they deal with life’s stressful events. Others benefit from long-term counseling, which can remind them that someone is in their corner, available to listen, and has their best interests at heart.
Prescription antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to patients whose brain wiring is believed to be a contributing factor to their depression. While some medications can take weeks to start showing improvement, it’s important to closely monitor any side-effects you experience and communicate those with your healthcare provider. Trying a new prescription or changing the dosage are options that can help.
Some who struggle with mild depression or ongoing symptoms benefit from a multi-modal approach to treatment. This approach can include alternative medicine options such as massage, acupuncture, and biofeedback.
Biofeedback is a form of alternative therapy that involves a mind-body connection. Practitioners will use painless sensors placed on a patient’s skin to measure physiological sensors from the patient’s body.
This information, which appears on a screen, can help explain coping mechanisms that a patient may try to change that biofeedback. For example, if a patient’s heart rate is elevated, he has muscle tension, and he has clammy skin or is sweating, a biofeedback practitioner may ask the patient to sit a different way, change his breathing patterns, or use a mindful awareness technique to slow his breathing and heart rate.
These are coping mechanisms that a patient can then reuse over and over to cope with stressful life situations. Causes of depression, though often varied, are identifiable and treatable. If you feel that you or a loved one may have depression, contact a counselor at one of our offices. There is hope.
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