Unipolar Depression: What Is It?
Unipolar depression, a severe mental health condition, impacts 8.4% of the American population. Studies show that it is a more common mental health issue among women than men and younger adults (18–25 years old) than older adults. In 2020, there were 14.8 million adults who experienced a severe episode of unipolar disorder, and of those diagnosed, 66% received treatment.
What is unipolar depression?
Unlike bipolar depression, which involves frequent mood swings between manic and depressive states, unipolar depression mainly focuses on negative emotions and thoughts experienced by those affected.
Unipolar depression is characterized by a consistent mood state and does not involve switching between the two mood states. This mood disorder is also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), major depression, or clinical depression. It is a medical condition that can significantly affect different areas of an individual’s life, including mood, behavior, and physical functions such as sleep or appetite. As a result, it can prevent affected individuals from leading a healthy and satisfying life.
Many people with unipolar depression share the common experience of losing interest in activities and hobbies they once enjoyed, as well as struggling to perform everyday tasks. They may also have suicidal thoughts and feel that life is not worth living.
Depression is not just feeling sad or down and cannot be easily overcome by willpower alone. Seeking long-term professional care and treatment, such as oral treatments and psychotherapy, can often lead to significant improvements in mood and overall well-being for those experiencing severe depression.
What are the symptoms of unipolar depression?
Having unipolar depression is not the same as feeling occasional sadness or a low mood. It involves experiencing prolonged and intense feelings of depression that can disrupt daily functioning and make it difficult to interact with others.
In order to meet the DSM criteria for unipolar depression, a person must experience at least five of the following symptoms daily for more than two weeks:
- Prolonged feelings of sadness or irritability
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Changes in appetite leading to significant weight loss or gain
- Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping more than usual
- Restlessness or feeling slowed down
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt disproportionate to the situation
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm.
What are the common causes of unipolar depression?
The exact cause of unipolar depression is unknown. Researchers believe that there are various factors that can contribute to the development of the disorder or increase one’s risk of experiencing it
A combination of genetic predisposition and stress can cause an imbalance in brain chemistry, which can affect a person’s ability to regulate their mood. Hormonal imbalances can also increase the risk of developing unipolar depression.
One widely accepted theory is that unipolar depression is caused by an imbalance in the naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters found in the brain and spinal cord. Serotonin and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters thought to be involved in the development of symptoms associated with the disorder.
Throughout your life, you may experience stressful and unfortunate events that can increase your risk of developing unipolar depression or other mental disorders.
Some common triggers include:
- Prolonged conflict in relationships with partners, family, friends, or co-workers
- Major life changes such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, financial struggles, moving, or job loss
- Lack of social interaction or isolation
- Work-related stress caused by relationship conflicts or pressure to perform
- Health challenges, particularly chronic health issues.
External events affect people differently, and your thoughts play a significant role in how you experience life and your level of happiness. This can also impact whether or not someone develops a mood disorder like unipolar depression.
Your perception of the world is influenced by your experiences, particularly during childhood and adolescence. Parenting also plays a crucial role in shaping children’s psychological health.
For instance, growing up in an abusive environment with negative comments can negatively impact a person’s worldview. Later in life, when faced with negative situations, those with this kind of upbringing may perceive themselves and their circumstances more negatively than others, contributing to emotional suffering and increasing their vulnerability to mental illnesses like depression.
What are the treatments for unipolar depression?
Living with unipolar depression can be challenging, and receiving a diagnosis can be distressing. However, the good news is that unipolar depression is treatable. If you are experiencing symptoms, especially suicidal thoughts or self-harm, seeking prompt treatment is crucial.
When diagnosed with unipolar depression, oral treatment is often the first course of to get better. Doctors prescribe antidepressants to alleviate any symptoms. You need to talk with your doctor about this because there are side effects that will make you uncomfortable such as drowsiness and weight gain. It is also important to inform your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, as certain antidepressants may not be safe during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Psychotherapy is a successful treatment method for unipolar depression, and it’s crucial to look for a therapist who specializes in treating this condition. Finding a therapist you can trust and feel at ease with is also essential. Work with someone who recognizes and acknowledges your emotions and provides a safe space for you to express them.
Types of psychotherapies include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
A type of psychotherapy that helps patients learn how their thoughts and beliefs are connected to their emotions and behaviors. The therapist works with the patient to develop new ways of thinking that can help them cope with difficult or stressful situations.
In psychodynamic therapy, a therapist will encourage the patient to freely talk about their thoughts and feelings, with the aim of uncovering unconscious processes that may be influencing their behavior. Through this process of conversation, the patient can gain insight into how their past experiences and emotions are affecting their current behavior and thought patterns. The therapist may also analyze patterns that arise during the conversation, in order to help the patient develop new ways of coping with their emotions and behaviors.
A type of psychotherapy that explores how a patient’s relationships with others affect their mental health and happiness . The central premise of this approach is that one’s psychological problems are influenced by the quality of their personal relationships. The therapist helps the patient identify and work through issues related to their relationships with others, such as unresolved conflicts or difficulty expressing emotions.
In addition to oral treatments and therapy, adopting positive lifestyle changes can also be helpful in managing the symptoms of unipolar depression. Making small adjustments to daily habits can go a long way toward improving mental health and the ability to cope with life’s situations.
Getting Adequate Sleep
Most people require at least 8 hours of sleep to maintain a positive mood and sufficient energy levels. If experiencing difficulty sleeping, consult a doctor for advice on how to achieve consistent and better sleep.
Eating a Healthy Diet
Studies have found that foods rich in Vitamin B (such as whole grains, meat, legumes, and dark leafy vegetables) can have a positive effect on individuals with unipolar depression. Additionally, consuming protein-rich foods like beans and peas, lean meat, and yogurt can boost alertness and energy.
Studies have shown that exercising regularly can work just as well as antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of depression for some individuals. Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins in the brain, which have positive psychological effects, especially high-intensity exercise.
Where should you ask for help?
If you have been diagnosed with unipolar depression, it is normal to feel embarrassed or uneasy about your condition. However, you have to understand that unipolar depression is a serious mental health issue, and you are not battling it alone. Take the high road and seek help. Although living with unipolar depression can be difficult, treatment options are effective and can help you lead a fulfilling life.
Mindshift Psychological Services provides depression therapy for those with unipolar depression. You may check their website to learn more about their treatment program. You may also contact them at (714) 584-9700 to schedule an appointment.