Diagnosis Depression: Sleep Dysregulation

One of the most common symptoms found in multiple psychiatric disorders is sleep disturbance. In fact, sleep disturbance is one of the criteria for the diagnosis of major depression. This post will offer an explanation of some of the changes observed in the sleep patterns of depressed patients.

Much of this information comes from sleep studies in patients who have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Without getting too technical there are two primary types of sleep, non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). The NREM sleep can be broken down further but for the sake of simplicity we will consider these two categories. 

What we notice in sleep studies of patients who suffer from major depression is a much faster onset of REM sleep. The body usually cycles through these stages 4-6 times throughout the night, averaging 90 minutes in each stage. As the night progress NREM sleep decreases and REM sleep increases. A person with normal sleep architecture will enter REM after 90 minutes, in patients with depression this time period is shorter and can be observed on the sleep study results.

Other changes include decrease NREM sleep which can be thought of as restorative sleep. Increased REM density reduced total sleep time, and decreased sleep continuity are also present. 

Any single change in sleep architecture is not diagnostic of major depression. However, taken together decreased onset to REM, increased REM density, and decrease sleep efficiency can separate patients with major depression from a control group. 

Given all of this information, routine sleep studies are not diagnostic for major depression and are not routinely ordered unless you suspect another sleep disorder. 

Hopefully this provides a basis for why questions about sleep in depressed patients are important. The sleep changes also provide some objective evidence of altered sleeping patterns in patients with depression. 

Is Depression A Genetic Disorder?

Introduction:

This is a common and difficult question I get asked. Like everything in psychiatry, the answer is not clear.

When people think about genetic disorders, they tend to think about classic genetic diseases. Some examples would be sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis. There is a clear pattern of inheritance with a single gene involved in these diseases

The human genome project set out to sequence the entire human genome. While it accomplished the goal it did not offer the personalized medicine and targeted interventions initially promised. What it did reveal was a more complicated interplay of genetics and environmental factors. Depression is a multifactorial disease and does not have a single gene involved in the disorder. 

Let’s look at some the evidence supporting the genetic influence on the development of depression.

What Can Family studies tell us ?

The first place to look for a genetic link is family studies. This is one reason we obtain a family history in a psychiatric interview.

MDD is common in families. It’s found 2 to 3 times more often in first-degree biological relatives (e.g. mother or father) of individuals with the disorder than the general population. It’s important to note that the influence of genetics on the development of depression depends on the percent of the genome shared by the individuals. For example, first-degree relatives who share 50% of their genome will have a much greater influence than a second-degree relative who shares 25% of the genome.

What can twin studies tell us ?

The second area of evidence that supports the influence of genetics on depression comes from twin studies.

From the data we know for monozygotic twins (identical twins), there is a 50% chance that one twin will develop the trait (e.g. depression) if the other twin has depression. This number decreases to 20% for fraternal twins who only share 50% of their genome. One flaw in many of these studies is the twins were often raised together in the same environment. There is clearly something to be said for the influence of environment. Some researchers believe twins will influence each other’s behavior when raised together. Identical twins have been known to be treated more similar by their parents than fraternal twins. Taken at face value, when a twin with 100% of the same genetics (identical twins) develops depression the other twin is more likely to also develop depression. Keep in mind, they do not always develop depression even if they share 100% of the genome. 

What do adoption studies add?

Adoption studies make an attempt to differentiate the influence of genetics from environmental factors. These studies examine differences in rates of illness among biological relatives as opposed to adoptive relatives. The studies show higher rates of illness among biological parents rather than adoptive parents. This provides some additional evidence to support a genetic influence. 

Conclusion

There is clearly a genetic component to depression. However, it’s a complicated process that involves multiple genes interacting with the environment. This makes identifying a single causal gene difficult and likely impossible. There are people biologically predisposed to developing depression, but not everyone with biological predisposition will go on to develop depression. 

If you found this helpful please like, comment and share your thoughts for future posts on genetics.

Diagnosis Depression: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with Seasonal Pattern

With this specifier, the name provides most of the information. There has to be a clearly defined relationship between the onset and remission of depression with the changing of the seasons. For example, a patient becomes depressed in the late fall or winter and their depression remits once spring arrives. This is the most common pattern in clinical practice.

The relationship between the depressive episodes and season is present for at least the prior two years. Furthermore, the number of seasonal episodes is significantly more than nonseasonal episodes. Basically, what this means is there must be an established pattern related to the changing of the seasons for two years.

If the depressive episode is clearly related to another factor (e.g. start of school or change in work stats) the specifier does not apply. 

In the two-year period where the pattern is established there cannot be any nonseasonal episodes. 

