For example, the prednisone roller coaster is both physical and emotional. The ups and downs often have patterns and triggers, and these are not always predictable. The mere fact of having an illness can lead to depression, with or without side effects from medications.
Psychologists have been called “an angry bunch of shrinks” (Newsweek, December 2013) because of their collective response to new and unsettling upcoming changes in current diagnostic criteria and standards. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychological Association has been the “bible” of the psychiatric profession for more than a decade, with the new version (DSM-V) going into effect in October 2015. The physicians’ ICD-10 (or International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) will also be issued at that time.
In this article I will review some current diagnoses and criteria related to depression. With the aforementioned changes more than a year away, now is a good time to go over the diagnostic criteria for depression as outlined by the DSM and ICD standards. Lenore Sawyer Radloff’s Screening Test for Depression (see p. 17) can be used to monitor your own symptoms and patterns.
One mood disorder in the current DSM-IV is simply called “Mood Disorder Due to ____________.” The blank is filled in with a specific general medical condition, such as pemphigus vulgaris. The diagnosis may develop into a clinical depression over time, which has a different etiology. The diagnostic criteria for these generic mood disorders include:
A prominent and persistent disturbance in mood predominates in the clinical picture and is characterized by either (or both) of the following: Depressed mood or markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities. Elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.
There is evidence from the history, physical examination, or laboratory findings that the disturbance is the direct physiological consequence of a general medical condition.
The disturbance is not better accounted for by another mental disorder so as to distinguish this general mood disorder from “Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood” in response to the stress of having a general medical condition, another clinical diagnosis.
The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of a delirium.
The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or important areas of functioning.
Common symptoms of depression look different in each circumstance and with each individual. A diagnosis may be given if there is a prominent and persistent disturbance in mood that predominates in the clinical picture, and it is further characterized by five or more of the following:
Persistent feelings of sadness
Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
Poor or increased appetite
Weight loss or weight gain
Anxiety, restlessness and agitation
Inertia: feeling “slowed down” or low in energy
Tearfulness or an inability to cry
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Loss of interest in sex and other normal activities
Difficulty functioning at work, at home and/or in social situations
Suicidal thoughts or passive thoughts of death.
Ill people will often try to hide their symptoms until they lose the energy necessary to keep up the act. After all, the last thing most people want is more prescription medications or treatments. This is more so when their bodies have already “betrayed” them and medications are necessary just to not get sicker. It is important to understand what is happening emotionally and to get a proper diagnosis. With a diagnosis can come appropriate treatment.
The simple 20-question screening test for depression can be self-administered. I often recommend that anyone who is concerned or has symptoms they do not understand make copies and re-test themselves roughly every two weeks. This particular screen looks at the feelings and thoughts for the previous seven days, so you could use it weekly if you wanted to.
I often use this tool as a handout at presentations. Patients (and caregivers) usually come up to me and express surprise at how many statements they have endorsed. Many have no idea these particular feelings and thoughts were actually signs of depression. As I noted above, with diagnosis there is treatment.
My philosophy is to refer patients to a knowledgeable psychiatrist for evaluation for possible psychotropic medication. The psychotherapy component may be a fairly short-term cognitive-behavioral model, or a more lengthy psychodynamic approach. The bottom line is that everyone is unique, and no one needs to feel worse than absolutely necessary. For some people this means medication, especially in the beginning, or more frequent therapy appointments. The doctor will monitor and make changes as necessary. Having said that, the sooner the emotional diagnosis and the sooner treatment begins, the better and faster the positive effects will be in stopping any potential downward spirals.
It is often easier to speak with a professional than with someone in your personal network. The key is to identify any problem areas and to address them, not just put on a band-aid when emotional surgery is necessary.