Most people with mild forms of depression eventually feel better through counseling, trying natural remedies such as light therapy and aromatherapy and/or addressing certain lifestyle factors. But there are depressed people whose condition worsens. If unaddressed, those with severe depression can become prone to hallucinations and delusional thinking.
What you should know is that when delusions and hallucinations are present, it’s no longer a typical case of clinical depression — it can actually be classified as psychotic depression. Here’s what you need to know about this condition.
Basic Facts About Psychotic Depression
Psychotic depression is a condition wherein a person experiences the hallmark symptoms of clinical depression (sadness and hopelessness) along with symptoms of psychosis — this means seeing, hearing, smelling or believing things that are not real.1 At least 10 to 15 percent of people with major depression experience symptoms of psychotic depression,2 and even though it is less common than other forms, it’s actually the most severe form, as people with it break away from reality.3
According to an article published in the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation website, psychotic depression is often undiagnosed, as patients often refrain from voicing their fears, out of distrust or shame. It’s estimated that anywhere from 14 to 50 percent of patients with depression experience this severe disorder, and it mostly occurs among geriatric patients.4
How Will You Know if You’re Suffering From Major Psychotic Depression?
Aside from exhibiting the hallmark symptoms of major depressive disorder, which include hopelessness, sadness, loss of appetite and irritability, individuals who are struggling with psychotic depression feel guilt-ridden, or are paranoid and/or may experience hallucinations and delusions.
These behaviors are almost always reflective of the individual’s severely depressed mood. For example, they may become convinced that they’ve committed a crime or have been possessed by the devil. Some patients also feel as if their thoughts are being heard by other people or that someone is trying to harm them.5
Psychomotor agitation or psychomotor retardation may be seen in people with psychotic depression. The former means not being able stay still or relax, and being prone to constant fidgeting, while the latter refers to slowing down of thoughts and physical movements.6 Cognitive impairment, anxiety, hypochondria and trouble sleeping are other symptoms of this type of depression.7
Psychotic Depression Can Have Frightening Effects
What makes psychotic depression highly alarming is that aside from being difficult to diagnose, those who suffer from it are also prone to a higher risk of suicide, much greater than other types of depression. The delusions and hallucinations can also be scary, and the individual may be prone to self-harm or may injure others. Therefore, properly diagnosing this illness is important.
Conventional treatment for psychotic depression involves a combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications, but keep in mind that these may only exacerbate the condition. Before undergoing any treatment or taking any medication, make sure you discuss your options with your physician thoroughly, so you can come up with an effective (and drug-free) treatment plan.