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(Not) Like a Box of Chocolates: The Flavors of Depression

Pretty much everyone can quote Forrest Gump quoting his mom:

My mama always said life was like a box a chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

One the hand, Mr. Gump’s mama was quite right. When you open a box of assorted chocolates, you can’t be sure what’s inside each piece of candy (we would argue that looking at any sort of map included in the box is cheating). On the other hand, you do know that each piece of candy in the box falls under the category of “chocolates.”

While depression is not nearly as delicious of a topic as chocolate, we think the general idea expressed by Forrest’s mother can be applied metaphorically to the mental health disorder.

Here’s the metaphor: If you were to open a box labeled “assorted depressions,” you would find a collection of different mental health disorders that are similar in some ways and different in others. 

Let’s consider some of the many varieties of depression.

First Flavor: Major Depressive Disorder

Two primary symptoms indicate that you might be suffering from major depression. The first is persistent feelings of sadness occurring most of the time for most of the week. The second is losing your enjoyment of activities you used to find fun and pleasurable.

If you are exhibiting one or both of those symptoms, your doctor will ask you about several other indicators of major depression:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Sleepiness or a lack of energy during the day 
  • Feelings of restlessness or agitation
  • A sense of having slowed down physically and/or mentally
  • Trouble maintaining your concentration or making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

As a rule of thumb, your doctor will be looking to see if you have one or both of the key indicators of major depression and any combination of the other symptoms, totaling five, that you have experienced on most days for at least two weeks.

Care for major depressive disorder may include antidepressant medications, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Generally, the combination of medication and therapy is thought to be most effective.

Second Flavor: Persistent Depressive Disorder

When it came to describing the markers of major depression disorder, we were talking about fairly short periods of time: Have you been experiencing symptoms of the disorder for at least two weeks?

When it comes to persistent depressive disorder, a much longer timeline is in play. The diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder is generally made when a person has been experiencing symptoms of depression for two years or longer.

Persistent depressive disorder comes in two flavors of its own—mild (also known as dysthymia) and major—but the reality is that individuals experience the disorder at different levels of intensity (and that level of intensity can wax or wane over time).

Care for those with persistent depressive disorder is similar to that for major depression. A combination of medication and talk therapy is considered the most effective treatment.

Third Flavor: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Have you noticed that in general you feel more blue and less energetic during the portions of the year when there is less sunlight? It is possible you are just responding to colder weather or to the stresses of the holiday season.

But it is also possible you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder. This variety of depression is related to your levels of vitamin D, which is generally provided by sunlight. The darker portions of the year can impact your vitamin D levels, so your doctor may recommend bundling up and getting outside as much as you can, taking a vitamin D supplement, seeking out foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D (these include salmon, tuna, egg yolks, beef liver, and more), and/or acquiring a light box that can simulate sunlight indoors.

No Matter the Flavor of a Depressive Disorder, We Can Help

We have only covered three flavors of depressive disorders in this blog entry, and so we may return to our metaphorical depression sampler in a future piece. (Though we acknowledge that three is probably plenty when it comes to a box of depression varieties—and not nearly enough when it comes to a box of chocolates.)

In the meantime, however, our message is straightforward and easy to digest: No matter what mental health disorder you are dealing with, Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health in Colorado can help. We offer personalized care dipped in empathy and expertise—and we would be happy to share that delicious combination with you.

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