“Mom, I’m not afraid of the dark, perhaps that’s part of the problem. Mom says I thought the problem was that you can’t get out of bed. I can’t, anxiety holds me a hostage inside of my house inside of my head. Mom says where anxiety came from. Anxiety is the cousin visiting from out of town that depression felt obligated to invite to the party. Mom, I am the party, only I’m a party I don’t want to be at.”
– Sabrina Benaim, Explaining My Depression to My Mother: A Conversation
Major depression is classified under mood disorders which are characterized by disturbances in the regulation of mood, behavior, and affect that go beyond the normal fluctuations that most people experience.
- Also called as unipolar major depression, major depression is a syndrome of a persistently sad mood lasting two (2) weeks or longer.
- It is accompanied by other problems like feelings of guilt, helplessness, or hopelessness, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, lethargy, appetite loss or weight gain, anhedonia, loss of mood reactivity, and thoughts of death.
- Suicide is the most serious complication of major depression. It occurs in nearly 15% of patients with untreated depression.
Genetic, biochemical, physical, psychological, and social factors are linked to major depression.
- Genetic factor. Two-three times more common in people with first-degree relative with the disorder.
- Biological factors. Primary defect sites at prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia. It may also involve serotonin, neuroendocrine, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) regulation systems. May also be associated with abnormal cortisol levels.
- Psychosocial factors. There is an unclear relationship between psychological stress, stressful life events, and depression onset.
- Pharmacologic factors. Prescribed drugs for certain medical and psychiatric conditions can cause depression. Some of these medications include antihypertensives, psychotropics, antiparkinsonian drugs, oral antidiabetics, steroids, and chemotherapeutic agents.
The incidence of depression increases with age.
- In United States alone, 22% of women and 16% of men experience depression at some time in their lives.
- Onset is usually in early adulthood. In 50% of patients, first episode occurs at their 40s. Currently, more are being diagnosed with their first episode in their 30s.
A number of tests should be conducted to diagnose major depression:
- Beck Depression Inventory is a psychological test used to determine symptom onset, severity, duration, and progression.
- Dexamethasone suppression test showing failure to suppress cortisol secretion in depressed patients (although test has high false-negative rate).
- Toxicology screening suggesting drug-induced depression.
- Diagnosis is confirmed if DSM-V-TR criteria is met.
Medications are the primary treatment for major depression. Ideally, medications should be combined with various therapies. Drugs generally work by modifying the activity of relevant neurotransmitter pathways.
- Antidepressants are classified according to class:
- The first-line treatment for patients with depression because these drugs lack the most of disturbing effects of TCAs and MAOIs. Examples include citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
- Generally used as second-line agents for patients with major depressive disorder. Example include venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Atypical antidepressants. Their mechanism of action is not clearly understood. Some examples include bupropion (Wellbutrin) and mirtazapine (Remeron). They are used as second-line agents too.
- An older class of antidepressants. Some examples include amitriptyline (Elavil) and amoxapine (Asendin).
- May be prescribed for patients with atypical depression (e.g. depression marked by increased appetite and sleep). Rarely used today because of high risk for adverse effects like hypertensive crisis and dangerous interactions with foods and medications.
- Improve treatment outcome by helping patient cope with low self-esteem and self-demoralization.
- Electroconvulsive therapy. To treat severe depression.
These are the nursing responsibilities for taking care of patients with major depression:
- Subjective cues. Include verbalization of inability to cope or ask for help, sleep disturbance and fatigue, abuse of chemical agents, and reports of muscular or emotional tensions, and lack of appetite.
- Objective cues. Include lack of goal-directed behavior or resolution of problem; inadequate problem solving, decreased use of social support, inability to meet role expectations/basic needs, and destructive behavior toward self (e.g. overeating, smoking/drinking, overuse of prescribed/OTC medications, and illicit drug use)
- Ineffective Coping related to situational or maturational crises
- Hopelessness related to long-term stress
- Fatigue related to stress and anxiety
Planning and Goals
Main article: 6 Major Depression Nursing Care Plans
- To determine degree of impairment
- To assess coping abilities and skills
- To assist client to deal with current situation
- To provide for meeting psychological needs
- To promote wellness
- Provide for patient’s physical needs. Assist with self-care and personal hygiene. Encourage patient to eat. Give warm milk or back rubs at bedtime to improve sleep.
