When you’re feeling down, it’s normal to say things like “I feel depressed.” However, there’s a strong difference between feeling momentarily depressed and having depression. One is a temporary emotion brought on by a certain event — the other is an ongoing feeling of hopelessness and dread.
If left untreated, depression can worsen and negatively impact all areas of life, including your social relationships, personal goals, and livelihood. However, despite the dangers of depression, only 50% of people with the disorder actually receive treatment. A big reason why people aren’t getting treated is that they’re unable to recognize the symptoms of depression — you can’t say “I have depression” if you don’t understand what depression feels like. In this article, we’ll answer the following questions:
- What is depression?
- How does depression feel?
- How do I find an effective depression treatment?
By the end of this page, not only will you gain a better understanding of how to identify depression, but you’ll also learn how to find the best treatment possible.
Depression: Frequently Asked Questions
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects your thoughts, feelings, and decisions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about this disorder.
What Does Depression Mean?
Oftentimes, depression is used as an umbrella term to explain general feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and dread. In reality, depression can be divided into several different types — in other words, everyone with depression has their own unique experience, For some people, depression is an ongoing feeling. For others, it’s brought on by a certain trigger. Some of the most common types of depression include:
- Major Depressive Disorder: People with this disorder experience major feelings of hopelessness and sadness that last at least two weeks. This is one of the most common types of depression, with over 17 million Americans suffering from it.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): If you have dysthymia, then you have suffered from depression for at least two years. It’s characterized by a chronic low mood, as well as things like low self-esteem and energy levels.
- Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD): People with SAD only suffer from depression during certain times of the year (particularly the winter months). Oftentimes, depression symptoms go away as the weather improves in spring.
While these depression disorders all have their own unique features, they share many symptoms.
What Does Depression Feel Like?
To understand what depression feels like, it’s helpful to review some of the most common symptoms of the disorder. Whether you have a major depressive disorder or SAD, you will likely experience some of the following emotional symptoms:
- Loss of interest in activities and relationships
- Poor mood
- Difficulty focusing
- Suicidal thoughts
People with depression may also have physical symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, back pain, and digestion problems.
Is Depression A Mental Illness?
Depression is classified as a mood disorder, which is considered a mental illness. In essence, a mental illness is any condition that affects mood, thoughts, and behavior.
It’s important to note that not everybody that experiences depression symptoms actually has a mental illness. Sometimes, depression is a side effect of a medication, virus, or mineral deficiency. Before delivering a depression diagnosis, doctors should rule out these causes through lab testing.
How Do You Know If You Are Depressed?
The simplest way to know whether you are depressed is by identifying symptoms of depression. To achieve an actual diagnosis, you’ll have to share these symptoms with your doctor, who will likely do the following:
- Discuss your symptoms
- Ask questions
- Order lab tests
First, your doctor will ask you to share some of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. They may also conduct an assessment designed to diagnose depression — for example, the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a common questionnaire used to pinpoint the severity of depression.
After talking about your symptoms, your doctor might ask you more specific questions to help determine the type of depression you have, its intensity, and what medication will work for you. For instance, many doctors will ask if you are currently on any medication — this reduces the risk of prescribing something that could interact negatively with drugs you’re already using.
Finally, your doctor may order lab tests to help confirm the diagnosis. This is usually only done if you are experiencing physical symptoms or if your doctor suspects that your depression is a side effect of something else. Once they affirm that you have depression, the next step is finding the right treatment for you.
If you or your doctor suspects that you are suffering from depression, it’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible. Most depression patients have been prescribed antidepressants, which have been proven to help reduce symptoms in about 40 to 60% of cases. Therapy or counseling is also usually recommended. Here are some commonly asked questions about depression treatments.
What Are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants work by balancing your neurotransmitters, or chemicals in your brain that affect your mood, behavior, and memory. More specifically, they target your dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. There are five different classes of antidepressants:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs target your serotonin levels and include brand names like Prozac and Zoloft.
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs affect your serotonin and norepinephrine levels and include brand names like Cymbalta and Fetzima.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs alter your serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine levels — they include brand names like Anafranil and Elavil.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): MAOIs restrict the ability of an enzyme called monoamine, which makes neurotransmitters more accessible. Brand names include Nardil.
- Atypical antidepressants: Atypical antidepressants don’t fit into the above classes as each one works in its own unique way. Brand names include Symbax and Wellbutrin.
Ultimately, when it comes to prescribing antidepressants, doctors have plenty of options — not only do they need to choose between the different classes, but they also have to select a specific brand.
How Are Antidepressants Chosen?
