Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
There’s quite a bit of confusion that hangs out around depression. And it’s not just the confusion that you might feel if you’re feeling depressed. There’s confusion around what it is, how it works, and what to do if you are depressed. Is depression a disease? The answer to that question helps frame the rest of the important information to understand.
But that question is also just the start of understanding depression. The questions and answers below can help you understand some of the common questions people have about depression.
Is Depression A Disease?
This is a tough question that many health professionals struggle to answer. There are several different official diagnoses for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. This is similar to the Bible of mental health diagnoses and generally referred to simply as DSM-5.
Some of the different types of depressive disorders include:
- Depressive Personality Disorder
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia)
- Major Depressive Disorder with anxious distress
- Manic depression or bipolar disorder
- Depressive psychosis
- Major depressive disorder with peripartum onset (more commonly known as perinatal or postpartum depression)
- Seasonal Depression
The words “disease,””disorder,” and “illness” are often used to describe mental health challenges. So which is the correct term? It all depends on who you ask.
What Are The Right Words For Mental Health Challenges?
While in many ways, depression is a disease, some professionals don’t like to connect the word “disease” to mental health disorders. They believe it encourages people to only look for a solution such as antidepressants or prescription medication instead of addressing the full spectrum of the challenges they’re facing.
So, while a mental health challenge like depression can meet a disease’s definition, it’s not often the preferred term to use.
The same is true with “illness.” There is a dangerous stigma that surrounds the term “mental health illness.” The stigma that comes with this label can cause people to avoid getting help, so recently, there’s been a bigger push to avoid using this term for mental health challenges and disorders.
The word “disorder” is used in many of the official diagnoses, which can make you wonder, “is depression a disorder?”. This word can be borderline offensive for some people.
So, while depression can technically be qualified as a disease, illness, and disorder, the more preferred term these days tends to be “mental health challenge.”
What Are The Types Of Depressive Disorders?
Many people don’t realize that there are multiple types of depressive disorders. While many are most familiar with Major Depressive Disorder, DSM 5 specifiers break down several different types of depression. Some of the types of depressive disorders include:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Psychotic Depression
- Persistent Depressive Disorder
- Postpartum Depression
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
While the different types of depressive disorders have some things in common, they all have specific criteria. For example, Major Depressive Disorder DSM 5 criteria include:
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Having feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Being depressed most of the day (sad, hopeless, empty, tearful)
- Not finding pleasure in things
- Difficulty concentrating
These are a few examples of the criterion listed. It’s also mentioned that diagnosis includes having either one depressed mood symptom or two lack of pleasure or interest for at least two weeks.
What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?
While the example of the criteria above shows some of the symptoms you may experience with depression, others are. They can include:
- Unexplained changes in your appetite
- Not wanting to be around family or friends
- Not wanting to participate in activities or your past hobbies
- Feeling numb or empty
- Physical pain such as headaches, back pain, or stomachaches
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death
Please remember that this is not an all-inclusive list of depression symptoms. If you have unexplained symptoms and wonder if they could be connected with depression, reach out to your doctor.
How Do They DiagnoseDepression?
Depression is diagnosed by identifying the presence of symptoms in a person’s life. Professionals that can diagnose mental health disorders use the criteria that are included in the DSM. For example, for a Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis, a person would have to meet a set number of established criteria.
While there is no quick and easy “test” that we’re used to, such as blood tests, there is a depression quiz you can do online to see if you may be at risk. The quiz results can help you see if you should talk to a doctor or mental health professional about your experiencing symptoms.
However, even if the quiz doesn’t put you at high risk or being depressed if you feel like you’re struggling, it’s a good idea to reach out for help.
Is Depression Connected With Disorders Or Health Concerns?
There are many different types of health challenges, both physical and mental, connected with depression. In some cases, it’s believed that the other condition or disorder can lead to depression, but it’s also believed to work the other way as well. Here are a few examples:
There have been many connections made between dementia and depression. Many people struggling with depression have a difficult time concentrating and remembering things. And many people are living with dementia that begin to experience depression symptoms as well.
Eating disorders are another example of a condition that can be linked with depression. Some people have difficulty eating while depressed. This can lead to an eating disorder if it goes on long enough. However, it’s also possible that people struggling with an eating disorder can begin to have symptoms of depression as well.
There are many other examples of disorders that can connect with depression. This is one reason why it’s important to seek treatment and help for any physical or mental health challenges you’re facing. It can be easier to handle the symptoms and find treatment that works if you do it earlier instead of waiting for it to intensify or cause other challenges.
Will Depression Ever Go Away?
The answer to this depends on your specific situation. For example, if your depression results from a situation in your life, then your depression may go away with time. However, depression is usually not likely to go away on its own.
There are many different types of treatments that can work to help you overcome depression. It’s possible for people that receive Major Depressive disorder Diagnosis or similar diagnoses to experience a symptom-free life. But it’s important to know that the results are different for everyone. Some may be symptom-free for some time and experience depression again, and others learn to control their symptoms so they can be high functioning even while dealing with depression.
Working with the right mental health professionals can be an important piece of learning how to manage or overcome your symptoms.
What Treatments Are Available For Depression?
There are many different types of treatment options available for depression. These can be split into different groups of treatments.
Lifestyle Changes include making sure you eat right, get enough sleep, and do some form of exercise or physical activity. It can also include things like journaling or spending time with family and friends. These are the things that you can do on your own at home.
Traditional Forms Of Therapy include working with a mental health professional, attending therapy sessions, or using prescription medication. These are the forms of treatment that people tend to be the most familiar with.
Alternative Forms Of Therapy include things like aromatherapy, acupuncture, or art therapy. Many different options can fall into this category. From horse-riding therapy to music therapy, there are plenty of options for helping people feel better and begin to enjoy things again.
Many people find that they can manage their symptoms when they use a combination of different types of treatments. For example, you may benefit from talking through situations with a therapist and focusing on daily lifestyle changes that need to be made in your life. That might do great for you. However, other people may benefit from using prescription medication to gain a little control over their symptoms to have the energy and motivation to try some of the other forms of treatment.
You may find that the first type of treatment that you use isn’t the right one. That doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless for you to feel better. Instead, you may just need to keep trying different options until you find one that works the best for you. Regardless of how you want to think of depression—as a disease, illness, disorder, or mental health challenge—you can learn to manage your symptoms to feel better and accomplish the things that you need and want to do.