What is depression and what can I do about it?

Sadness, feeling down and experiencing a lack of interest or satisfaction in everyday things are common feelings for us all. But if they continue and greatly affect our lives, the problem may be depression.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the number one cause of illness worldwide. It may affect babies, adults and adolescents.

Learn what depression is in this post, and what causes it. We define the forms, their therapies and more.

Definition

A person with depression may experience persistent sadness.
A person with depression may experience persistent sadness.

Depression is a mood condition involving an persistent sense of depression and lack of interest. This is distinct from the changes in mood that people encounter daily as a part of life.

Big events in life, such as bereavement, or job loss, can lead to depression. But doctors see feelings of sadness as part of depression only if they continue.

Depression is a persistent problem, not a passing one. It is composed of episodes where symptoms last for at least 2 weeks. Depression can last several weeks, months, or years.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of depression can include:

  • a depressed mood
  • reduced interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • a loss of sexual desire
  • changes in appetite
  • unintentional weight loss or gain
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • agitation, restlessness, and pacing up and down
  • slowed movement and speech
  • fatigue or loss of energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or an attempt at suicide

In females

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression is almost twice as prevalent among females as men.

Here are some depression signs, which seem to occur more often in females:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • mood swings
  • fatigue
  • ruminating (dwelling on negative thoughts)

Also, some types of depression are unique to females, such as:

  • postpartum depression
  • premenstrual dysphoric disorder

In males

According to the American Psychological Association, about 9 percent of male in the United States have symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Males with depression are more likely than females to binge consume alcohol, show rage and take risks as a result of the condition.

Many depressive signs in males can include:

  • avoiding families and social situations
  • working without a break
  • having difficulty keeping up with work and family responsibilities
  • displaying abusive or controlling behavior in relationships

In college students

College time can be overwhelming, and for the first time a person may be interacting with other lifestyles, cultures, and experiences.

Many students are having difficulty dealing with these changes, and as a result they may experience depression, anxiety or both.

Symptoms of college depression can include:

  • difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
  • insomnia
  • sleeping too much
  • a decrease or increase in appetite
  • avoiding social situations and activities that they used to enjoy

In teens

Physical shifts, social pressure, and other factors may be leading to adolescent depression.

They may exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
  • feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless
  • restlessness, such as an inability to sit still

In children

The CDC reports that 3.2 percent of children and teenagers aged 3–17 are diagnosed with depression in the United States.

Symptoms can present challenge to schoolwork and social activities in children. They can suffer symptoms such as:

  • crying
  • low energy
  • clinginess
  • defiant behavior
  • vocal outbursts

Younger kids may have trouble expressing how they feel in words. It will make expressing their feelings of sorrow more complicated for them.

Causes

The scientific profession has no knowledge of the causes of depression. There are several potential triggers and different factors often interact to induce symptoms.

Factors which may play a role include:

  • genetic features
  • changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter levels
  • environmental factors
  • psychological and social factors
  • additional conditions, such as bipolar disorder

Treatment

Psychotherapy may help a person manage their symptoms of depression.
Psychotherapy may help a person manage their symptoms of depression.

Depression may be managed, and symptom management typically includes three components:

Support: from exploring realistic approaches and potential causes to informing family members.

Psychotherapy: Some methods also known as speech therapy include one-to – one counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Drug treatment: A health care professional can prescribe antidepressants.

Medication

Antidepressants can help treat moderate-to-severe depression.

  • Several classes of antidepressants are available:
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • atypical antidepressants
  • selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Each class acts on another neurotransmitter, or neurotransmitter combination.

A person should take such medicines only as prescribed by their doctor. It can take some drugs a while to get an effect. A individual may not realize the benefits he or she may receive by stopping the medication.

After symptoms improve, some people stop taking medication but this can lead to a relapse.

Increase any questions with a doctor about antidepressants, including any plan to avoid taking the drug.

Medication side effects

SSRIs and SNRIs can have side effects. A person may experience:

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is pushing manufacturers to add warnings to the antidepressant drug packaging.

The warnings will suggest that in the first few months of treatment, among other dangers, such drugs can increase suicidal thoughts or behavior in some adolescents, teenagers and young adults.

Natural remedies

Some people use natural remedies to treat mild-to-moderate depression, for example herbal medicines.

Because the FDA may not regulate herbal remedies, however, manufacturers may not be honest about the consistency of these items. They can not be secure or accurate.

Some of the more common herbs and plants people use to treat depression are as follows:

St. John’s wort: This is not appropriate for those who have bipolar disorder, or may have it. See more here.

Ginseng: Traditional medicine practitioners can use this to improve clarity of mind and relieve stress.

Chamomile: Contains flavonoids which can have an antidepressant effect.

Lavender: It may help alleviate anxiety and sleeplessness.

Until using some form of herbal treatment or medication for treating depression, it is important to speak with a doctor. Some herbs can interfere with drug action, or even worsen symptoms.

Supplements

A individual may take the above herbs as supplements to treat the mild-to-moderate depression symptoms. Certain forms of supplements can also be helpful in treating these symptoms.

It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t track supplements to make sure they’re safe or successful.

Nonherbal additives which can help treat depression include:

S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe): This is a synthetic form of a natural chemical in the body.

5-Hydroxytryptophan: This can help to improve the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain that affects a person’s mood.

Some research has indicated the SAMe may be as useful as the imipramine and escitalopram prescription antidepressants, but more research is required.

