Self-Help: Depression and Bipolar Illness

Depression is a common term that describes many different states. A person who has never suffered a severe depression may have a hard time understanding and sympathizing with the lack of motivation of a person with a severe biochemical depression.

People talk about depression when they are feeling sad about not getting a call back from last Friday's date or when they are bored and have no one to talk with. Sometimes a person feels depressed due to a decrease in blood sugar.

On the other hand, depression can be the deep sense of loss or grief over the death of a partner/spouse/child/companion animal. It can also be biochemically caused by changes in the amount of neurotransmitters that the brain produces.

Some people have a problem where depression alternates with manic periods when they feel great, full of energy, are very talkative and restless, but may also do impulsive or engage in self harmful things like gambling, becoming hypersexual, spending way too much money. These folks may also feel like their thoughts are racing (speed brain) and like they can not slow them down. This manic state can start out feeling really good and/or creative but become one of irritability, aggression, or loss of control with hallucinations (visions, voices, experiences that are not existing in the real world).

Vulnerability to some depressions and to bipolar or manic depression is genetic and can be traced from generation to generation. There is a high concordance in rates of depression in identical twins. 

Symptoms of a major depression, as described in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual include at least five of the following during a two week period:

  • Depressed or irritable or sad mood most of the day on a daily basis
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities that are usually enjoyed
  • Significant weight lose (5% + of body weight) when not dieting (other people gain weight during depression)
  • Problems with sleeping too much or being sleep deprived and unrested
  • Feeling physically slowed down or agitated
  • Fatigue and loss of energy most days
  • Constant feelings or bouts of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts about death or suicide

In addition to major depression, there are categories of depression that are related to changes in a person's life, long stretched out times of depression that does not meet the above criteria, grief, depression after the birth of a child, depression caused by illness or medications, depressions following recovery from substance abuse, etc.

For less severe depressions, cognitive therapy alone seems to be helpful. However, with more severe depressions, recovery is quicker if therapy is combined with medication.

Sometimes depression becomes so bad that hospitalization is recommended, especially if a person is having suicidal or homicidal thoughts. However, most people can recover from depression without hospitalization.

There are a number of good self-help books about depression. In addition, visit the web resources I have listed on my web page.