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Depressive Disorder


Depressive Disorder Information

Depressive disorder affects more than 11% of all young adults in America, and that number is growing. An even more worrying statistic is that 80% of those affected do not seek or receive treatment.

Even in states like Colorado where the access to care is reasonably good in comparison to other states, 6 out of every 10 young adults who have experienced a major depressive episode are not getting the treatment they need to get better.

A major depressive episode (MDE) is described as a serious and sometimes prolonged period of sadness during which the individual loses interest in everyday activities, and may experience suicidal thoughts as well as feelings of anxiety, emptiness, and worthlessness.

Symptoms of a major depressive episode might include:

  • Missed school
  • Inability to complete schoolwork
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Self-harm

There also may be physical symptoms present that are resistant to therapy, such as headaches, and stomachaches that don’t seem to have a direct cause.

Additionally, youth with depressive disorder are at a much higher risk of abusing or developing a dependence to drugs or alcohol. Depressed youth who can’t express what they are feeling or think that they have nowhere to go for help may turn to drugs and alcohol simply to numb their feelings. They might pick up drugs simply to feel “normal”, to help them feel like they are fitting in at school or within their social circles or to ease the anxiety of being in situations that make them uncomfortable.

Without access to treatments and therapy appropriate to depressive disorder, larger issues may develop and can include:

  • Long-term disability
  • Inability to complete school
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Child abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Obesity
  • Criminal behavior
  • Incarceration

Recognizing the symptoms of depressive disorder is just the beginning. Having access to care that is age-specific and gender-specific helps a great deal as well. Studies show that age-and-gender-specific treatment is more effective over the long-term as it minimizes the distractions and differences that arise when treatment groups are more diverse.

Treating depressive disorder

If you or your child suffers from depressive disorder, you are probably wondering about treatment, counseling, medications, and the implications of these therapies.

Depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, is treated with a combination of strategies that include:

  • Antidepressant medications
  • Psychotherapy
  • Learned coping mechanisms

Depending on the individual, any or all of these strategies may be used. It is not unusual for doctors to adjust the type and dosage of medication until a balance is reached.

Education is key

Before a course of treatment is decided, the family as well as the depressed person are educated as to what depression is and is not. There are several reasons for this: first, there is a need for the family to come together to make decisions for treatment going forward, and second, treatment is far more effective when the entire family unit is involved.

Being able to understand what the young patient is experiencing and how it affects their mood, their thoughts, their physical self, and their behavior can help a great deal.

Some of the ways that education about depressive disorder can help families include:

  • Learn about how the symptoms affect the child’s relationships, their school, and their ability to complete school assignments
  • It may illuminate other family members’ need for treatment
  • Help the family to make the home environment safer for the depressed person (restricting access to prescription medications, alcohol, etc.)
  • Clarify each person’s role in the patient’s recovery process (family, friends, teachers)
  • Learn about treatment options in greater depth
  • Learn to identify recurring symptoms

Treatment options

The treatment plan that you decide upon will consist of medication therapy and talk therapy (psychotherapy). This will largely depend on the family’s situation, their finances, and willingness to pursue treatment as well as the severity of the depression.

Mild depression is generally treated with psychotherapy alone. If symptoms do not improve over time, an antidepressant medication is usually prescribed.

Moderate to severe depression is usually treated with a combination of psychotherapy and one or more medications.

Psychotherapy may be administered through a team of mental health specialists that may include psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers, depending on the individual need. If the individual suffers from co-occurring disorders in addition to depression, a mental health professional should always be involved. Co-occurring disorders might include eating disorders, anxiety, substance abuse or addiction.

Counseling therapy for depressive disorder

The goal of treatment is to improve depressive symptoms, to lessen the impact and incidence of major depressive disorder, and to improve the patient’s day-to-day coping skills. It will also help to improve the patient’s relationships with family and friends, and improve self-confidence, essentially giving them back their life.

Learning about the nature of depression helps both patients and families to cope with the symptoms of depression, including learning how to deal with low mood, and employing various coping strategies such as encouraging productive behaviors and relationship management.

Counseling sessions usually occur in the clinician’s office, and may last from 60 to 90 minutes in duration. Families should be involved at this juncture, as it helps to reinforce coping behaviors.

Among the types of therapy that have been successful in treating depressive disorder include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), during which the individual in treatment learns to recognize their triggers and to change the negative thoughts and behaviors that come with their depression.

Interpersonal psychotherapy, which focuses on interpersonal relationships with family and friends, or possibly how to deal with major life upheaval, such as in a divorce, or with regard to other traumatic conflicts.

With regard to interpersonal therapy, parents are not invited to sit in on sessions. This is in order to provide an open, confidential environment in which the patient should feel free to discuss things that are important to them.

Cognitive therapy also seeks to change destructive or unhelpful behavior patterns that arise during depressive episodes. The greatest improvement in symptoms can be realized over an extended period, often in excess of 2-3 months or more.

Medication therapy for depressive disorder

Young adults suffering from moderate to severe depression are generally treated with one or more medications. These medicines are used to rebalance brain chemistry, suppressing the fluctuation of serotonin that lead to drastic mood swings and can cause severe depression.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is the class of drugs most commonly prescribed for young adults with depressive disorder. These include:

  • Prozac
  • Celexa
  • Luvox
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft

Patients generally respond very quickly to this type of medication, and results can be seen in as little as two weeks. Some individuals may be unable to tolerate the side effects of one drug, but may be fine with another. The doctor may make some adjustments in order to ascertain that the right drug is being used.

Side effects can range from mild to severe, and can include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hyperthermia (overheating)
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual side effects (reduced libido)

Tricyclic antidepressants are not often prescribed for children or young adults with depressive disorder as the risk for serious side effects far outweighs the benefit in this age group.

Atypical antidepressants such as Effexor, Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, and Pristiq are the next line of defense if SSRIs are ineffective. Developed to treat combination depressive/anxiety disorder, little research currently exists into their efficacy in children and adolescents.

Potentially serious side effects

While a very small percentage of young adults who take antidepressants will have an increase in suicidal thoughts, the vast majority will get better. It is extremely important to monitor mood and side-effects, especially in the early phases of treatment, to be able to understand and avoid negative manifestations.

While other alternative treatments for depression do exist, Peaks Recovery limits our scope to those modalities that we feel bring the most positive and lasting results. We work closely with our patients over a six-month period in order to better understand the specific manifestation of their depressive disorder and to ensure that the course of treatment we prescribe is both appropriate and effective.

Depressive disorder treatment in Colorado: what to expect

Located in Colorado Springs, CO, Peaks Recovery specializes in the treatment of young adults for depressive disorder as well as a range of co-occurring disorders.

We offer our programs in an age-specific and gender-specific environment, as research shows that it is the most effective way to approach the treatment of depression as well as co-occurring disorders.

Nestled in the scenic foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Peaks Recovery provides a pastoral and distraction-free environment that is highly conducive to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being a young adult needs to heal.

Using a combination of one-on-one counseling, group therapy, exercise, and other team and group activities, we have had great success in treating teens and young adults who struggle with depressive disorder.

We also place a high value on life skills development, as this provides our patients with essential coping mechanisms and strategies that help them build the strength and resilience they need to manage challenging life situations going forward.

Peaks Recovery in Colorado Springs, CO.

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, reach out to Peaks Recovery. Dedicated to the health and well-being of teens and young adults, we care and are here to help.