Information on the causes, signs and symptoms of depression.
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- What is Depression?
- Diagnosing Depression
- What Causes Depression?
- Help for Depression
- More Information on Depression
What is Depression?
Anyone can feel down from time to time or experience bouts of emotional grief or sadness due to some unexpected life event. For instance, they grieve when someone dies, or feel the sadness and loss when a close relationship ends, or even lose a job.
All these feelings are normal and are part of the ups-and-downs of life. But clinical depression is more than just the blues, more than the expected grief after any loss, and most certainly more than a bad couple of days.
Depression is a deep and dark state, a black hole that may seem impossible to emerge from, and a serious medical condition involving a delicate balance of brain chemicals. Unlike a bad mood that you can simply snap out of, depression can severely disrupt the ability to function properly and can extend through every aspect of your life with serious consequences.
Signs of depression may include feeling somewhat flat, tired and unmotivated. As it progresses a person with depression may no longer want to participate in social activities or hobbies that they once enjoyed.
Eventually individuals with depression may even lose the drive to work altogether, their relationships become strained and they push people away and become unreachable, and the will to live a happy, productive life slowly fades.
Although the future for someone suffering with depression may look bleak, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – depression is treatable and those suffering can live a happy, normal life.
Who Suffers from Depression? Is there a Cure?
Depression can affect anyone, although it tends to affect twice as many women as men and typical age of onset is 25. Sadly, it is becoming more prevalent and the age of onset is decreasing over the years.
As a result childhood depression, adolescent depression and suicide rates are on the increase. The fortunate news is that if treated, depression can be managed successfully and happiness need not be an unreachable illusion.
If you suspect you are suffering from depression, make an appointment to see a psychologist or your family doctor. You will be asked for a detailed description of your symptoms, how long you have had them and how this is affecting your daily life.
A medical check is advised as signs of depression may be similar to other medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. If your first appointment was with your medical doctor, you may be referred to a mental health practitioner who will be able to further assess the situation and inform you of your treatment options.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is characterized by the loss of interest or pleasure in most previously enjoyed activities, as well as a depressed or sad mood felt most of the day, nearly everyday. It can be felt as hopelessness, feeling empty, or tearful. Perspective is also often altered, and the person suffering from depression may view life differently, and seem isolated from the rest of the world – unable to make a connection. Along with this, signs of depression usually include some of the following:
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty thinking and concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feeling physically slow, agitated, or restless to the degree that others begin to notice
- Physical complaints such as headaches, joint pains and stomach aches
- Low self-esteem, feeling worthless or excessively guilty
- Low libido or diminished interest in sex
- Suicidal thoughts, or continuous thoughts of death and self-harm
For a formal diagnosis of Clinical Depression to be made, most of these symptoms need to have been present most of the time for at least two weeks.
What Causes Depression?
Causes of depression include:
- Brain chemistry – Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and certain hormones such as the stress hormone cortisol have been related to depression. Depression often occurs when the delicate balance of these brain chemicals is disturbed resulting in a general imbalance in other neurotransmitters.
- Stressful life events – As mentioned above, the stress hormone cortisol is particularly related to the neurotransmitters involved in depression. A stressful life event such as loss of a job, a loved one, marital problems, or financial issues can trigger an over production in cortisol resulting in depletion of serotonin and depression. People are especially at risk if they do not have the necessary social support.
- Learned helplessness and cognitive styles – Is the glass half empty or half full? Depression can result if an individual is inclined to view the world in a negative light. With a pessimistic outlook on life, even the small things become major catastrophes, and the inner critic can become over-bearing. These people often expect the worst and hardly ever see the positive side to a situation. They often assume the blame when things do go wrong and attribute it to self failure. Certain experiences can also teach an individual that they have little or no control over life events and are thus helpless. These ideas are often learnt and make us more vulnerable to developing depression.
