If a case of depression does not go into remission by itself within a month, research indicates that, without treatment, it goes on for at least another six months (or longer) in three out of four cases. For many, depression can come and go for years and decades, and become a lifetime struggle.
Leaving it untreated will make it worse. How your depression will ultimately develop is highly individual, and impossible to predict, but a few common complications include:
- Increased intensity of suffering.
- Worsening of related physical symptoms.
- Greater physical pain.
- Increased risk of suicide.
- Career damage/loss of work.
- Damage to relationships.
Depression is a mental illness that grows progressively if not checked through treatment. For example: recent research shows that the added stress and mental anguish experienced through long-term depression affects the heart, often increasing the risk of heart failure at a similar rate to alcohol and tobacco. When compounded with these drugs, the risk rises severely.
Similarly, the mental risk of depression is considerable. Depression is cyclical and feeds off the negativity it generates. It also produces a mindset that makes it harder and harder to meet financial, social, familial, and career obligations – and if left untreated or unrecognized, the damage it causes further deepens the pain it produces.
Depression treatment is a wrench thrown into the cycle. Thrown in soon enough, it allows a doctor and patient to work on preventing further damage. The longer it takes to address a case of depression, the harder it can be. But that does not mean any given case is hopeless. Treatment is never hopeless. Symptoms can always improve, given the right treatment and enough time, patience, and support.
Depression Affects Body and Mind
More than just a disease of feeling bad, depression is a pervasive illness that affects the mind as it does the body. Because the two are connected, it’s important not to forget that as we struggle mentally, our physical state is attacked as well. People with depressive symptoms were also shown to be more susceptible to feelings of physical pain and struggled with weaker immune systems.
Again, depression’s cyclical nature rears its head here as well. As the body gets weaker in the fight against physical illness, it begins to struggle with an increased rate of things like the common cold and a case of the flu. These symptoms further put a dampener on a person’s mood, kill any physical motivation, and can leave them bedridden, worsening depressive thoughts and feelings.
Depression has also been shown to:
- Decrease a person’s sex drive.
- Lower their appetite, causing weight loss and associated health issues.
- Lead to stress eating, causing weight gain and associated health issues.
- Lead to insomnia and restlessness, cutting into both cognitive and physical function.
- Cause chronic fatigue, and a lack of interest in former hobbies and physical exercise.
The brain is linked to the body, and much of what goes on in the brain has a deep effect on our physical state – especially in the cases of neurotransmission and hormone regulation. Depression can be caused by, and often is related to the neurotransmitter serotonin, as well as fluctuating hormone levels. Serotonin, alongside mood regulation, also plays a role in sex drive and sleep, causing insomnia and other problems. Fluctuations in weight can be very difficult for the body, placing a toll on its organs. Lack of exercise as well as continuously elevated stress hormones can affect the heart negatively.
Again, this all feeds back into the depression – as your physical state worsens, you feel worse. Pain becomes a daily plague, and the feeling of being helpless or ‘put out of commission’ further feeds depressive thoughts.
In some cases, these physical symptoms are thought to be signs of aging rather than the potential physical side-effects of a depressive disorder. This can cause cases of depression to slip under the radar as someone is quick to point to aging as a possible cause. The same goes with weight gain, which may be seen as the cause of depression, rather than a symptom of it. While obesity and depression are certainly linked, many patients struggling with weight issues as a result of their depression cannot work on losing their weight without first addressing their mental health.
Depression Treatment Treats the Patient, Not the Disease
It has been said time and time again: treat the patient, not the disease. While depression can be defined as a set of symptoms, a person is more than that. Their experiences and issues with depression will be unique, and their treatment must match these unique challenges.
Depression treatment takes this into consideration. An antidepressant that may work for one patient may not work for another, for a variety of reasons including genetics. In some cases, no pill will work. That is why alternatives exist, including successful and non-invasive treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation. Therapy is important as well, and therapists work hard to adapt their knowledge and experience to each patient. By molding the treatment around the patient, depression can be more effectively treated.
Depression Treatment Takes Time
When something takes long, it’s best to get started sooner rather than later. The best time to start depression treatment when you feel you’re depressed (or have been diagnosed previously) is right now. There is no ‘too late’ and no ‘too early’ – but it’s important to recognize the role that patience plays in helping someone work through their depression and find ways to combat it.
An ancient Greek philosopher once stated that, just as a single swallow doesn’t signal the start of summer, one day of happiness doesn’t constitute a happy life. Then just as now, the virtue of patience is an important one. There will be good days and bad days. And you may still find yourself having bad days now and again for many years to come. But treatment is about helping people find the best ways to deal with bad days, survive them, and live on to experience and relish in the happier and brighter days as they come. Techniques like affirmations, cognitive behavioral therapy, and several different lifestyle changes can make the bad days shorter, and the good days longer.