When individuals suffer from depression it can be difficult for them to do anything at all. Basic self-care habits like brushing their teeth, showering, and even eating get lost in the haze of mental illness. As a result, any responsibilities may seem daunting no matter how hard someone struggling with depression may want to accomplish them.
Depression and executive functioning don’t exist in the same realm when someone can barely find the strength to get through the day. Simple decisions and tasks may send people in this situation over the edge.
Although mental illness is a health condition, just like any other, it’s invisible. Employers, significant others, friends, as well as family members may mistake executive dysfunction and depression as plain disrespect. Getting executive dysfunction treatment at the onset of symptoms can help avoid this situation.
Understanding Depression and Executive Functioning
In order to understand the link between depression and executive functioning, it’s essential to understand what they both mean. A deeper understanding of executive dysfunction and depression can help shed light on why they often co-occur together.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that affects an alarming amount of people in the United States. While some may think that it just makes people sad, it’s so much more than that. Depressive episodes can change a person’s brain chemistry permanently, and push them to engage in self-destructive ways.
Other names for depression include clinical depression and major depressive disorder. What may surprise many people is that two weeks of the following symptoms typically mean an individual is suffering from this mood disorder:
- Shirking responsibilities
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Constant intrusive thoughts
- Uncontrollable crying spells
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Becoming overly upset at criticism
- Issues with memory and concentration
- Lost interest in activities that once brought joy
- Feeling worthless, numb, or sad most of the time
- Distancing oneself from friends and family members
- Moving or talking so slowly that other people can notice it
- Feeling overwhelmed with making any decisions, no matter how simple
- Sudden and drastic change in appetite (ie: eating much less or binge eating)
The trouble with depression is that it looks different for each person experiencing it. Some individuals may display certain symptoms while others may not. Someone may look fine on the outside, but simultaneously struggling to complete basic tasks. Recognizing the signs of depression in its moderate stages can prevent it from progressing to a more severe, life-threatening stage.
What Are Executive Functions?
Executive functions are basic cognitive skills that allow people to prioritize their time and regulate their emotions. People typically start learning the cognitive skills of executive functioning in infancy and then hone them in adulthood. Executive functions help people decide how to organize their time, set priorities and manage the way that they feel overall.
Without executive functions, someone would act completely upon impulse and be mentally unable to make decisions. Examples of executive functions include time management, the ability to recall information, the ability to come up with realistic benchmarks to achieve goals, and the ability to decide on an appropriate feeling. While this may all seem like second nature to someone without a cognitive or mental illness, this isn’t the case for many individuals.
What Is Executive Dysfunction?
Executive dysfunction is when individuals struggle with one or more of the following:
- Emotional awareness
- Verbal working memory
- Planning and problem solving
- Non-verbal working memory
The list above is a loose categorization of executive functions. People on the autism spectrum or those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder typically have issues with these types of skills. This makes it particularly difficult to set and keep goals or react appropriately in some situations.
People suffering from depression will likely have some or all forms of executive dysfunction. While they may have had these skills at some point, mental illness can drastically change the way people feel and act.
The Relationship Between Depression and Executive Dysfunction
While executive dysfunction disorder isn’t an official health condition like depression, it’s certainly real. The symptoms of executive dysfunction deeply overlap with those of depression. One might even say that executive dysfunction is a symptom of depression. Coincidentally, the same parts of the brain that data suggests are abnormal when individuals experience major depressive disorder are the same in those with ADHD.
While the nature of depression isn’t understood, data suggests that there might be abnormalities with the hippocampus and amygdala. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that deals with memory and learning, especially in regard to emotional memories.
The amygdala’s role is in emotional regulation. Hence, it makes sense that depression and executive function negatively correlate. In other words, the more a person struggles with depression the more likely it is that they will struggle with executive functions.
The Danger of Depression
Executive dysfunction and depression can morph into a life-threatening illness if left untreated. In fact, depression’s nickname is the silent killer. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) estimates that around 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That translates into death by suicide every 40 seconds. This doesn’t include the number of suicide survivors.
