What Is Crippling Depression?

Crippling Depression

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Although not a formal clinical term, when clinical depression or major depressive disorder presents as so severe that a person is no longer able to complete basic life tasks such as getting up and going to work every day, or even just taking a shower, it is sometimes referred to as crippling depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 7.1% of adults in the United States will experience at least one major depressive episode in their lives. Crippling depression is not an uncommon state of being. Unfortunately, knowing you aren’t alone doesn’t necessarily make dealing with the debilitating impacts of this condition any easier. 

This article details the symptoms and causes of crippling depression, types, and how it's diagnosed and treated.

Crippling Depression Symptoms

Everyone experiences the occasional down day or period of sadness. But crippling depression is much more than that. Its symptoms can impact both your mood and your physical health. Untreated clinical depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

Symptoms That Impact Mood and Thought Processes

A person struggling with crippling depression may experience many of the following:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness and/or anxiousness
  • Feeling empty and alone
  • Struggling with hopelessness and seeing every situation pessimistically
  • Trouble enjoying activities that used to bring pleasure
  • Irritability and less patience with others
  • Constantly feeling worthless and like a burden to those around you
  • A decrease in concentration
  • An inability to make decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation or slowing
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms That Impact Overall Health and Wellness

Crippling depression isn’t just a disorder of the mind. Symptoms can manifest physically as well: 

  • Low energy
  • Sleeping all the time or struggling to sleep
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Headaches
  • Body pains
  • Digestive issues

These symptoms vary among individuals, but general appetite and sleep changes are very common among those dealing with crippling depression.

Diagnosis

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines a major depressive episode as any period of two weeks or more where a person experiences the following nearly every day for most of the day:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities that previously brought pleasure
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite changes
  • Decrease in concentration and memory

A diagnosis of major depressive disorder is typically made by a practicing medical physician or psychiatrist. A physical exam and lab tests may be performed to rule out potential physical conditions that could be contributing to the observed symptoms, such as a thyroid disorder.

Causes

Research has found a high level of heritability for depression, particularly severe cases of depression. It is estimated that approximately 50% of crippling depression cases may be linked to a genetic predisposition.

Still, genetics are not the only potential risk factor for developing crippling depression. In fact, NIMH identifies four main categories that can increase a person’s risk of depression:

  1. Genetic
  2. Biological
  3. Environmental
  4. Psychological

Crippling depression does not discriminate by age, gender, race or ethnicity. It can occur in adults who have never previously dealt with depression or in teenagers who have extensive family histories of depression.

It can be a common comorbidity of serious medical disorders (e.g, cancer or chronic conditions like diabetes) as well as a response to traumatic life events.

Major life changes can act as a trigger to crippling depression, and so can certain medications or heightened levels of stress.

Types

There are several forms of depressive disorders which can lead to an episode of crippling depression:

  • Persistent depressive disorder: Otherwise referred to as dysthymia, this form of depression is marked by symptoms of depression lasting two or more years.
  • Postpartum depression or major depressive disorder with peripartum onset: Depression that develops during pregnancy or after giving birth that can result in extreme anxiety or exhaustion and may make it difficult for a new parent to bond with or care for their babies, let alone themselves.
  • Psychotic depression or major depressive disorder with psychotic features: Depression combined with symptoms of psychosis, to include delusions and hallucinations.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern: Depression that usually develops during the winter months in response to less daylight.
  • Bipolar disorder: A person who experiences extreme highs and lows in moods, with those lows resulting in major depressive episodes.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD): A type of mood disorder diagnosed in childhood, presenting as extreme periods of irritability and anger.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): More serious than premenstrual syndrome (PMS), but similarly triggered by changes in the menstrual cycle, PMDD can result in severe symptoms of irritability, depression, and anxiety in the week prior to the menstrual cycle starting.

Treatment

Depending on the type of depression you might be experiencing, there are a variety of treatment options to help you overcome a period of crippling depression.

Psychotherapy

You might have heard of psychotherapy being referred to as “talk therapy” in the past. This type of therapy involves you working with a licensed mental health professional to talk through what you are experiencing and to formulate solutions that can help.

There are several different psychotherapy approaches including:

While some approaches are generally recognized as being more effective than others, psychotherapy as a whole is the most commonly prescribed form of treatment for depression—even when other treatment options (such as medication) are also used.

This is because of the vast amounts of research that recognize psychotherapy as being an effective treatment tool in the battle against depression.

Medication

Antidepressants can help to alter your brain chemistry so that you are better able to regulate your mood and stress response. There are five major classes of antidepressants available, though you are likely most familiar with these two classes:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Not all antidepressants will work for every patient struggling with crippling depression, and some can come with side effects such as nausea, weight gain, and trouble achieving orgasm.

You may need to work with your doctor to find the right antidepressant for you. But for patients who are able to find a medication that helps, the results can be life-changing.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Today’s electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is nothing like what you may have seen portrayed in television and movies from previous time periods. ECT now is painless (patients are anesthetized before treatment) and can be an extremely effective treatment option for patients who have not been able to achieve results with medication or psychotherapy.

It may sound scary at first, but if you’ve been struggling with crippling depression for a long period of time, it is absolutely worth discussing with your doctor.

Self-Care

There are a lot of self-care practices that can help you to deal with a period of crippling depression, and may include:

  • Daily exercise
  • Meditation
  • Spending time with friends and loved ones
  • Volunteering
  • Starting a gratitude journal
  • Joining a support group

If you are currently dealing with a bout of crippling depression, partaking in any of these activities probably sounds impossible. But if you can force yourself to try, and if you can avoid isolating, you may find you experience a gradual improvement in mood over time.

Coping

There is nothing easy about dealing with crippling depression. And if you have a job or kids to take care of, it can feel even more debilitating as you struggle to keep up with your daily responsibilities.

Coping with life while you try to overcome this depressive episode may seem impossible, but committing to treatment and doing what you can each day can help. Reaching out to people you love and letting them know what you are dealing with and what you may need from them can also mean getting necessary support.

You deserve to live a happy and healthy life. You are not alone. And you won’t always feel this way.

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