Depression is defined as severe, typically prolonged, feelings of despondency and dejection. However, as an illness, there is much more to depression than just feelings of intense sadness. Depression can come with many symptoms, some of which may seem like they are unrelated. Those who experience depression often report experiencing any or all of the following symptoms:
- Intense feelings of sadness or despair
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Feeling cranky or grumpy
- Becoming highly frustrated very easily
- Feeling tearful
- Crying suddenly for no specific reason
- Insomnia or hypersomnia; sleeping too little or too much
- Changes in eating habits
- Concentration issues
- A lack of self-worth or self-esteem
- Thoughts about death or dying, often obsessive
- Suicidal thoughts
While everyone experiences feelings of sadness, depression is a much more serious illness. If you experience depression, it is vital that you address this with a doctor. Generally, if you experience any more than 5 of the symptoms listed above, and/or your symptoms have existed for more than two weeks, you should seek medical attention immediately.
The Causes of Depression
Depression has many causes. For some people, it can be caused by brain chemistry issues that result in a lack of serotonin or dopamine. For others, depression can be situational. Many different life situations can lead to depression. These situations may include:
- Constantly high stress levels
- Traumatic life situations
- Any major life change, whether positive or negative
- Medical issues
- Taking certain medications
- Drug abuse or use
- Having genetic ties to depression
The Difference Between Depression and Sadness
Despite what many people believe, depression and sadness are not the same. They differ in many ways. Depression tends to be present almost constantly, whereas sadness is a temporary experience. Most people report that depression lasts two weeks or longer.
Depression also tends to be much more severe, and may significantly interfere with people's lives. It may interfere with work, play, or even responsibilities. It can also prevent you from engaging in things you want to do.
How is this Different from Withdrawal from Smoking?
Smoking withdrawal can produce depression-like symptoms, but they tend to be much milder. They also tend to last a shorter period of time than depression. As someone who is quitting smoking, you can expect to experience symptoms for up to two weeks, but usually, no longer than this. If your symptoms include severe sadness, thoughts of suicide, or they last longer than two weeks, it is vital that you speak with your doctor or a qualified health professional. Sometimes, depression comes first; for some individuals, smoking is a coping skill. If this is the case, it is important to also seek treatment for your illness.
The statistics for depression can be surprising for some people. Nearly 1 out of every 6 Americans will experience depression at some point within their lives. This translates to nearly 15 million people experiencing depression at least briefly throughout each year. However, depression doesn't discriminate; it affects people from all walks of life, races, genders, and lifestyles. Smokers, people who have concomitant medical issues, and people who experience extremely high levels of stress tend to experience a higher rate of depression than other demographic groups.
Higher Depression Rates in Smokers
Researchers aren't exactly sure why smokers are more likely to experience depression than their non-smoking counterparts. One theory suggests that depression likely occured before the person even began smoking, and the smoking itself is used as a coping and self-medicating skill. Others suggest that the stress of being addicted to a substance, and the repeated highs-to-lows experienced by smokers may lead to high levels of stress hormones. Still others suggest that those who make poor decisions around smoking may also make poor decisions in other life areas, leading to high-stress experiences.
Is Smoking an Appropriate Coping Skill for Depression?
Smoking is never an appropriate coping skill for depression or mental illness. There are far more appropriate methods for dealing with depression. In fact, because of the way smoking and nicotine affect brain chemicals, the process often worsens depression and anxiety. It is extremely important that you seek out positive ways to cope with your depression as part of your lifestyle change.
When Will My Smoking-Related Depression End?
Depression is an extremely personal experience. There is no set timeframe for it to end, as there is with many physical conditions. Most people experience depression, as it relates to quitting smoking, for a maximum of two weeks. Clinical depression that is only worsened by the quitting process may occur only once, or may continue to occur on and off throughout your life. However, by taking steps to treat depression, you can reduce the likelihood of it ever returning.
Should I Seek Out Treatment for My Depression?
Absolutely. Depression is a completely treatable illness that can severely impact lives if left untreated. Not only that, but depression treatments can also reduce symptoms and make the process of going through a depression much less traumatic.
