Recognizing a depression episode may empower you to get the help you need sooner. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million U.S. adults suffered at least one major depressive episode, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Most people can say they’ve had bad days. For a person with depression, those sad or off days could indicate a mental health disorder is worsening. It could mean you need help.
Depressive episode symptoms include feelings of despair, profound sadness, and a constant low or sad mood. Depressive episodes like this are the most common symptom of depression, especially when they’re unfounded by current life events or long-lasting. A depressive episode is generally characterized by these feelings lasting for two weeks or longer. This is an indication that you should seek help.
A person facing such an episode is more likely to make reckless decisions or have suicidal thoughts. That’s why seeking help immediately is essential.
Signs That a Depressive Episode Is Occurring
Recognizing the depressive episode symptoms in yourself, or in a loved one, can help you to understand when to seek help. Some key symptoms include:
- Feeling very sad and hopeless
- Feelings of being helpless to make things better
- Suffering from low energy and fatigue even with rest
- Irritability or constant frustration
- Anxiety, especially anxiety that seems present all of the time
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of guilt, even when you aren’t sure why
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty with concentrating or remembering
Two main factors occur during a major depressive episode. First, your mental health is impacted. Most often, this type of episode is brought on by a life event such as trauma. Your thought patterns are likely to change. You may feel you’ve lost interest in the things you like to do. You may have trouble making decisions or focusing on things around you. Some people also develop suicidal thoughts during this time.
The second component is the physical change. Your mental health impacts the hormones that regulate some bodily functions. As a result, you’ll feel different physically too. This may include changes in sleep patterns — either sleeping a lot or not at all — weight gain or loss, aches and pains commonly attributed to the flu and moving or talking at a slow pace.
If you’re feeling like this, it could mean you’re experiencing a depressive episode. However, that doesn’t mean you have major depression.
Understanding What’s Happening to You
If you’re in the middle of a depression episode, it may seem nearly impossible to know what’s happening. There are a few ways you can track such episodes so you can take action to get the help you need.
- Start to chart your mood or use a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. Write down reactions to things that occur on a daily basis.
- Use that information to recognize triggers that could influence episodes, such as fighting with a spouse or employer.
- Talk to friends and family while you’re feeling good. Ask them to let you know when you seem down. Have a circle of people you trust to help with this.
- Meet routinely with your doctor. Be sure you are receiving the right medication and care.
- Meet with a therapist who can offer guidance about what’s happening. Having someone to speak to right away can be very empowering.
You may not be able to stop your episode from occurring, but you’re recognizing what’s happening and getting the help you need to manage it. That’s critical. (Men sometimes don’t ask for help due to social pressures not to show weakness. Asking for help is no sign of weakness. Read more here to help yourself or a man in your life who may be struggling with depression.)
What Is the Difference Between Major Depression and Grief and Sadness?
It’s common for people to suffer from instances of depression due to life changes and events. If a loved one dies, you may spend a few weeks very upset and withdrawn. You may have a period of time when you are facing difficult life changes, and these symptoms seem to be present.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, you may experience this from time to time. You may also have breaks of time when you feel okay. It’s possible for those with a depression diagnosis to suffer from a major depressive disorder single episode like this.
In a person with major depression, these types of episodes occur more chronically. This is a chronic illness, but with treatment, the time between such episodes may lengthen. You may feel better for longer periods of time.
Dangers of a Depressive Episode
During a depressive episode, most people are very vulnerable. They feel worthless and defeated. You may see yourself not caring about school or work. That can impact your future if it happens often. The more profound effects of depressive episodes affect people’s ability to take care of themselves. You may be at a higher risk of hurting yourself through self-cutting. Others have suicidal thoughts or make attempts to harm themselves. Because of this, major depressive episodes are considered life-threatening events.
What Is the Treatment for a Depressive Episode?
How do you get out of a depressive episode? Treatment is always customized based on what your mental health needs are at that time.
If you’re facing an emergency situation such as having thoughts of hurting yourself, call 911 right away. Do not wait for anyone else to be available.
Your doctor will be able to help you as an initial step. If you’ve never been diagnosed with depression before, this generally will include an exam, lab tests, and a psychiatric evaluation. During this exam, your doctors and therapists determine if you have the symptoms for the classification of depression or a major depressive episode. They also determine what type of depression you have.
Treatment for an episode depends on what’s occurring. You may need to begin taking antidepressant medications. These medications can help to balance hormones and chemicals in the brain to ensure you have fewer episodes. Getting the right treatment can take some time.
Most people also benefit from psychotherapy. This includes talking to a therapist about what’s happening and developing strategies for dealing with triggers in your life. A key goal is to identify the negative beliefs you have and working through your feelings. You’ll also learn how to set realistic goals, develop a higher level of tolerance for distress and work to improve relationships.
Self-care is also important. This involves:
- Scheduling routine sessions with your therapist
- Reaching out immediately when you need support
- Practicing good physical health habits
- Spending more time outside where nature can help boost your mood
- Engaging in support groups
Risks of Ignoring a Depressive Episode
As noted, not treating a depressive episode can increase the risk of reckless behavior or suicidal thoughts. However, not treating your episode may also make you more likely to have more. Without treatment, these episodes can become more frequent and intense.
Scheduling Help for Major Depression at FHE Health
At FHE Health, we offer comprehensive support and 24-hour guidance for depression from our compassionate counselors. Call us today at 833-596-3502 for immediate help.