Debilitating depression is when a person experiences depression that is particularly severe or prolonged. It can have a serious effect on quality of life and ability to function, but treatments are available. Anyone experiencing debilitating depression should speak with a doctor. In an emergency, they should call the national suicide prevention lifeline.

Depression is a common and serious mood disorder. It causes symptoms that affect how a person feels and thinks, including a persistent feeling of sadness.

Debilitating depression is a more severe form of depression that can prevent people from completing regular daily tasks, including working, eating, and sleeping.

People can work with a doctor, therapist, or treatment team to create a treatment plan, which may include medication, talking therapy, and habit and lifestyle changes, among other treatment options.

This article discusses debilitating depression in more detail, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. It also looks at the outlook for people with this condition and explains how to seek help in an emergency.

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People who experience severe depression sometimes state that it feels “crippling,” meaning that it restricts their ability to function. For this reason, some people refer to severe depression as “crippling depression.” However, this word is hurtful and offensive to those with physical disabilities, so people should avoid using this term.

It is more acceptable to refer to this severe depression by its clinical term, which is major depressive disorder (MDD). Others may refer to it as debilitating depression or use words such as overwhelming or devastating.

A person has MDD if they have the following symptoms:

  • constant low or depressed mood
  • the inability to feel pleasure in activities they would normally find pleasurable
  • decreased interest in activities they would find enjoyable
  • feelings of guilt
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • lack of energy
  • the inability to concentrate
  • changes in appetite
  • feelings of agitation
  • sleep disturbances
  • suicidal thoughts

People with MDD often find themselves unable to complete basic, daily tasks, such as working, eating, and sleeping.

A medical professional will usually diagnose depression after asking a person to describe their symptoms and observing their behavior.

The doctor will assess the self-reported symptoms and possibly ask a person to complete a questionnaire. The person’s answers may allow the doctor to determine the severity of the depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a person must have experienced the symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks for a doctor to diagnose them with this condition.

The treatment for people with debilitating depression is often similar to the treatment for other types of depression.

Below are some common treatments for people with debilitating depression.


Psychotherapy is a common treatment for MDD. This treatment can include talk therapy, which involves a person with depression attending regular sessions with a therapist to talk about how they feel. This therapy can allow the person to learn how to adjust to situations that worsen their symptoms of depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another type of psychotherapy that medical professionals use to treat MDD. CBT focuses on how thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes can affect a person’s feelings and behaviors.

CBT uses a hands-on, practical approach, with a therapist working with the individual to try to modify their patterns of thinking and behavior. This modification allows the person to achieve a beneficial change in their mood and how they live their life.

A 2016 study showed that psychotherapy was a very effective treatment for people with MMD. A review of 115 scientific studies also showed that CBT was an effective treatment for depression. It revealed that the combination of CBT with certain medications was significantly more effective than the medications alone.


Doctors and mental health professionals often prescribe antidepressants for people with MMD and other forms of depression.

These drugs regulate hormones and chemicals in the brain that contribute to a person’s mental health. They aim to modulate mood and behavior and both relieve the symptoms of depression and prevent it from coming back.

Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are a common type of antidepressant that doctors prescribe to treat depression. Examples of SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), and venlafaxine (Effexor).

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are another common drug for the treatment of depression. Examples of SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

ECT is a treatment for people with severe MDD. It is an option for people who do not respond to psychotherapy or medication. It takes place under general anesthesia.

While the person is under anesthesia, a medical team places electrodes on their scalp in precise locations. They then stimulate the brain with brief and controlled electrical pulses. This stimulation causes a small seizure within the brain that lasts about 1 minute.

This treatment aims to cause changes in the brain’s chemistry to improve the symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.

Other treatments for MDD

People can also try to reduce MDD symptoms in other ways. A doctor can advise on methods to try, which may include:

  • light therapy
  • alternative approaches, such as acupuncture and medication
  • nutritional changes
  • regular exercise

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. The medical community does not fully understand what causes depression to occur. However, research suggests that a combination of biological, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors may be responsible.

Researchers are unsure why some people have debilitating depression and others do not.

However, there are several possible causes, and some factors can combine to trigger symptoms.

Some factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing debilitating depression include:

  • a personal or family history of depression
  • significant life changes, including trauma and stress
  • certain physical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease
  • some medications

MDD is treatable in various ways. If a person sticks to their treatment plan and has regular therapy sessions, they can often reduce their symptoms significantly.

If a person with MDD is taking antidepressants, it is important that they do not stop taking them without first speaking with their doctor.

These treatment methods can reduce the symptoms and stop depression from being debilitating, allowing a person to manage their daily life far more easily.

If a person does feel very low despite treatment, they may find it helpful to call a local crisis center or mental health service.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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They may also wish to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This lifeline offers free and confidential support at any time for people in distress. It also provides prevention and crisis resources for people with depression and their friends and family members.

Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes people to have a feeling of sadness. People often describe more severe depression as debilitating.

In this case, debilitating depression can make a person feel constantly low or depressed. It can also cause feelings of guilt and worthlessness and the inability to feel pleasure in activities that a person would normally find pleasurable.

Debilitating depression can also prevent people from completing regular daily tasks, such as working, eating, and sleeping.

Common treatments for debilitating depression include psychotherapy and a range of antidepressant medications. These treatments can be very effective and work well to reduce symptoms of depression.