For this specifier to apply, the person must clearly become depressed in the months where day light is reduced (possible mechanism for these episodes), and have remission of symptoms once the days become longer. (this is one example, there are others)

Like, Share, and leave a comment below if you ever felt depressed during the winter months

Diagnosis Depression: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with Melancholic Features

I wanted to finish the discussion on the various specifiers for major depressive disorder. In this post I will discuss melancholic features. 

The most distinct feature in MDD with melancholic features is profound loss of interest (anhedonia) in all or almost all activities. This is a common feature in MDD as well, but the loss of pleasure in activities is far more severe. There is also a complete lack of reactivity to anything that would usually be considered by the person as pleasurable. 

In addition, at least three of the following are required: 

  1. Depressed mood that is experienced as qualitatively different from the feeling experienced after a loss. 
  2. Depression that is worse in the morning. 
  3. Awakening at least two hours prior to the usual wake time 
  4. Marked psychomotor retardation (slow movement) or agitation 
  5. Significant anorexia or weight loss 
  6. Excessive or inappropriate guilt 

I think of this specifier as a more profound form of MDD. 

One thing we try to do with modern pharmacology is treat specific symptoms with classes of medication that match the neurotransmitter profile. The medication selection or augmentation strategy may change depending on the symptoms we want to target. For example, fatigue and concentration are largely regulated by norepinephrine and dopamine, so we may choose a medication that targets these neurotransmitters. In this example of melancholic depression sleep and appetite may be the primary issues, we may select a more sedating medication like mirtazapine. I will provide more details on the symptom-based selection of medication for depression in future posts. 

Diagnosis Depression: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) With Atypical features

I like the DSM-5 and I think it provides us with a conceptual framework for evaluating patients. In clinical practice it’s rare to find patients that fit all diagnostic criteria perfectly. When that does occur it’s nice and makes life easy. 

Major depressive disorder with atypical features is one of those situations. Many patients have some of the symptoms but not enough to clearly make the distinction. Nonetheless, some of these symptoms are common and need to be discussed.

What makes this type of depression atypical?

I like to think of the symptoms as the opposite or reverse of major depression discussed in previous posts. 

A key distinction to look for is mood reactivity in response to positive events. In major depressive disorder nothing usually makes the patient feel happy. They may even present with a restricted, constricted or blunted affect. In the atypical case, these patients can react and show emotion when positive events occur. 

Along with mood reactivity, they must have two of the following features

  • Increased appetite or significant weight gain 
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleep) 
  • Leaden paralysis often described as a heaviness of the arms and legs 
  • A longstanding pattern of sensitivity to interpersonal rejection 
  • It must be impairing social and occupational function 

When you look at the list above you see why we can think of these symptoms as the opposite of typical major depression.

Hope this post helps to clear up some question about atypical depression. Please like, share and comment. 

Diagnosis Depression: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) With Psychotic features

In the last post we covered MDD and we introduced the specifiers. In this post I will talk about MDD with psychotic features. 

You may have guessed already, but what separates this disorder from MDD is the presence of delusions, and hallucinations along with symptoms of major depression. Fairly simple, right?

First, we need to define psychotic symptoms. 

In general, we can think about the following symptoms: 

  1. Delusions: which can be defined as fixed false beliefs. Something that the person believes despite evidence to the contrary. 
  2. Hallucinations: A hallucination is a sensory perception in the absence of external stimuli. There are several types including auditory (most common, consists of hearing a voice or several voices), visual, olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), and gustatory (taste). 
  3. Disorganized speech or behavior: This is an indication of the persons thought process. If the person is not thinking in a clear logical manner their though process may be difficult or impossible to follow for an outside observer.  

These psychotic symptoms can be congruent with the depressed mood (content is consistent with depressive thoughts) or mood incongruent (content is not consistent with typical depressive thoughts). Mood congruent psychotic symptoms will consist of depressive themes such as guilt, death, poor self-worth, and punishment. Mood incongruent symptoms include things such as delusions of control, thought broadcasting, or thought insertion. Both mood congruent and incongruent themes can occur in the same episode.  

Another key point is the psychotic symptoms only occur during a depressive episode. They are not present when the patient is not depressed. Once psychotic symptoms appear with an episode of depression, they tend to be present on subsequent episodes. 

In the next post we will cover atypical features of depression. Please like, comment, and share the content. Feel free to offer suggestions for future posts. 

Diagnosis Depression: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

This is the beginning of a series on depressive disorders starting with MDD. I want to keep the posts short and to the point, less than 500 words each. 

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is very common. The lifetime and 12-month prevalence are 13-17% and 6-7% in American adults over the age of 18. For adults under the age of 50, it’s twice as likely to affect females when compared to males. MDD is associated with high rates of psychiatric and medical morbidity, impaired work function, and disability. 

DSM-5 Criteria for Diagnosis

To diagnose MDD you must have at least 5 of the following symptoms over the same two-week period. At least one of the symptoms must be depressed mood or loss of interest. 

