Major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression or major depression, is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, MDD affects more than 14 million American adults each year—that’s about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18. Also, MDD is the leading cause of disability for Americans ages 15 to 44. If you have MDD, you do not have to suffer alone.
Recognizing and treating depression is seldom a simple task, but don’t become discouraged. A key aspect in evaluating the success of your treatment is measuring how well your symptoms and any side effects are being controlled. Furthermore, even if you or a loved one are sticking with the treatment plan for depression, you may still experience any number of residual symptoms, including risk of suicide and functional impairment. Find out what to look for and the questions you should be asking your doctor.
Are you seeing the right doctor?
Primary care doctors can diagnose depression and prescribe medications. However, some people may need to see a health-care provider who specializes in treating mental health conditions. These providers include psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health counselors.
Are you using only one form of treatment?
Most patients will see the biggest results when their depression treatment consists of both medication and psychotherapy. If your doctor is using only one type of treatment or medication and you feel that your condition is not being treated thoroughly, ask about adding the second portion to increase your chances of success and recovery.
Do you have unresolved symptoms?
The goal of treatment for depression isn’t to relieve some symptoms—the ultimate goal is to relieve all symptoms. If you have any lingering symptoms of depression (see the list here) talk to your doctor about them and how your treatment plan can be adjusted to alleviate the problems.
Has your sleep pattern changed?
An irregular sleep pattern is one of the first signs that your depression isn’t being treated correctly. For most people with depression, insomnia (difficulty getting enough sleep) is the biggest problem. However, some people feel as if they cannot get enough sleep, despite many hours of sleep each day. If your sleep pattern is changing, or you begin having renewed sleep problems, talk with your doctor about your treatments.
Have you considered suicide?
If you have thought about suicide, or a loved one has expressed thoughts of taking his or her life, get help right away. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide are depressed or have another mental health disorder. Contact a health-care professional, or seek help from a mental health provider. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433). It is a toll-free, 24-hour hot line staffed by trained counselors.
Are you having complications associated with untreated depression?
Depression, if left untreated, can have a serious impact on a person and his or her family. Untreated depression can affect every area of a person’s life—from relationships to jobs, emotional well-being to physical health. If depression is left untreated or is not treated correctly, these complications may arise:
- alcohol abuse
- substance abuse
- family conflicts or relationship problems
- work- or school-related problems
- social isolation or difficulty building and maintaining relationships
- premature death
Are you using the correct medication?
Several different types of medicines are used to treat depression. Antidepressants are typically categorized by which chemicals in the brain they affect. Most depression treatment requires both psychotherapy and medication in order to be successful, but finding the right medication may take some time as you and your doctor work through the various categories of antidepressants, watching to see what, if any, side effects you experience.