Despite the opinion of some who think depression is "all in your head," this has been shown to be somewhat false. Indeed, depression is as much a medical illness as diabetes or heart disease. It even has the ability to cause physical symptoms when severe. You cannot "tough it out" when it comes to depression, nor should you.
Steps can be taken to help you move through and past your depression, and you can prevent it from interrupting your life in the future. You also do not need a depression diagnosis before seeking treatment; whether your experience has been mild or severe, you have options available to you. Speak with your doctor to begin the process of treating your depression, or to find out if depression may be affecting you.
What are the Treatments for Depression?
Treatments for depression include therapy, medication, and other holistic approaches that focus on changing lifestyle, rather than the disease itself. Psychotherapy is the most commonly used approach to treating depression, and it has a good success rate. Some people may have biochemical reasons for their depression; if this is the case, medication may be used to treat the depression. The two most commonly used forms of therapy are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (CBT and DBT).
How Does Therapy Assist With My Depression?
Researchers have been able to identify that depression can be helped by therapy. CBT and DBT are not used interchangeably; occasionally, one form of therapy will work better for an individual than the other form will.
Therapy is an extremely beneficial treatment for depression. You may meet with a therapist only a few times per year, or you may meet several times per week for a short time. Your therapeutic schedule will depend mostly on how serious your need and condition is. In some cases, you may be admitted to the hospital for more one-on-one assistance; this is usually for a very short period of time, and only typically occurs in situations where you may be in danger or you are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Therapy may focus on working with situations that have occurred in your past. Sometimes, traumatic incidents can cause depression. Alternatively, therapy may focus on dealing with the issues that you are experiencing in the present. This is the most common approach to depression therapy. You will develop what is called a therapeutic relationship with your therapist. Your therapist will guide you through creating new coping skills and abilities.
Some of the most common therapy goals include a desire to become generally healthier. Many also seek therapy to help overcome phobias, fears, stress, or anxieties. Therapy can also help you to communicate better with the people around you, and may have a positive impact on your relationships, friendships, and family connections. It can also help you to form ways to handle negative emotion in the future.
The Role of Medication in Treating Depression
Depression can be successfully assisted by medication. While it is not the right choice for everyone, many people have found that antidepressants or other medications have benefitted them during their depression treatment. It is important to understand that medication is not a solution for all of the problems that depression may occur, or for all of the issues depression may cause.
Think of medication like the adhesive on a Band-Aid; while it can't cover the wound on its own, it can certainly assist the fabric of the Band-Aid to do so. Medication may help to smooth out mood issues, and may also reduce feelings of despair or anxiety. Antidepressants are prescription medications, so it is important that you are reviewed and then prescribed medication by a doctor or psychiatrist.
You may need to try several different medications before you find the right medication for you. Each medication should typically be tried for at least a few weeks in order to gain the full possible benefit of the medication. If you haven't experienced any benefits, or side effects become too much within 6 weeks, it is generally a good idea to consider moving on from the medication.
Your doctor will guide you on medication changes, if they become necessary. It is also common for the dose of your medication to be changed several times during the treatment process.
Are There Other Methods of Treating My Depression?
Yes, there are many methods for treating your depression. You may choose to start exercising on a daily basis. Even a simple walk can help. You should seek out the advice of your physician before beginning any exercise plan that is intensive. Remember to start with small additions to your daily activity, and increase them over time. This will prevent injury.
You can also schedule your days to ensure that you are kept busy.
Remember to include activities that you enjoy, as well as those you must complete. This will help to ensure you have something to look forward to each day.
Make sure to stay connected to friends, family, or loved ones.
It is important that you do not isolate yourself from people. This can worsen depression.
Build your own reward system for small achievements.
On some days, achievements may be as simple as making it through a single day without succumbing to your depression. In other situations, it may be as simple as making it through a day of work.
Make sure to schedule time to relax, have fun, and engage in activities you enjoy.
Even if you don't feel like doing much, try to at least watch a fun movie, or play a fun game, or engage in some other small, easy activity each day.
Make a list of supportive individuals.
This will help to ensure that you have people to contact in your most overwhelming moments.