The symptoms are as follows, depressed mood; diminished interest in pleasurable activities; changes in appetite either increased or decreased; insomnia or hypersomnia (increased sleep); psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or retardation (slow movement); decreased energy; guilt or feelings of worthlessness; diminished ability to concentrate; and recurrent thoughts of suicide. These symptoms must occur every day or nearly every day and last all day over that same two-week period. The symptoms can be either a subjective account, observed by others, or some combination of both.

It must cause significant disruption in social, occupational, and other important areas of function. It cannot be caused by a medical condition or substance use. 

Specifiers for MDD

Mild; Moderate; Severe; without psychotic features; Severe with psychotic features; in partial remission; in full remission; chronic; with catatonic featureswith melancholic features; with atypical featureswith post-partum onset; with or without full inter-episode recovery; and with seasonal pattern. 

In the next post we will cover the highlighted specifiers and what specific symptoms separate them from each other. Please like, share, and comment we want to hear from you. 

When Should Hospitalization be Considered for Depression?

Introduction 

This post is significant to me because one area I really enjoy working is the inpatient psychiatric unit. This might seem strange, but it’s a place I just gravitate towards and fell like I’m having a meaningful impact. You can think of it as the equivalent to the medical intensive care unit (ICU). It’s a place to learn about the most severe psychiatric pathologies and medication management.

In this post I will cover some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate inpatient hospitalization could help and possibly be lifesaving. 

Signs and Symptoms

Suicidal Ideation:

If your depression has become so profound that you have thoughts about “killing yourself,” then it might be time for inpatient treatment. Many clinicians, especially those not working in mental health, feel uncomfortable asking direct questions about suicide. Contrary to a common belief, asking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide. I like to use the term “kill yourself” when doing a suicide assesment. It’s very definitive and clear to the patient what I’m talking about. The concern increases if there is a plan in place for the person to kill themselves, the plan is logical, feasible, and the person intends to carry out the plan. All of these are warnings that the person is at high risk. If these thoughts are persistent that’s another indicator that the problem is more serious. 

There is a significant difference between the above situation and the person who has “passive suicidal thoughts.” Passive suicidal thoughts are statements like “If I didn’t wake up tomorrow, I would be okay with it.” It’s not that the person is actively trying to prematurely end their life, rather they would not mind if something happened that hastened the path towards death. 

Hopelessness:

Another validated risk factor for suicide is severe, unremitting hopelessness. Hopelessness consists of feeling that nothing is getting better, nothing will ever get better, and there’s nothing I can do about it. This, independent of other risk factors, puts the person at high risk for suicide.

Loss of Interest:

Severe anhedonia (loss of interest) in previously pleasurable activities is part of the diagnostic criteria for depression, it’s also something that can increase suicide risk. If a person previously went to the gym five days a week or watched every new episode of The Bachelor and suddenly no longer cares about these things, it may be cause for concern.

Poor Response to Outpatient Treatment:

If you have been in traditional outpatient therapy and medication management for many years with minimal or no improvement, and you have never been hospitalized for psychiatric purposes before, then inpatient hospitalization may help. Sometimes the break from the daily life stressors for 3-5 days allows the mind and body to rest. If you tried everything else, then who knows? This could be the intervention that changes your life.

Seeking inpatient psychiatric care is nothing to be ashamed of, and many mental health professionals are working hard to destigmatize psychiatric care. I like to think about inpatient psychiatric care as a mental wellness camp, and not as a punishment for mental illness.

If this information is useful please like, share, and subscribe to the blog and other social media sites. Drop us a comment about what topics you are interested in, and we will try to cover them. 

If you or someone you love is at risk for suicide, the following resources are available. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA: https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/grant-announcements/sm-20-011

How to Tell if You Have Depression

Images that show what it feels like to suffer from mental illness. Bringing the inside to the outside.

Depression is not always easy to spot, and in a world filled with social media it always seems like everyone is living their best life. 

In the most severe states people can have suicidal thoughts and profound hopelessness. The symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe. Depression can affect anyone. 

Depression is an illness like any other disease (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease) that affects thoughts, feelings, physical health, and behaviors. 

People with major depressive disorder have several of these symptoms every day or nearly every day for 2 weeks or more. 

Here are some signs that you may have depression 

At least one of the following, loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed or depressed mood  

At least 3 of the following 

  • Feeling slow or restless 
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Problems concentrating, making choices, or remembering things 
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much 
  • Having low energy 

Potential physical signs of depression include 

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension 
  • Digestive symptoms 
  • Sexual problems 
  • Feeling “keyed up”

This can be summed up in the mnemonic SIGECAPS taught to medical students everywhere. The mnemonic comes from the prescription a doctor might write for a depressed patient

 SIG:  1 energy capsules per day 

Please like, comment, and share the post if it was helpful. Let us know what else you would like to see. 

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