As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, the risks of the virus, isolation, social and financial consequences of lockdowns and uncertainty about the future may be related to an increase in symptoms of depression. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia looked at the mental health of individuals during the first month of restrictions and reported a widespread change in psychological state with 26.5% of the population experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of depression (Fischer et. al., 2020). Many people use the word ‘depression’ to describe feelings of sadness or low mood. So if it is normal to feel this way sometimes what is depression and what are the symptoms of depression?
How the medical community describes symptoms of depression
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM5) and the World Health Organisation International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD11) depression is a combination of some physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms. The DSM5 defines depression not only through symptoms but also a set of strict criteria. So if you are an adult you must have at least five symptoms start and last two weeks or more: depressed mood, less interest or pleasure, weight loss, too little or too much sleep, lethargy or agitation, fatigue, worthlessness or guilt, less concentration or ability to decide, thinking of death or suicide. It must significantly lower functioning and not be caused by a substance, medical condition, other mental condition and no mania has ever occurred. It can be mild, moderate or severe (Kennedy, 2008).
● Feeling overly hungry, or loss or appetite
● Fatigue or lack of energy
● Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (eg, a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)
● Trouble falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day
● Unexplained muscle aches and pains
● Feeling anxious
● General discontent
● Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
● Mood swings
● Feeling sad or empty
● Lack of concentration or ability or think
● Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
● Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
● Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying)
● Recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan
● Feeling agitated
● Excessive crying
● Feeling irritable
● Agitation or restlessness or feeling slowed down
● Social isolation
● Suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide
Symptoms like these can manifest in many ways and people experience them differently. Many people report some of these symptoms of depression from time to time. So how can one tell the difference between time to time symptoms of depression and what the medical community defines as a “disorder?” Based on what some guides say, the difference is when enough symptoms are significant and last two weeks or more (Kanter et. al, 2008). That can be a difficult thing to determine, which is why people often seek help. Adding to the confusion is the false idea that something is innately wrong about the person’s brain, which can lead to more symptoms and become a barrier to getting help.
Overcoming symptoms of depression using Mental Training
One way to help prevent making things worse and make getting help easier is to remember that people can improve by gaining mental skills. From a medical perspective the goal is to bring the person’s physical health back to normal. The problem with that idea is that every person is different and normal for one person might not be normal for another. Further, depression is not the same sort of idea as say diabetes, where you can get a blood test to find out.
From a neuroscience view depression is a brain state, which is changing all the time. When brains get into a state of depression certain biochemical changes are taking place that can feel like being ill. In many ways it looks like the person has a malfunctioning nervous system. Neuroscience considers more than just the physical state of the brain but also the information the brain is processing. We now understand that information processing can trigger and sustain the symptoms associated with what medicine sees as depression. The good news here is that changing the information processing is something people can do with neurocognitive training, applying powerful cognitive and behavioural methods that reportedly work 83% of the time on average.
If you feel that symptoms of depression are impacting your life and you would like to learn about neurocognitive training, the team at Neurocog can help. We can help you reduce depressive symptoms with skills to improve the information issues at their core. To find out more about how we may be able to help contact us at 02 82249670 or go to our website www.neurocogsystem.com to find out more.
Fischer, R., Bortolini, T., Karl, J. A., Zilberberg, M., Robinson, K., Rabelo, A., … & Mattos, P. (2020). Rapid review and meta-meta-analysis of self-guided interventions to address anxiety, depression, and stress during COVID-19 social distancing. Frontiers in psychology, 11.
Kanter, J. W., Busch, A. M., Weeks, C. E., & Landes, S. J. (2008). The nature of clinical depression: symptoms, syndromes, and behavior analysis. The Behavior analyst, 31(1), 1–21.
Kennedy S. H. (2008). Core symptoms of major depressive disorder: relevance to diagnosis and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 10(3), 271–277.