Depression can slowly eat away at one’s days and become severe without one fully recognizing it. Getting help at the first sign of depression, even if it’s just a falter in executive function, can reduce the risk of death. It’s never a shame to get help. It is a disservice to oneself though when a person decides to forgo help. Foregoing help for one’s depression can cause a person to plow deeper into the depths of mental illness.
Executive Dysfunction Treatment
Talk Therapy for Depression and Executive Functioning
Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is a scientifically proven method of treatment to help people overcome various mental illnesses, including depression. Some of the benefits of talk therapy are that it is non-invasive and is cost-effective for most people. Also, there are different psychotherapy techniques for individuals to engage in if they find one isn’t working as it should. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are arguably the two most popular forms of talk therapy.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT originated when a psychologist examined individuals suffering from depression. What he noticed was that there was an unconscious, internal dialogue that negatively impacted patients’ mental health. The psychologist, Dr. Aaron Beck, found that helping his patients identify these self-destructive thoughts could help them overcome depression.
After identifying his patients’ negative thoughts, Dr. Aaron T. Beck had his patients combat these thoughts with realistic perspectives. During this time Beck also paid attention to what was causing his depressed patients to think such negative thoughts in the first place.
With the help of CBT, over time the moods of Beck’s patients significantly improved. This is because CBT helped Beck’s depressed patients become more mindful about indulging in negative self-talk. As CBT was originally developed with the intention of helping those suffering from depression, it’s particularly effective in helping those trying to overcome depression and executive dysfunction disorder.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
While CBT helps many individuals manage symptoms of depression, this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people that suffer from depression respond better to DBT. DBT is a form of CBT that was developed when individuals suffering from mental illness didn’t respond to CBT.
The key difference between DBT and CBT is that instead of pegging thoughts as untrue or illogical, DBT seeks to emotionally validate self-destructive thoughts. DBT helps individuals with severe mental illnesses accept intrusive thoughts without acting upon them. Essentially, there is more of an emphasis on changing behaviors in DBT instead of thoughts themselves. With time, DBT makes it easier to manage intrusive thoughts in general.
Holistic Therapy for Depression and Executive Functioning
Talk therapy alone won’t provide a permanent escape from depression and executive functioning decline. Some people with depression benefit greatly from also receiving holistic therapies.
Holistic therapies aim to heal the mind, body, and spirit through a different mode than plain, traditional therapy. Individuals involved in holistic treatment may find themselves in art or music therapy where they can use a creative outlet to release any emotional turmoil.
Holistic therapies are typically guided within a behavioral health facility but can be practiced once treatment is complete. Such therapies even provide individuals with healthy coping mechanisms to turn to when they feel like they might be slipping. Ultimately, holistic therapies are a positive way to maintain sound mental health outside of treatment.
Inpatient Executive Dysfunction Treatment
Inpatient executive dysfunction treatment allows individuals to get the help that they need within behavioral health centers. Individuals that take part in inpatient executive dysfunction treatment spend 100% of their time living at their designated rehab facilities until their treatment is complete. Inpatient executive dysfunction treatment is likely the best option for people that suffer from depression and contain issues with executive function.
Individuals in an inpatient setting will be surrounded by peers working toward the same goal. During inpatient mental health treatment, patients are able to take the full time that they need to learn the coping skills that are necessary for them to manage their emotions when treatment is over.
Outpatient Executive Dysfunction Treatment
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to take off time from work and life to take care of their mental health. That’s where outpatient mental health programs can help.
Outpatient programs allow individuals to receive some treatment each day at rehab facilities and then spend the rest of their time in their own homes and taking part in their own normal life activities. This form of care is suitable for people that are transitioning down from an inpatient form of treatment into a less intense type of mental health treatment program. Outpatient programs can also act as a form of aftercare treatment.
Montare Behavioral Health Can Help You Overcome Depression
Depression can make the easiest of tasks seem impossible and unbearable to achieve. If you’re struggling with depression, we want you to know that you’re not crazy, lazy, or incurable. Montare Behavioral Health can show you how to manage this serious illness and live life normally. Contact us now to regain the sense of stability you once felt before.