- Plan activities for times when the patient’s energy level peaks.
- Assume active role in initiating communication. This can be done by sharing observation of patient’s behavior, speaking slowly and allowing ample time for him to respond, encouraging him to talk and write down feelings, and by providing a structured routine which may include noncompetitive activities.
- Avoid feigned cheerfulness, but don’t hesitate to laugh with him and point out the value of humor.
- Educate patient about depression. Explain that depression can be eased by expressing feelings and engaging in pleasurable activities. Emphasize that there are effective methods available for relief of symptoms.
- Help patient recognize distorted perceptions and link them to his depression.
- Ask patient whether he thinks about death or suicide. Signal an immediate need for consultation and assessment. Risk of suicide is higher with lifting of depressed mood.
- Stress the need for medication compliance. Review adverse effects with the patient.
- Patient’s ability to assess current situation accurately.
- Patient’s ability to identify ineffective coping behaviors and consequences.
- Verbalization of awareness of own coping abilities and of feelings congruent with behavior.
- Meet physiological needs as evidenced by appropriate expression of feelings, identification of options, and use of resources.
Discharge and Home Care Guidelines
- Long-term needs and actions to be taken
- Support system available, specific referrals made, and who is responsible for actions to be taken.
- Record all observations and conversations with the patient because these are valuable in evaluating his response to treatment.
Practice Quiz: Major Depression
Quiz time about the topic! For more practice questions, visit our NCLEX practice questions page.
In Exam Mode: All questions are shown but the results, answers, and rationales (if any) will only be given after you’ve finished the quiz.
Practice Quiz: Major Depression
Practice Mode: This is an interactive version of the Text Mode. All questions are given in a single page and correct answers, rationales or explanations (if any) are immediately shown after you have selected an answer. No time limit for this exam.
Practice Quiz: Major Depression
Text Mode: All questions and answers are given on a single page for reading and answering at your own pace. Be sure to grab a pen and paper to write down your answers.
1. Which patient would the nurse expect to prepare for ECT?
A. A female patient with dysthymic disorder
B. An elderly male with major depressive disorder and a history of stroke
C. A middle-age, female patient with major depression and an immediate risk of suicide.
D. A female patient with depression and hypomania due to cyclothymic disorder
2. How long should a depressive episode last for it to be considered for diagnosis?
A. 7 days
B. more than 10 days
C. 2 weeks
D. 3-4 weeks
3. Which antidepressive drug class is associated with severe food and medication interactions?
4. The following are correct nursing interventions for patients with major depression, except:
B. Newspaper reading
D. Music therapy
5. The most serious complication of depression?
A. Social isolation
C. Physical deformities
Answers and Rationale
1. Answer: C. A middle-age, female patient with major depression and an immediate risk of suicide.
ECT may be used to treat major depression as well as certain psychotic disorders, particularly in situations of severe depression when psychotherapy and medications have been ineffective, when ECT poses a lower risk than other treatments do, or when the patient is at an immediate risk for suicide.
2. Answer: C. 2 weeks.
Major depression is a syndrome of a persistently sad mood lasting 2 weeks or longer.
3. Answer: A. MAOIs.
This is the reason why this drug class is rarely used.
4. Answer: C. Scrabble.
Noncompetitive activities should be promoted for these patients.
5. Answer: B. Suicide.
It occurs in 15% of untreated cases.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V-TR)
- Nurse’s Pocket Guide: Diagnoses, Prioritized Interventions, and Rationales
- Straight A’s in Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing: A Review Series
- Depression – National Institute of Mental Health – provides up to date information about Major Depression.
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Success: A Q&A Review Applying Critical Thinking to Test Taking (Davis’s Success) – great if you’re reviewing for the NCLEX.