Major Depressive Episode

What is Major Depressive Episode?

While not necessarily specific to any disorder, major depressive episodes can have catastrophic effects and can affect anyone, no matter their race, gender, financial status, or upbringing. They are characterized as ‘severe periods of decreased mood and loss of interest.’ These symptoms can be accompanied by other unique issues, including or leading to suicidal thoughts or attempts, but major depressive episodes do not always include the risk of suicide.

Major depressive episodes can last anywhere from two to four weeks, to even longer periods ranging from a few months to a year. They can strike at any time but may be triggered by traumatic events or periods of severe hyperactivity or mania. They can be caused by a number of things, including major depressive disorder and mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.

Although they are not always seriously dangerous to the person’s health, major depressive episodes can cause real harm to the sufferer’s mental and physical health. Depression can manifest as actual aches and pains, and even cause headaches, migraines, and fatigue. These physical side effects can lead to misdiagnosis, and only create more problems if treated improperly.

In order to avoid such mistakes, it is important to recognize the symptoms of a major depressive episode early and find professional medical help as soon as possible. Discovering and treating any disorders early can prevent lasting effects, and improve your quality of life exponentially.

Symptoms of Major Depressive Episode

The symptoms and signs of a depressive episode can vary from person, manifesting in two to three ways, or a mix of five or more.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • A loss of interest in things that once interested or impassioned them. Whether that includes food, art, sex, or even sports and hobbies, a person experiencing a depressive episode may drop or ignore things that previously excited them.
  • Obviously depressed mood. They might describe themselves as ‘down in the dumps’ or ‘blue’ and may seem disinterested or visibly upset for no particular reason.
  • Irritability or quick to anger. If a person who is usually slow to anger or mild mannered begins showing signs of serious irritability, it may be a sign that they are experiencing an episode.
  • Bouts of self-loathing or guilt. They may become distressed over past events or small matters that aren’t worth becoming upset over. They may blame themselves for everything, and feel worthless.
  • Both reduced appetite and heightened cravings. Depending on the person, they may be completely disinterested or even disgusted by the sight of food, or they may binge-eat and break their diets impulsively.
  • Weight loss or weight gain. Correlating with the above symptom, a depressed person may gain or lose weight. Whether or not this is noticeable depends on their eating habits, how long they’ve been depressed, or a variety of other factors.
  • Physical aches and pains. Headaches, migraines, backaches, and even sore muscles can be the result of a long-term depressive episode.
  • Fatigue or restlessness. Depressive episodes may manifest as a serious lack of energy or restlessness, which may also result in insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Trouble thinking or focusing. They may seem distant, daydreamy, or disassociated from the world around them. This can cause them to miss deadlines, put out low-quality work, or have a hard time carrying on conversations.
  • Suicidal thoughts, tendencies, or attempts on their own life. While extreme, this is a common symptom during major depressive episodes. Whether they are contemplating death in the abstract, making vague plans to take their life, or actually attempting to kill themselves, this a serious symptom that needs to be detected early.

It is important to pay close attention to anyone you may believe may be experiencing a major depressive episode, otherwise the symptoms may be passed off as normal behaviors or even overlooked. It is better to reach out to someone and be wrong than to hesitate in lending a hand to someone who needs it.

If you believe you yourself may be experiencing an episode, be critical of your own behavior, and keep a log of possible symptoms and how long they last. Seek help and support from family members or medical professionals, and do not ignore your symptoms.

Causes of Major Depressive Episode

While it has been researched thoroughly, depression is not a simple part of human health. Like many other mental health disorders, there is no definitive cause of depression. However, major depressive episodes may be a symptom of a larger issue, and once that is diagnosed, it can be easier to find and receive treatment.

Depression and depressive episodes can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, genetic predisposition, and even traumatic events or stress. There are many reasons you might develop a mood disorder, so it is important to remember that it is not a flaw or mistake that you made.

Brain chemistry plays a large part in mental health, so if there are imbalances in the chemicals of the brain, the human body and psyche are bound to suffer. A chemical imbalance can cause depression, so taking medication to supplement or suppress these chemicals may solve or reduce the issue. Genetics have also been a common reason for depression, so people with a history of depression or suicide in their family may be more prone to developing it later in their life.

