Make no mistake, the struggle is very real. Depression is a serious disease caused by a neurochemical imbalance in the brain. Symptoms might not always be visible to the naked eye, but left untreated the condition has the potential to cripple or even kill those who suffer from it.
Mood disorders, such as bipolar and unipolar depression, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).
There are various forms of depressions that present different challenges for patients. Bipolar depression is characterized by episodes of mania and sadness. In contrast, the mood remains in one emotional state or “pole” with unipolar depression.
What are the Symptoms of Unipolar Depression?
The symptoms of unipolar depression include some of the following:
- Extreme sadness
- Suicidal feelings and thoughts
- Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing at work or school
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feelings of loneliness, guilt and helplessness
- Sleep issues, such as sleeping all the time or difficulty sleeping at all
- Sluggishness or low levels of energy
What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Depression or Mania?
Individuals with bipolar depression might experience very similar issues during their low emotional states, but they also go through manic periods that are equally painful. Symptoms of mania can include:
- Intensely euphoric mood
- Racing thoughts and speaking very quickly
- Not feeling tired at all for many days at a time
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Restlessness, agitation, irritability
- Impulsive behavior, such as shopping sprees
- Increased libido
- Aggressive or provocative behavior
With both conditions, there is a high likelihood for a co-occurring or dual diagnosis, which is the presence of a substance use disorder, such as alcoholism or drug addiction, along with the mental illness.
It’s often difficult to know which condition started first. NAMI’s research statistics suggest that about a third of individuals with mental illness and half with severe mental illness suffer from substance abuse.
On the flipside, the statistics are strikingly similar. A third of alcohol abusers and half of those with a dependency to drugs are struggling with a mental illness.
The most important aspect to understand, though, is that both conditions are manageable. Early intervention is best, but even patients that have struggled for the better part of their lives without a diagnosis have seen dramatic improvement once they receive treatment.
Since every person is unique, treatment will vary from patient to patient. It may be inpatient or outpatient, depending on an individual’s needs, but treating a dual diagnosis requires that both conditions be addressed. If needed, a safe and medically assisted withdraw from alcohol or drugs might be the first step.
An integrated therapy plan follows detox and can include medications to manage symptoms of depression as well as involve behavioral therapies, like Cognitive or Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
Depression is often underestimated or disregarded because of its invisible nature. In reality, it is very real, but can be diagnosed and managed with proper attention.