Depression Disorder Assessment and Therapy Techniques
What is a depression disorder?
Everyone experiences periods of time when we feel less-than-great. Part of life is experiencing negative emotions, sadness, loneliness or grief. Unlike short periods of depression, major depression (or clinical depression) occurs when negative feelings and symptoms occur daily and for long periods of time, or they start to interfere with your everyday life, relationships or work.
This kind of depression is a type of mood disorder—mood disorders are a class of mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), which is a tool used by psychologists, psychiatrists and some social workers to identify and diagnose mental health conditions.
The good news is that depression is very effectively treated with therapy and/or medication.
Depression can impact how we think and feel, our personal life, and our ability to complete and enjoy day-to-day activities. A 2012 report by Statistics Canada found that 11.3% of Canadians 15 and older identified symptoms of depression. Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) surveyed the mental health of Canadians in December 2020 and found that 22% of respondents reported they were diagnosed with depression.
Symptoms to look out for occurring daily or near-daily and for two weeks or more include:
- Sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Weight loss or gain, unintentionally
- Irritability and angry outbursts
- Lack of energy, slowed thinking or body movements
- Trouble concentrating, making decisions or memory lapses
- Unexplained pain, like back pain or headaches
- Sleep disruption, either insomnia or oversleeping
- Loss of interest in regular activities, including sex
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, ruminating on past failures
- Reccuring thoughts of death or suicide
Risk factors and causes of depression can include thyroid or hormonal imbalances, brain chemical imbalances, a family history of depression, stressful life events, medications and chronic illness, or substance abuse.
If you or someone you know may be in danger of self harm or suicide, please get help. Call 911 for emergencies or contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service hotline at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4pm to 12am ET).
When you speak to your doctor or a mental health professional, they’ll likely ask you if you’re experiencing these common symptoms of depression. This is called a screening assessment. If you answer yes to a certain number of those, they’ll likely ask you a few more questions to assess the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them.
You may also have a physical exam or have some bloodwork done to assess if your depression is a symptom of another medical condition.
There are some online tools available for self-assessment, including this one from HeretoHelp BC or this one from MyHealth Alberta. Keep in mind that these are just a guide, and a trained professional will have an educated view into this illness and will be prepared to better direct you to treatment.
Pending the outcome of your assessment and diagnosis, you may be prescribed certain medications or antidepressants, or be directed to start therapy.
There are many different types of therapy, but psychotherapy (talk therapy) is often used for depression. Psychotherapy techniques help us readjust our perspective of the world and ourselves in it to give us more control over our thoughts, emotions and actions. It’s also about building new skills to tolerate adversity, develop strong social and interpersonal skills and ease tendencies for anger or other intense emotional responses.
One of the most common forms of psychotherapy for depression, and many other mental health conditions, is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on the cycles and connection of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For a variety of reasons, people can fall into cycles of distorted or negative thinking that might be influenced by trauma, abuse, bullying or prolonged stress. Through CBT, you learn how our thoughts influence our emotions and our behaviour, and how to reframe those thoughts for more positive mental health outcomes.
Another form of psychotherapy often used for acute forms of depression is interpersonal therapy (IPT). This focuses more on our responses to our relationships with other people. This can include changes that bring new people into our life, like the birth of a child, or losing a loved one. IPT can help address immediate frustrations with those around us that may be contributing to our symptoms of depression, and help us better communicate with our friends, families, coworkers or partners.
Other types of therapies and modalities commonly used for depression include:
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)
- Mindfulness and Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Solutions-focused therapy
- Medication (through your physician and/or a psychiatrist)
- Family therapy
- Couples therapy
Therapy may also help guide you through making certain lifestyle changes that can help alleviate symptoms of depression, such as light exercise, reducing work hours, nutrition changes, etc.
Find therapists that specialize in therapy for depression on First Session.
Nicole Laoutaris is a freelance writer and adult learning professional based in the Greater Toronto Area. She specializes in educational content for brands and companies in industries such as mental health, pet health, lifestyle and wellness, cannabis, and personal finance. Nicole holds a double undergraduate degree in Communications and Film studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, and post-graduate certificate in Corporate Communications from Seneca College. She currently lives in Hamilton Ontario with her spouse and her cat.