Self-Help Information: Depression
Everyone gets "the blues" or feels "down in the dumps" occasionally.
Moods can fluctuate from day to day, or hour to hour, sometimes for no
reason at all. Changes in environment can affect moods.
Any significant stress, such as going to college, establishing and ending
relationships, success or feelings of failure in school, or experiencing
losses can result in a sad mood. Most often these "down" periods last a
couple of days to a few weeks. Occasionally, a down mood persists longer
than a few weeks and the feelings become more intense. As a result, changes
in thinking, behavior, and self-esteem are evident. If these feelings
persist and become more intense, a "clinical depression" may result.
Signs of Depression
We know that depression is a "whole-body" illness, involving our body,
mood, and thoughts. It affects the way we eat and sleep, the way we feel
about ourselves, and the way we think about things. Below is a list of
symptoms that are typical of clinical depression. Not all of the symptoms
are required for a diagnosis of depression.
Persistent depressed, sad, or "empty" mood
Lack of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable
(from schoolwork to sex)
Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
Frequent feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, hopelessness or
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
A substantial change in appetite, eating patterns, or weight
Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Types of Depression
Depression comes in many forms and each individual can experience it
differently. Depression might be in response to a stressor you can
identify. This type of depression (Adjustment Disorder) usually resolves
itself within six months. Major Depression is a more severe depressed
mood that may not be in response to anything in particular and may last
for a longer period of time. An episode of Major Depression may occur
once, twice, or several times in one’s lifetime. The episodes typically
last 6 to 12 months. One type of Major Depression is Seasonal Affect
Disorder (SAD) where depression is experienced during a certain time of
year (typically winter). This is more common in the northern latitudes
(such as northern Idaho and Washington). Dysthymia is a persisting form
of mild depression (lasting at least two years) where one’s mood is not
as down as Major Depression but one feels depressed for most of the day,
for more days than not. A less common form of depression is Bipolar
Disorder (formerly called "manic-depression"). Bipolar Disorder involves
cycles of depression and elation or mania.
Causes of Depression
Depression is a multi-determined disorder, caused by a combination of
factors. Each person is unique and the relative contributions of each
factor can be different. Some relevant factors are:
Biochemistry: Deficiencies in two chemicals in the brain,
serotonin and norepinephrine, are thought to be responsible for some
of the symptoms of depression.Genetic: Some types of depression
run in families. If your parents or other relatives have depression,
you may be more likely to struggle with depression.
Psychological: Some ways of thinking and behaving can contribute to
depression, i.e., negative thinking, unrealistic expectations, or
all or nothing thinking.Environmental: Exposure to significant
stressors or long-term exposure to stressful situations can increase
vulnerability to depression. Also, the amount of daylight can
trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder.
If your depression is not severe, or has not lasted for a long period of
time, there are many things you can do to help yourself. These include:
Reduce or eliminate use of alcohol and drugs (these are often
used to feel better, but physiologically, they can increase
depression).Keep up your normal routine and activities even
though you may not feel like it.Get regular exercise.Eat
regular and nutritious meals.Get adequate sleep.Seek
emotional support from friends and family.Increase positive
If your self-help efforts are not effective and your depression persists
for several weeks, becomes more severe, or leads to self-destructive
thoughts or behavior, you should seek professional help.
The two primary ways of treating depression are psychotherapy and/or
medication. Consultation with a mental health professional (psychologist,
psychiatrist, counselor, or social worker) will help you determine the best
treatment for you. There are currently a variety of highly effective
interventions available for the treatment of depression. Eighty to 90% of
people with depression improve with treatment.
A variety of psychotherapeutic approaches are available for treating
depression. Cognitive (or cognitive-behavioral) approaches focus on helping
people change the negative styles of thinking and behaving often associated
with depression. Interpersonal therapy focuses on dissatisfying
interpersonal relationships that both cause and exacerbate depression. Other
therapeutic approaches include psychodynamic therapies,
humanistic/existential approaches and narrative therapy. Most mental health
professionals utilize a variety of techniques based on the individual needs
and wants of the client.
There are a variety of types of medication that are currently used to
treat depression, each of which works a little differently. Your symptoms,
medical history, and family history often give clues about the best medicine
for you. Still, it may take time to find the one that works best for you and
has the least side effects.
Need Additional Help?
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these
and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY).
For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:
Donna J. Scott, PhD
The information contained in these self help
documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care. Neither
the authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary
Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information
presented in these self-help documents