Depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. Depression is not a sign of weakness or personal failure, and it is a real illness that requires medical attention. In this article, let’s explore what depression is, how it presents, the causes, the treatments for it and some ways to prevent depression altogether.
What is depression?
Depression is a mental health illness that affects the way people feel, think, and behave. It is considered to be a mood disorder that can cause feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability, and hopelessness. Depression can interfere with daily activities, work, and personal relationships. It can occur at any age, but it is more common in adults. At the most severe of stages, it can even cause psychosis (having hallucinations or delusions). Usually these delusions are self-directed, common ones include, having a false belief that their body is rotten inside, that they have a stinky odor that there’s nothing can they can use to get rid of, everyone near them are looking and snickering at them, they are being persecuted because they are hated despite not being able to actually define who is persecuting them.
Depression is a complex disorder that has many causes, including biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. It is unlikely the result of a single event, although it could be triggered by one, and it is not a choice or a personal weakness.
Symptoms of depression
The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, and they can range from mild to severe. Some of the common symptoms of depression include:
Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
Loss of appetite or overeating
Fatigue or loss of energy
Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Feeling that you’re physically moving slower, sometimes noticed by family/friends
Thoughts of death or suicide
These symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years. Generally psychiatrists have defined an episode of clinical depression as experiencing these symptoms for at least 2 weeks without reprieve. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention.
Causes of depression
Depression is a complex disorder that can be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Some of the common causes of depression include:
Genetics - Depression can run in families, and there is a genetic component to the disorder. There are multiple genes linked to the possibility of developing depression, it is also not definite that you would develop depression if you have inherited these genes, just at a higher risk.
Chemical imbalances - Depression is often caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and again, there are no specific neurotransmitter that is associated with it, but likely a cascade of neuronal links which are run by these chemicals that are faulty.
Hormonal imbalances - Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, menopause, or thyroid problems, can cause depression. In some cases, by normalizing these hormones through replacement or control, it is enough to treat the depression without taking any other antidepressants. Consulting a psychiatrist would be useful to discuss other possible symptoms that could arise from hormonal imbalance.
Life events - Traumatic or stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, or financial difficulties, can trigger depression. There are studies showing people who experience childhood adverse events have an increased risk of developing depression even in adulthood.
Chronic illness - Chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, can cause depression. This could be through the psychology of being ill and feeling inadequate, hurting the ego, or biological, where there is likely an inflammatory process that we know contributes to the development of depression.
Substance abuse - Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to depression, some would call it “self medicating”, but for psychiatrists, we usually see it as a comorbid condition, which means one of either illness would likely cause increased risk of developing the second one.
Treatment for depression
Depression is a treatable illness, and there are many effective treatments available. The most common treatments for depression include:
Medications - Antidepressant medications can be thought of as balancing the neurotransmitters in the brain and improving symptoms of depression. There are no one fixed neurotransmitter that causes depression, although most doctors would start with using Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI), because they have the lowest risk of side effects among all of them. These medications must be prescribed by a doctor and should be taken as directed.
Psychotherapy - Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy or interpersonal therapy, can help to identify negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression, and work to alter them. They also consist of mindfulness practices that is included in the therapy.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - ECT is a medical treatment that uses electrical currents to stimulate the brain and improve symptoms of depression. This treatment is usually reserved for severe cases of depression that have not responded to other treatments.
Lifestyle changes - Exercise, a healthy diet, and stress reduction techniques, such as yoga or meditation, can help to improve symptoms of depression. There are many studies linking physical activity and improvement of depression.
Support groups - Joining a support group can provide a sense of community and support for people with depression. However, this has to be carefully done, because joining a wrong support group could be detrimental to your care as well. It would be useful to ensure that the support group is vetted by a mental health professional.
It is important to seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression. Depression is a treatable illness, and with the right treatment, people can recover and lead fulfilling lives.
Although depression cannot always be prevented, there are steps that people can take to reduce their risk of developing the disorder. These include:
Exercising regularly - Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of depression by releasing endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in the brain.
Eating a healthy diet - A healthy diet can help to improve mood and reduce the risk of depression. It also reduces inflammation in your body, which is another risk of depression.
Getting enough sleep - Sleep is essential for mental health, and getting enough sleep can help to reduce the risk of depression.
Managing stress - Stress is a common trigger for depression, and learning stress-reduction techniques can help to reduce the risk of developing the disorder.
Avoiding alcohol and drugs - Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to depression, and avoiding these substances can reduce the risk of developing the disorder.
Seek help early - If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important to seek help early. Early intervention can improve the chances of a successful recovery.
The interventions required at early stages are likely shorter, less invasive, sometimes less expensive than later stages because it might involve using a higher level of care when severe.
Depression is a common and treatable mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a complex disorder that can be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. Symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe and can interfere with daily activities and personal relationships. Treatment for depression includes medication, psychotherapy, ECT, lifestyle changes, and support groups. It is important to seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression. By taking steps to reduce the risk of depression, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress, people can lead fulfilling lives and reduce their risk of developing the disorder.