Environmental factors and events can also trigger depressive disorders into manifesting, especially if the person is genetically predisposed to depression already. The death of a loved one, a traumatic event, stress, and abusive relationships can serve as ‘triggers’ for a depressive episode or disorder. From there, the issue may persist until the person seeks help to break the cycle.

Depressive episodes may be a sign of bipolar disorder. These episodes are usually preceded by an episode of mania or hypomania, which is a period of hyperactivity and euphoria. Depressive episodes are usually described as the ‘crashes’ after these ‘highs’. If you or a loved one shows signs of manic behavior before a period of depression, it is important to diagnose them accordingly to avoid confusing bipolar disorder with a much simpler case of clinical depression.

A major depressive episode can be a tell-tale symptom of major depressive disorder, or clinical depression. This disorder can disappear after a few years, last your entire life, or even fade and return during times of stress. It requires careful surveillance and treatment to avoid relapses or the risk of suicide. However, it is not a death sentence, and many people live happy lives once they’ve found a treatment program that works best for them.

Treatments for Major Depressive Episode

There are many treatments for both bipolar disorder and clinical depression, many of which have been successful in helping people retake their lives and begin their journey towards recovery. From therapy to medication to both, there are a number of ways to eliminate or control major depressive episodes.

There are five types of antidepressants, the most common being SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These medications are widely prescribed, since they have few side effects and are considered ‘safe’. If you are just starting antidepressants, it is likely that they prescribed you this first.

If a patient doesn’t respond well to SSRIs, the doctor may move on to prescribe other types of antidepressants, including SNRIs and MAOIs, as well as tricyclic forms of antidepressants. These medications can have more severe side effects. In the case of MAOIs, they can even have serious interactions with certain types of food and medicines, but they are usually the last resort if SSRIs stagnate or worsen the recovery progress of the patient.

Finding the right medication can be a process. The effectiveness of some medications can depend on genetics, so if a family member reacted well to a certain kind of medication, you may get the same results. However, there are other variables that determine your reaction to medications, so this method is not foolproof. It is also important to remember that some antidepressants may worsen your condition if you do not react well to them. If your symptoms begin to worsen or you begin having suicidal thoughts, stop taking the medication immediately and get in touch with your doctor.

If you plan to quit your medication or switch to a new one, speak to your doctor and family members before making any serious decisions. Abruptly ending a medication can have negative effects on your health, both mental and physical. Don’t make any impulsive decisions, and always make sure to get a professional opinion.

It is also wise to avoid ‘alternative’ medications or natural remedies if your diagnosis is severe or you are already taking a prescription drug. Discuss any outside medications before you begin taking them, just in case they have the potential to interact with your current medications. If your drugs interact negatively, you may experience worsening symptoms, illness, or even more pressing issues.

Aside from medications, therapy is a great outlet. Therapists and psychologists can help you learn important coping methods, the symptoms of oncoming episodes, and help you find the answers when it comes to your disorder.

Learning to predict depression ‘lows’ with critical thinking and therapy can be a very big first step in learning to control episodes if you do end up lapsing into one. Coping methods can be used to combat any negative thoughts, and a healthy diet, sleeping schedule, and social life can reduce the symptoms of a depressive episode. While it doesn’t completely eliminate the episode, it can negate any further damage and prevent the episode from having a deep effect on your life.

Prevention of Major Depressive Episode

Like there is no definite cause for major depressive episodes, there are no real ways to ‘prevent’ developing a depressive mood disorder. They are unpredictable and can happen to anyone, so it is better to recognize symptoms early and find a diagnosis before you are seriously impacted. The sooner you begin setting up solutions and outlets, the less likely you are to be negatively impacted by a mood disorder.

With the proper rounds of medication, therapy, and coping methods, any disorder can be controlled and monitored. Clinical depression or bipolar disorder does not have to be a defining factor of your personality, and it does not have to control your life. Reach out to your family, friends, and doctors, and find help. Your major depressive episodes do not define who you are, and many people with depression have gone on to be extremely successful.

If you believe that a loved one may be suffering from a depressive episode, reach out to them and let them know that they can find help. Recovery may be slow, but learning to cope and live with a mood disorder can lead to a long, happy, healthy life.

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Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2017
Last Updated:
September 18, 2017
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