Considering that there are so many different antidepressants available, you might be wondering: how do doctors choose one? After coming to a depression diagnosis, your doctor will try to pinpoint the right treatment by asking questions about the following:
- Your family history: If your parents or siblings have depression, you might benefit from the medication they use. Similarly, if family members have had negative experiences with a certain drug, your doctor may avoid that one.
- Your lifestyle: Your lifestyle habits can dictate what drug your doctor prescribes. For instance, many doctors suggest Wellbutrin for depression patients that smoke because the drug has been proven effective in reducing smoking urges.
- Your health: Before prescribing a medication, your doctor will review any underlying medical conditions and medications you may be taking. This lowers the risk of the new drug clashing with your current condition or medication.
While your doctor may do their best to identify the best treatment for your needs, there’s no guarantee that it will be effective. Thus, it’s important that you’re able to recognize whether your treatment is working.
How Do I Know If Treatment Is Working?
To identify the effectiveness of your treatment, look out for the following warning signs:
- You feel immediate relief: Most antidepressants take between four and six weeks to work. If you feel immediate relief, you might be experiencing the placebo effect.
- Your depression worsens or stays the same: Antidepressants are designed to help you feel better. If your depression worsens or doesn’t improve, then your medication may be ineffective.
- You experience debilitating symptoms: While it’s normal to experience some side effects when starting a new medication, these effects should not be overwhelming. If your side effects are debilitating, or if they don’t go away after some time, then your medication may not be a good fit.
In conclusion, you should switch your treatment if it’s either ineffective or causing painful side effects. Some side effects you should look out for include significant weight changes, insomnia, fatigue, and dizziness. These effects can be dangerous to your health, so it’s important that you don’t just ignore them.
If your antidepressant is not working out for you, your doctor will try to prescribe a new one based on your reaction. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that this new medication will work better — it’s possible that you may experience even more painful side effects. The result is a game of “trial and error,” in which your doctor prescribes different drugs in the hopes that one of them works.
Nobody wants to try out different medications just to find one that aligns with their needs. Every time a treatment fails, you’re just pushed back further on your journey of conquering depression. Fortunately, with the help of DNA testing, you don’t have to go through the “trial and error” game.
DNA Testing For Antidepressants
DNA testing, or pharmacogenetics, uses the information provided by your DNA to help determine which medications do and don’t work with your body. Here’s a closer look and how it works and how it can help you.
How Does DNA Testing Work?
All of us have our own unique DNA molecules, each of which contains genes with their own unique sequences. Some of these genes contain instructions for producing proteins called enzymes, which are responsible for metabolizing medications. The sequence of a gene affects the resulting protein — in other words, if you have a slight genetic variation, some of your enzymes may not work properly.
The purpose of DNA testing is to find the variations that may interfere with drug metabolism. Testing focuses specifically on an enzyme family called cytochrome P450, which is responsible for metabolizing between 70% and 80% of clinically used drugs. Pharmacogenetic testing offers valuable insight into the type of treatment that’s best for you.
What Information Can DNA Testing Tell Me?
Once you get the results of your DNA test, you will have access to the following information:
- Whether a medication will be ineffective for you
- Whether you need a dosage adjustment
- Whether a medication has a higher risk of side effects
- How certain medications will interact with one another
DNA testing examines CYP450 enzymes and determines their metabolism rate on a scale from poor to ultra-rapid. A poor metabolism rate increases the risk of side effects, while a high one increases the chance of medication being ineffective. So, let’s say your test shows that your CYP2B6 (an enzyme in the CYP540 family) enzyme metabolizes poorly. Your doctor will then avoid prescribing any drugs that are metabolized by this enzyme (such as Wellbutrin).
In addition to helping you eliminate certain drugs, genetic testing can tell you whether your current dosage is too low or too high. For instance, if your CYP2B6 metabolism rate is intermediate, you may still be able to use Wellbutrin — you’d just need to adjust the dosage to accommodate your slower metabolism function.
The ultimate goal of DNA testing is to help patients skip the cumbersome “trial and error” process and quickly identify a treatment plan that works for them. The sooner you find the right medication, the sooner you can overcome depression and reclaim control of your life.
What Information Can DNA Testing Tell Me?
Whether your antidepressants are ineffective or causing painful side effects, DNA testing can help you find a better treatment option. At ClarityX, we offer a comprehensive mental wellness test that can predict your response to several of the most commonly used antidepressants. These include, but are not limited to:
Our goal is to help people find the best treatments possible without having to experiment with different medications. Take control of your health by getting a DNA test!