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Woman struggling with symptoms of severe depression

Severe Depression

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Severe depression may be much more common than you realize. According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), about 21 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. Within that group, nearly 70% (or 14.8 million people) experienced severe impairment due to depression. When you understand how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and potential effects of severe depression, you can become better prepared to help yourself or someone that you care about.

Levels of Depression

As defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depressive disorders are characterized by the presence of a sad, irritable, or empty mood, along with physical and cognitive changes that undermine a person’s ability to function.

Common types of depression include major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and major depressive disorder with peripartum onset (which is commonly referred to as postpartum depression). The main differences among these disorders are the timing, intensity, and duration of symptoms.

For all depressive disorders, the DSM-5 also includes the following three qualifiers to identify the degree to which a person is affected by their symptoms: 

  • Mild– This indicates that a person has close to the minimal number of symptoms that are required for a diagnosis. The symptoms of mild depression are distressing but manageable, and they usually cause minimal disruption to a person’s ability to function.
  • Moderate – People who have moderate depression will develop more symptoms, and these symptoms will be more extreme than what a person with mild depression experiences. They will find it more difficult to function, but the impact will not be debilitating.
  • Severe – A person who has severe depression will have many more symptoms than are necessary for a diagnosis of a depressive disorder. These symptoms will be difficult to manage, and they will have a significant negative effect on the individual’s ability to function without proper treatment.

What is Severe Depression?

As we noted in the previous section, the DSM-5 establishes the following three criteria for severe depression:

  • Substantially more symptoms than must be present for a person to be diagnosed with depression
  • Intense, unmanageable symptoms
  • Drastic functional disruption

People who have severe depression may be affected in the following ways:

  • They find it extremely difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
  • No matter how much sleep they get, they are exhausted.
  • They lack the energy and motivation to perform basic tasks such as showering, brushing their hair, or taking out the trash.
  • They cannot focus, concentrate, or even follow simple conversations.
  • They are unable to experience joy, pleasure, or happiness.
  • They are overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
  • They have recurring thoughts of death and dying, which may include suicidal ideation.

What Causes Severe Depression?

There is no single cause of severe depression, but internal and external factors such as the following can increase a person’s risk:

  • Significant loss, such as the death of a loved one or being unexpectedly fired from a job
  • History of untreated trauma
  • Ongoing exposure to high amounts of stress
  • Developing a serious illness
  • Variations in genetics, changes in brain chemistry, or other biological influences

Dangers of Severe Depression

Severe depression can have a profound negative effect on a person’s physical, psychological, and social well-being. The following are examples of the many potential dangers of untreated severe depression:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Declining health due to poor self-care
  • Onset of co-occurring mental illnesses
  • Social isolation
  • Self-harm and/or suicide

How to help someone with severe depression

How Can Severe Depression be Treated? 

Treatment for severe depression typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Medication may be able to alleviate some of the more distressing symptoms of depression. In addition, therapy can help people develop vital strategies for managing their remaining symptoms, coping with stress, responding to conflicts, and addressing other challenges.

At treatment centers in the Montare Behavioral Health network, the therapeutic component of treatment for severe depression may include elements such as these:

  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
  • Neurofeedback
  • Holistic services

Depression treatment can occur at multiple levels, including inpatient and outpatient programming. As we will explain in the next section, for many people with depression, inpatient treatment is a necessary first step. 

Benefits of Inpatient Treatment for Severe Depression

Here are a few of the many reasons why inpatient treatment can be beneficial for people who have severe depression:

  • Safety and supervision – People who struggle with severe depression may be at increased risk for self-harm and suicide. When a person is in an inpatient treatment program for depression, they will receive round-the-clock care and supervision from a team of professionals who are committed to keeping them safe.
  • Stabilization – Inpatient treatment for severe depression is typically a short-term experience, with the goal of helping people achieve stabilization. The services that are provided at the inpatient level can ease a patient’s distress and improve their functional capabilities, so they can either return to their homes or step down to a lower level of care. 
  • Skilled professionals – Given the seriousness of the concerns that can prompt people to seek inpatient treatment, these programs are staffed by skilled professionals who have significant training and considerable experience.  
  • Aftercare support – Aftercare support is a vital component of effective inpatient care for depression. Before a patient transitions out of treatment, they and their family will receive a discharge plan to guide their continued progress. 

Begin Treatment for Severe Depression in Los Angeles, CA

Montare Behavioral Health offers several treatment options for people in the Los Angeles area who have been living with severe depression. Our centers are safe spaces where skilled professionals provide personalized care and comprehensive support. At Montare Behavioral Health, we understand how devastating untreated depression can be. We also know how much better life can become when you get the help you need. Contact us today to learn more.