by Minyang Mao, M.D.
Depression is an extremely common problem that many people struggle with. It is estimated that in any given year, 6.7 percent of the U.S. population has Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), the clinical name for what people generally refer to as depression. Although everyone has ups and downs in their moods, people with MDD have such severe downs that it significantly affects their daily function.
The main symptom of MDD is depressed mood, plus additional common symptoms as described by the mnemonic SIGECAPS:
S: Sleep (decreased or increased)
I: Interest (decreased, also known as anhedonia)
G: Guilt (feeling worthless, hopeless, helpless)
E: Energy (decreased)
C: Concentration (decreased)
A: Appetite (decreased or increased)
P: Psychomotor retardation or activation (feeling slowed or feeling restless)
S: Suicidal thoughts
As with most mood disorders, MDD is diagnosed clinically, based on history. There is no blood test or imaging test that is diagnostic for MDD. However, if there are clinical signs that suggest a medical problem may be contributing to your depression, your doctor may order blood tests to check for infections and check your thyroid, liver, kidneys, and vitamin B12 and folate levels to see if there are any other factors contributing to your depression. At times, brain imaging may be helpful to make sure there are not any underlying brain abnormalities that are contributing to your depression. Before initiating medication treatment of MDD, it is important that your doctor screen you for Bipolar Affective Disorder (BPAD), as many anti-depressant medications that can help people with MDD can actually make people with BPAD much more unstable.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
The calling of therapists and psychiatrists is to comfort those who are troubled. Although millions struggle with depression, only half seek treatment. There is effective, professional treatment for depression – you do not have to struggle alone.
Recommended Treatment Approaches
Treatment can involve psychotherapy, medications, or combined treatment, depending on patient preference and severity of symptoms.
Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for Major Depressive Disorder. Some patients find insight-oriented psychotherapy or supportive therapy to be more helpful types of therapy than CBT.
Medications: The most commonly used medications for treating Major Depressive Disorder are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). These medications can be prescribed by your primary care doctor, or by your psychiatrist. If SSRI’s are not effective, serotoinin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI’s), other anti-depressants such as bupropion (Wellbutrin), atypical antipsychotics, and other adjunctive medications can be effective. Older medications such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCA’s) can also be alternatives if newer, safer medications are not effective. The best predictor of your response to medications is how you have responded to medications in the past. How blood-relatives have responded to medications in the past can also help your doctor choose the best medication for you.
Combined Treatment: For many patients, the combination of psychotherapy and medications is the most effective form of treatment.
I recommend a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy workbook to my depressed patients – The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns.
- Many patients find it helpful to go through the workbook and suggested exercises with the guidance of a mental health professional, though the workbook is made to be self-guided.
For my Christian patients, many find reading Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee to be a very helpful Biblical approach to addressing feelings of low self-worth that can feed depression.
Suggested CCC Therapists
Minyang Mao, M.D. – One of my specialties is treating depression. I am able to treat with psychotherapy (mostly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), as well as prescribe medications when necessary.
Other Support Services
The Depression and Bipolar Alliance (DBSA) site, or contact a qualified mental health professional.
Disclaimer: This article is intended as an educational resource only, and is not intended to be a replacement for treatment. For evaluation and treatment, please contact a qualified mental health professional.