Part 2: How Long Do Depressive Episodes Last?
Welcome to my second of three blog post that attempts to answer the question, “How long do depressive episodes last?”
If you missed my first blog post, head over to it now… and stay tuned to my next post about how long depression can last.
Today, I’ll be examining the underlying causes of depression.
The underlying causes are critical to know because the causes will likely impact the duration of depression and the course of treatment you should seek.
Common Causes of Depression Include:
- Drug Use: Unfortunately a history of heavy substance use may bring on depressive disorders.
- The Brain: Yep! If you have a smaller hippocampus or underactive frontal lobe, you are inherently more susceptible to depression. Researchers aren’t sure if this is because depression causes these areas of the brain to shrink or if they were small to begin with. It’s a chicken or egg issue… and it hasn’t been figured out quite yet!
- Hormones: Hormones did not come to play nice with us ladies! If you are a woman, do not rule out depression that is triggered by hormonal changes- be it PMS, pregnancy, post-partum, or menopause.
- Menopause: Yes, I know I just mentioned it above but I wanted to highlight it! Post-partum depression is a well-known issue. Most women don’t realize that during peri-menopause, hormones can cause havoc! It can manifest as depression or anxiety… but it is extremely common… yet hidden in plain sight… now you know… so be on the lookout!
- Chronic Health Conditions: If you have chronic pain or a health condition that may never go away, it can be very difficult. You may have lost hope or get overwhelmed with grief. It is unsuprising that this can be a cause of depressive symptoms!
- Your environment:
- Have you experienced extreme poverty?
- Witnessed or experienced a traumatic event?
- Were you socially isolated all through COVID? Experiences such as these make a person more susceptible to depression.
- Family history: Has a 1st degree relative struggled with depression? If so, you may be more susceptible than your friend that doesn’t have a family history of depression. While it’s a bummer if it is the case, it also gives you some clues of how you can effectively manage depression. You can call upon your family member to learn what has worked and hasn’t worked in helping them keep their depression at bay!
- Medications: There are some common medications that can lead to depressive symptoms. Take for example some blood pressure meds and sleeping aids have been known to bring on depressive symptoms. If your depression came on shortly after you started a new medication, make sure to check with a (super knowledgable and often underutilized) pharmacist or doctor.
- Cognitive Distortions: This is a fancy term that means your thoughts don’t quite line up with reality. In other words, you are looking at the glass half empty. Here’s what you need to know: how you view the world matters.. Turns out being chronically critical of yourself or others is not so good for your mental health. If your self-talk is negative and pessimistic, you are more likely to experience recurrent depressive symptoms.
Let’s say you check the box for one of the causes of depression listed above...
What can you do?
I’d strongly suggest seeking guidance from your physician first.
Before you head over to your friendly physician, it’s in your best interest to track your depressive symptoms.
You may want to jot down:
- The onset of your symptoms
- Day-to-day symptom severity
- Duration of the symptoms
- What you have done that improves the symptoms (it may be as simple as going out to lunch with a friend lifted your spirits for a half hour!)
- What time of day are the symptoms the worst?
- When are you symptom-free or are the symptoms less severe?
We’ve looked at the causes of depression.
Now I’d like to turn our attention to the types of depression you are experiencing!
To answer the question, “How long do depressive episodes last?” it’s essential to know the different types of depression!
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
This is the type of depression that comes to mind when someone says they have “depression.”
In order for it to be diagnosed with MDD, it has to continuously last at least two weeks.
- A low mood
- You have a loss of interest in activities of daily living (for example, at its worst, brushing your teeth or showering may seem like an insurmountable task.)
- You have little to no energy
- You feel bad about yourself.
Here’s what you need to know: If you start treatment for MDD shortly after your symptoms start, you will increase the likelihood that you will recover and potentially prevent future episodes!
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
This diagnosis is given to you if you suffer from more mild depressive symptoms for a minimum of 2 years.
It’s great that it’s less severe… but it is something that lasts a longer period of time than MDD typically lasts.
Here’s what you need to know about PDD:
The symptoms of PDD are less severe than other types of depression. This means that it can often easily go undetected and undiagnosed!
Symptoms of PDD include:
- Low energy levels
- Disengaged from life at times
- Low self-worth
Perinatal/Postpartum Depression (PPD)
As the name indicates, this is depression that occurs around the time of pregnancy. It can be during the pregnancy or up to a year post-pregnancy.
Common symptoms of PPD include:
It has been shown that support from friends and family can shorten the duration of PDD!
Seasonal Affective Disorder
As I’m writing this, there is snow on the ground and it is dark outside… it’s only 5:58 PM.
(How on earth is it sooooo dark soooooo early???)
For SAD, pay attention to your mood and energy levels during the days of the year that are the shortest.
This info would be key to share with your friendly physician.
Bipolar got its name because people with the disorder experience extreme mood shifts: one being depression the other being mania… in other words, their moods are at two ends (or poles) of a spectrum.
If you have extreme energy (mania must last for at least 4 days) followed by lingering depression, it would be time to consider bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. However, with the support of your physician, it can be very manageable.
Are you feeling depressed, maybe it’s time to give therapy a go!