In Depression

Major Depression: What is it and How is it Treated?

major depression

Major Depression or Major Depressive Disorder:  What is it and how is it Treated?

If you feel a constant sense of hopelessness and despair, you may be experiencing a syndrome as Major Depressive Disorder, or Clinical Depression. What is major depression?  This type of depression is not a feeling of sadness or unhappiness.  It’s much stronger and can affect everything from your work life to your social life.  The syndrome can lead to feelings of despair or even thoughts of suicide.  The definition of major depressive disorder is that it can disrupt your life so you can no longer function at even the most fundamental level.

Various life disruptions such as divorce or losing a loved one can result in depressive symptoms, but these reactions are normal . Major depression disorder may seem to come out of nowhere, and exist for no clear reason.  Symptoms of major depression disorder can also seem contradictory.  You may be exhausted and yet unable to sleep.  You may be restless and yet be unable to concentrate.  You may gain too much weight or lose too much weight.

Major depression symptoms literally interfere with all facets of your existence, including the ability to eat, sleep, and enjoy life.  While the patient may have emotional symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness, they may also experience serious physical ailments such as headaches, aches and pains, or stomach upset.  The total experience causes the sufferer to be incapacitated. In other words, this isn’t just a feeling of temporary unhappiness.  Major depression symptoms aren’t just the “blues.”

There are various types of depressive disorders, including:

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder, a type of depression with symptoms that last for at least two years, though they may not be consecutive.
  • Postpartum Depression, which occurs after childbirth,
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which has been linked to a lack of sunlight and
  • Psychotic depression, which can literally cause a person to experience a break in reality.  This type of major depressive disorder with psychotic features can have serious consequences, and might possibly require emergency treatment.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often coexists with depression.  PTSD is caused by the experience of a terrifying ordeal such as war or rape, but the depression which goes along with it may make the disorder much worse.

What Causes Major Depression?

Obviously, serious life events can cause depression.  The death of a close relative, divorce, even losing a job can result in depression.  But major depression disorder has been linked to neurochemical disorders and even physical changes in the brain.  Inherited traits and hormonal changes can be a cause, but sometimes the disorder’s origins consists of a number of related factors.  Even physical or sexual abuse can cause the problem.  People with serious illnesses such as cancer or AIDs often suffer from concurrent depression.  Treatment of the depression may improve treatment of the illness.

Who Gets Major Depression?

It’s been estimated that approximately 20% to 25% of adults may suffer from this disorder during their lifetime.  Major depression does seem to run in families but patients can suffer from this syndrome even if no one else in their family has had the problem.   According to the medical site, WebMD, major depression is frequently overlooked in teenagers, children and even older adults.  More women than men suffer from the condition, which could be due to hormonal changes, or related to their roles as care-takers.

While men also suffer from depression, their depression is much less likely to be officially diagnosed.  They may appear angry, or irritable and engage in self-destructive behavior such as drug or alcohol abuse.

How is Major Depression Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of major depression results from consultation with a doctor or mental health professional who will do an evaluation. The health care professional will ask how long you’ve had symptoms, whether you indulge in drugs or alcohol, and whether you’ve had suicidal thoughts.

Your doctor may run various tests to eliminate other problems that could cause depression such as a thyroid disorder or even drug and alcohol abuse.  But there are no specific medical tests that can diagnose Major Depression.

Treatment for Major Depression Disorder

Most forms of major depression disorder can be treated successfully. A combination of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are often used. The original antidepressants, Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), helped increase appetite and helped with disturbed sleeping patterns.  But they have serious side effects including severe interactions with cheese and wine.  They can also interact negatively with other common drugs such as cold and allergy medicines and even birth control pills.

The next class of antidepressants, Tricyclics, are seldom used today because of their side effects. These include dizziness, drowsiness and weight gain.

The type of antidepressant medications known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are currently the most commonly prescribed medications for major depression treatment. These newer antidepressants, such as Zoloft and Prozac, have fewer side effects than the older drugs, although some people still experience sexual side effects from these drugs.

One thing anyone suffering from major depression disorder should know is that all the antidepressants take at least 4 to 6 weeks to become effective.  Patients need to understand this and receive therapeutic counseling while the drugs take effect.  Children and adolescents have shown a tendency towards suicidal thoughts on many anti-depressants.  Consequently, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) advises that if young people under the age of 24 are given anti-depressants they be very closely monitored and parents be advised of the risk factors.

Natural Treatments for Major Depression

Certain herbs and other natural remedies have been used for centuries to treat symptoms of depression.  St. John’s Wort ((Hypericum perforatum) is the best known of these, and is used extensively in Europe.  However, extensive research has shown that this herb, while possibly effective for moderate depression, doesn’t seem to be as effective for serious depression.  It can also interfere with various other medications.

Two other chemical compounds that have been used to treat depression are 5-HTP and SAMe.  However, not enough studies have been done on either treatment to ensure that they are safe. While 5-HTP has been proven to have some positive qualities, it also has side effects and can interfere with other prescribed medication .

SAMe has been cited for helping with the pain of arthritis and has been touted as a good cure for depression. But again, it not only has side effects, but can interfere with other medication.

In short, no good herbal or natural remedy has currently been identified to treat major depressive disorder.


There are two types of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (ITP), and both have been shown to be effective in the treatment of major depression.  CBT is a method of therapy that actively involves the patient in their own treatment .  The patient learns to identify their problems and to develop skills that will help them deal with the issues once they are identified.

ITP has been shown to be almost as effective as antidepressants in assisting with the treatment of mild depression.  But in the case of major depression, it may work best in addition to antidepressants.  It is a short-term therapy (12-16 weeks) that helps the patient identify one or two problems and then work to solve those problems during the therapy sessions.  The therapist uses empathetic listening and clarifying techniques to help the patient deal with these problems, thereby helping the patient learn the system themselves.

The one issue that is crucial to the treatment of depression is a diagnosis.  Too many people suffer from major depression in silence, either because they are afraid of their own feelings or because they’re embarrassed to be seen as weak.  But treatment for depression is almost always effective and those who suffer from this debilitating syndrome need to be encouraged to seek assistance.

Parents in particular should know the signs of major depression.  If your child seems to feel hopeless, sluggish, and is obviously suffering from emotional or physical ailments, get them to a doctor to be evaluated. Most forms of major depression disorder can be cured, but they must be addressed in a timely fashion so the person suffering gets the help they need!


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