Severe Depression: 15 Common Symptoms to Look For
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Severe Depression: 15 Common Symptoms to Look For

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Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder. The term “severe depression” is often used to describe MDD in people who are experiencing severe symptoms. However, severe depression is not a clinical diagnosis. 


Severe depression is more than just feeling down. It can significantly affect your life and leave you feeling like you’re navigating a storm with no end in sight. You may feel like you are carrying a heavy weight on your shoulders and even the simplest tasks feel like climbing Mount Everest. Severe depression can make it hard for you to find pleasure in things you usually enjoy and everyday life can feel like fighting an uphill battle. If you struggle with this condition, you aren’t alone. Approximately 21 million adults were estimated to have experienced at least one episode of major depression in 2021. 


Factors contributing to severe depression


Severe depression doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, no matter their age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. Also, people who haven’t been diagnosed with MDD can still experience severe depression symptoms.


Depression is a complex condition that can have various degrees of severity. It can occur as a symptom of other mental health disorders or in response to specific life events.


Depression’s exact cause is not fully understood. However, certain factors can increase your likelihood of developing severe symptoms of this mental health condition:


  • Trauma and stress — Going through a traumatic event, chronic stress or a major life change can increase the severity of MDD symptoms. 


  • Chronic health conditions — Your mental health can be affected by your physical health. Dealing with conditions like chronic pain or cancer can make it more difficult for you to manage MDD symptoms. One result of this increased difficulty may be an increase in symptom severity. 



  • Hormonal factors — Hormonal changes can influence your mood and increase your risk of depression. For instance, hormones released in response to stress, like cortisol, can impact mood and worsen symptoms of depression. Chronic stress and dysregulation of the stress response system can contribute to the severity of depressive symptoms. Other hormonal change events that can impact depression severity include: 


  • Menstruation
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)


Recognizing signs and symptoms of severe depression


Severe depression can show up in a variety of ways. It can affect your physical health. It can also manifest differently between men and women. Severe depression can showcase common signs and symptoms:


  • Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleep disturbances like insomnia or oversleeping
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Irritability, agitation or restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Chronic pain without a clear cause


Warning signs to seek immediate help


Certain symptoms can be a sign that you may be struggling with a more severe or acute form of depression. These warning sign symptoms indicate you need immediate help:


  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or delusions
  • Severe agitation or extreme lethargy
  • Substance use as a coping mechanism


Seeking help and support


Recognizing the symptoms of severe depression is crucial for timely intervention. If you or someone you know is struggling, consider taking the following steps:


  • Talk to a professional – Schedule an appointment with a health care professional, therapist or counselor for support and guidance. 


  • Be honest and open — Honestly share your thoughts, feelings and experiences with your provider. Honesty will help you receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendations that can meet your needs.


  • Consider emergency intervention — In an emergency, seek immediate help from a crisis hotline or text line, such as the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline, or an emergency room.


  • Stay engaged — It can be helpful for you to do self-care activities while you follow your treatment plan.


Treatment approaches for severe depression


Treating severe depression often involves a multifaceted approach that is tailored to your individual needs and may include:


  • Lifestyle modifications — Some lifestyle modifications can help with symptoms of depression. They can be even more beneficial when combined with other treatments. Regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet and adopting good sleep habits can all help reduce symptoms of severe depression and work well with other treatments.


  • Psychotherapy — Various forms of psychotherapy can help you identify and challenge negative thought patterns, improve coping skills, and address underlying issues contributing to your depression. Therapy forms like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and psychodynamic therapy may be used to treat depression.


  • Medications — Your health care provider may prescribe antidepressant medications to help regulate your neurotransmitter levels. These medications can help reduce depressive symptoms and improve your mood. They can also be used in tandem with therapy.


Lightfully Behavioral Health can help you cope with and reduce severe depression symptoms


At Lightfully, we use our process-based therapy to provide personalized care. 


This psychotherapy technique is a holistic clinical model that allows your therapists to treat you as a whole person, not just your severe depression symptoms. PBT uses key components from evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to treat the issues causing your distress. These integrated interventions can help with the four core processes that contribute to your severe depression. The core processes are difficulty with behaviors, relationships, thoughts and emotions. Your treatment plan will be fully customized to your unique needs. PBT can help you experience long-term, sustainable changes.

PBT is used by our clinicians at all the levels of mental health care we offer, including: 


  • Residential Treatment
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (Day Treatment Programs)
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs
  • Virtual Intensive Outpatient Programs (vIOPs) 


Change is possible. Severe depression can have a tight grip on you, but together, we can work toward you having a happier and healthier future. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team

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