Childhood trauma or poor parenting may contribute to disturbances in emotional development and vulnerability to depression in adulthood
Help for Depression
Whatever the causes of depression, the condition can have serious effects on your life, therefore it is important to find a proper way to treat it. However, it’s important to be properly diagnosed before pursuing any treatments methods. Often times, psychiatrists and other professionals will hastily prescribe pharmaceutical medication, which can have serious side effects that have been well-documented.
Therapeutic measures and lifestyle changes are just as important when it comes to treating depression, so if you decide to pursue this route, it’s very important to use psychological and wellness treatment in conjunction.
However, natural remedies for depression such as homeopathic remedies can be extremely effective in combating depression, and they come with almost no risk of side effects.
Common Treatment Options for Depression
Medical practitioners are often quick to prescribe antidepressants as a first option when treating depression. Ensure that you research all the options and are aware of all the side-effects and precautions of taking anti-depressants before making a decision.
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac and Zoloft; Tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavin and Tofranil; and MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) such as Nardil and Marplan.
These all have various side effects which may be quite distressing to some and they are all required by the FDA to carry a warning about the increased risk of suicide, hostility, and agitation.
According to many reports, withdrawal effects are often experienced when these prescription drugs are discontinued. While antidepressants may work for some, they should be taken under medical supervision and will work best if used in conjunction with other treatment modalities such as cognitive therapy or an exercise program.
Psychotherapy has significant, long lasting effects as a means of treating depression. Various therapeutic approaches including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family therapy offer great insight as they strive to help the individual deal with any underlying issues that may be triggering depression, or social consequences caused by it.
Meditation, yoga and deep breathing are some of the relaxation techniques that been shown to reduce anxiety and clear the mind. Done regularly, these techniques can help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.
More Information on Depression
Other Disorders Related to Depression
Depression often co-exists with other disorders such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Substance abuse
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Adjustment Disorder
Tips for Coping with Depression
- Talk it out. Talk to someone you trust, a close friend or a licensed counselor and try and come up with a plan of action. Often it is the first steps to recovery that are the most difficult, so try not to do it alone.
- Eat a healthy diet. A poor diet depletes energy levels and a deficiency in certain nutrients (e.g. iron) can result in fatigue and feelings of depression. Ensure that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs, and explore serotonin uplifting foods such as oats, turkey, milk, pasta and other carbohydrate-rich foods.
- Set realistic goals and responsibilities. It is important to have a plan of action and to start taking responsibility for the future, but know your limits and set your goals within reason. Small steps taken consistently are better than big steps which cause you to bomb out.
- Prioritize and learn to say no. Avoid unnecessary stress by doing what needs to be done first and learn to look after your own needs. Be careful not to allow others to overload you with their responsibilities.
- Make a conscious effort to stop negative thoughts. Try and change these thoughts into neutral thoughts and do not indulge in pessimism. Remember that this will take time, and may be difficult at first, but it can also be life-changing. Psychotherapy can be very helpful in this regard.
- Take action! While your symptoms of depression may make you feel like crawling into bed or existing in your pajamas and slippers all day, make a decision everyday to get up, get dressed and do something. Simply cleaning your room, going for a scenic drive or doing something creative can be uplifting and help break a bad cycle.
- Turn to nature. One of the best ways to re-energize and uplift your spirit is to get in touch with nature. Go for a walk in the forest, a picnic in the park or a simply sit on the beach and watch a sunset.
- Let others help you. Don’t turn down a helping hand or a comforting hug. When depression hits, you may feel like pushing people away, but this is the time you need love and affection the most. Pets are also a great source of love and comfort!
- Help others. One often feels a loss of purpose when depressed, so regain a positive purpose by helping others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help out at an organization that could benefit from your time and skills.
- Make a change. Change is often very invigorating and refreshing. Aim to change your life-style to a healthier one, change your negative attitude towards life, and change your job if you know that your current work makes you miserable. It need not even be a drastic change. Simply re-arranging furniture or giving a touch of paint to a dull room can go a long way to uplifting your mood – better yet, it will keep you busy.
- Read all about it. There are many books which are very helpful in learning how to manage depression. These include books written by experts in the field – as well as books published by ordinary people with a useful or uplifting contribution to share.