Depression is among the most common mental health disorders, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that about five percent of U.S. adults are living with this condition. Fortunately, depression is a treatable condition, and most people are able to enjoy a better quality of life with professional help. Recognizing the symptoms of depression and finding the right mental health professional for treatment is key to preventing this mental condition from being disruptive to everyday life.
How to Recognize the Symptoms of Depression
Everyone goes through periods in which they feel sad or overwhelmed and need to modify their schedule to allow for more downtime. Depression is different, however. It lasts for an extended period of time and can impact relationships, work or school performance, and general life satisfaction. In most cases, it stems from a combination of factors, including faulty mood regulation in the brain, genetic predisposition, medical problems, postpartum or monthly hormone changes, certain medications, and environmental factors such as financial instability or job-related stress.
While the exact causes of depression vary from one person to another, many people with this mental health disorder share common symptoms, including:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of enjoyment in activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling disconnected from the world around you
While these are some of the classic signs of depression that are fairly recognizable, this illness can have some unexpected symptoms, making it hard to recognize and seek treatment for. Some of the surprising symptoms of depression may include:
- Shopping excessively or spending large amounts of money on impulse
- Heavy drinking and recreational drug use
- Forgetfulness or mental fog
- Spending an excessive amount of time online
- Thrill-seeking behaviors, such as shoplifting
- Headaches, jaw pain and back pain
- Alternating between showing little emotion to explosive episodes
- Tobacco use
- Neglecting self-care
While depression can be self-diagnosed, it’s important to seek out help from a mental health professional. Several mental illnesses or health conditions can mimic the symptoms of depression, and a proper diagnosis is key to effective treatment.
Tracking Depression Symptoms
When depression is part of an individual’s day-to-day life, it can be challenging to recognize the full scope of the illness’s impact. Many people find it helpful to begin tracking their symptoms. Not only can this help them tie the feelings (or lack of feelings) they’re experiencing to an actual cause, but it provides helpful information that can assist a mental health professional in making a diagnosis.
The most effective way to track depression symptoms is through journaling. For many people, not every day is a difficult one. There may be times when depression symptoms ease, even if it seems like they’re never completely gone. Tracking symptoms provides a picture of how depression affects the individual over time, not just on difficult days.
This journal can be as detailed and narrative as the individual wants, or it can be a bulleted list of symptoms they experienced that day. The idea is simply to create a record that can show valuable information and patterns. It’s also a good idea to track coping strategies, regardless of how healthy or counterproductive to their health they were, that helped the individual get through the day. This can help the individual gauge how disruptive their symptoms are over an extended period of time and provide useful information for mental health professionals.
Taking Online Questionnaires
Depression doesn’t always bring on the expected symptoms, and those living with this illness may not always be able to objectively see how it affects their lives. Online questionnaires can be useful tools in educating the individual and helping them connect feelings and behaviors to mental illnesses. While this doesn’t provide enough information to self-diagnose and it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a mental health professional, it can affirm the individual’s need for treatment.
How to Get Evaluated for Depression
Depression can be challenging to treat not only because everyone’s illness is unique but also because the nature of depression symptoms can make it feel impossible to seek help. For many people, talking first with a primary care provider is the simplest way to get the ball rolling. Oftentimes, the doctor provides the individual with a short questionnaire to fill out, and they may order lab tests to rule out other diagnoses and physical causes. If lab tests come back normal, most doctors provide a prescription for a medication commonly used to treat depression.
For some, medication is enough to handle depression symptoms and improve their quality of life. However, for most people, a one-size-fits-all approach to depression treatment leads to frustration and discouragement. When the medication doesn’t noticeably improve how the individual feels and they only experience negative side effects, they may stop taking it. Too often, the patient, rather than the insufficient or inappropriate treatment plan, gets blamed for the lack of results.
For someone living with depression, talking to a primary care provider can be a good first step, but it shouldn’t be the last. On its own, medication is rarely enough to provide the best results. Mental health care professionals have the training and expertise necessary to take a multifaceted, tailored approach to treatment.
Finding the Right Mental Health Professional
For someone who’s never sought out professional help with treating a mental illness, it can be difficult to know where to begin. In most cases, contacting your health insurance provider is the best place to begin. Ask for contact information for local mental health care professionals who accept the insurance plan, and try to get the names of at least three providers who specialize in treating depression.
The second step is to make the phone call to the mental health providers. This can be one of the biggest obstacles to treatment, so it may be a good idea for the individual to have a friend or family member make the call and schedule an appointment on their behalf. It’s not unusual for new clients to have to wait for months for an appointment. If that’s the case, the individual may want to go ahead and schedule the appointment, then move on to the next provider from their list. They can always cancel that appointment if they obtain treatment before then.
Transparency During the Evaluation
During the initial evaluation, it’s important to be open and honest about depression symptoms, lifestyle, or health factors that may contribute to the illness. The provider may also ask about co-occurring disorders, such as drug or alcohol abuse. Understanding the scope of your symptoms is critical for creating an effective treatment plan.
Talk about Mental Health History
Mental illnesses such as depression tend to run in families, so if you have a family history of depression, it’s helpful to let the provider know. It’s also important to let them know if you’ve been treated for depression before or have any other mental health diagnoses or behavioral disorders such as ADHD or an eating disorder.
During the initial appointment, it’s a good idea to talk about any questions you have about the diagnostic process or any concerns you may have with your treatment plan. This is the time to bring up concerns you have about scheduling, payment arrangements, and exactly what you should expect from your treatment. If you have prior experience with taking depression medication, whether it was positive or negative, that’s also helpful to mention.
Getting a Second Opinion
Mental illnesses such as depression are complex, and mental health care providers don’t always get it right. If you are unsure about your diagnosis or your treatment plan, it’s helpful to seek a second opinion. Different health care practitioners have different philosophies, training and experience, so there’s no need to be discouraged if the first mental health care provider doesn’t seem like the right fit.
With the help of advances in research and technology, FHE has a range of treatment options for those living with depression. To get a second opinion or to talk to a specialist about our cutting-edge treatments, contact us today.