Food and diet

Eating tons of sugary or refined foods can lead to different physical health issues. Results from a 2019 study indicate that the mental health of young adults may be influenced by a diet that contains several of these types of food.

The study also found that consuming some of the following diet helped in the symptoms of depression:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • olive oil

Psychotherapy

Psychological, or chat, depression therapies include CBT, behavioral psychotherapy, and, among others, problem-solving counseling.

Psychotherapy is typically the first-line treatment for certain types of depression, although some individuals respond better to a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

The two primary forms of depression psychotherapy are CBT and interpersonal psychotherapy. An individual can have CBT over the telephone in single sessions with a therapist, in groups.

Interpersonal therapy aims to help people identify:

  • emotional problems that affect relationships and communication
  • how these issues also affect their mood
  • how all of this may be changed

Exercise

Aerobic exercise increases levels of endorphin and activates the norepinephrine neurotransmitter, which is related to mood. This can help to alleviate a slight depression.

Brain stimulation therapies

A further treatment choice is brain stimulation therapy. Repetitive magnetic transcranial stimulation, for example, sends electrical stimuli to the brain and this may help relieve severe depression.

The individual can benefit from electroconvulsive therapy or ECT if depression does not respond to drug treatment. It could be useful as depression progresses to psychosis.

Types of depression

There are several forms of depression. Below are some of the most common types.

Major depression

A person with a major depression experiences a state of intense sorrow. We could lose interest in things we once enjoyed.

Treatment typically includes both psychotherapy and medicine.

Persistent depressive disorder

The chronic depressive condition also known as dysthymia causes symptoms that last for at least 2 years.

A individual with this condition can experience episodes of both severe depression and milder symptoms.

Bipolar disorder

Depression is a common symptom of bipolar disorder, and research has shown that people with this condition may experience symptoms in about half of the time. That can make it hard to differentiate bipolar disorder from depression.

Psychotic depression

Many may develop depressive illness.

Psychosis can include delusions such as false beliefs and reality detachment. It may also include hallucinations — sensing stuff that is not there.

Postpartum depression

Many women endure what some people call the “baby blues” after giving birth. Changes in mood will result when the hormone levels are readjusted after childbirth.

Most extreme is postpartum depression, or postnatal depression.

There is no clear cause for depression of this sort and it can last for months or years. Anyone experiencing ongoing distress following delivery should seek medical attention.

Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern

Previously referred to as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, this form of depression is related to the fall and winter reduction in daylight.

It lifts for the rest of the year and as an response to light therapy.

Persons living in countries with long or extreme winters tend to be more affected by this disease.

Diagnosis

If a person is suspected of having depression symptoms, they should receive medical assistance from a doctor or mental health specialist.

A trained health care practitioner can rule out different factors, ensure correct diagnosis and provide safe and successful treatment.

They’ll inquire about signs, such as how long they’ve been around. A doctor can also administer an exam to check for physical causes, and prescribe a blood test to rule out certain conditions of health.

Tests

Mental health workers frequently ask patients to complete questionnaires to better determine the extent of depression they feel.

The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, for example, has 21 questions. The scores indicate the severity of depression among people who already have a diagnosis.

The Beck Depression Inventory is another questionnaire that helps mental health professionals measure a person’s symptoms.

Support hotline

The national hotlines offer free, confidential assistance 24 hours a day from qualified professionals. This will help someone with depression who wants to talk about their emotions, or needs to.

Many of the available support hotlines include:

Samaritans: This charitable organization provides emotional assistance to anyone who has symptoms of depression or isolation or who considers suicide. Tell them by calling or by sending 877-870-4673 (HOPE).

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273- 8255 (TALK) to speak with someone from this national network of local crisis centers.

Lifeline Chat: This is an online chat service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Suicide prevention

  • If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

Is depression genetic?

A person with a parent or sibling who has depression is twice to three times more likely to develop the disorder than the general population.

Most people with depression may not have a family history of it however.

A recent research indicates that the genetic variability does not result from susceptibility to depression. The researchers agree that although it is possible to inherit depression, several other issues also affect its development.

Is it a disability?

According to WHO, depression is the leading cause of illness worldwide.

In the U.S., the Social Security Administration finds conditions to be depressive, anxiety and associated disorders. If depression prevents a individual from working, they may qualify for insurance benefits for social security disability.

The person must have worked long enough to qualify for disability payments, and recently enough. For more information please visit the website of the administration.

Is it curable?

Although there is no cure for depression, effective treatments are available which help with recovery. The earlier therapy begins, the more it will be effective.

Since pursuing a recovery program, many people with depression recuperate. However, even with successful therapy a relapse can occur.

To avoid recurrence, people on depression medicine should seek treatment — even after symptoms improve or go away — as long as their doctor tells them to.

Triggers

The causes are mental, psychological, or physical events or conditions that can cause symptoms of depression to appear or come back.

These are some of the causes that are commonest:

  • Stressful life events, such as loss, family conflicts, and changes in relationships.
  • Incomplete recovery after having stopped treatment too soon
  • Medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Risk factors

Some people have a higher risk of depression than others.

Risk factors include:

  • experiencing certain life events, such as bereavement, work issues, changes in relationships, financial problems, and medical concerns
  • experiencing acute stress
  • having a lack of successful coping strategies
  • having a close relative with depression
  • using some prescription drugs, such as corticosteroids, some beta-blockers, and interferon
  • using recreational drugs, such as alcohol or amphetamines
  • having sustained a head injury
  • having had a previous episode of major depression
  • having a chronic condition, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or cardiovascular disease
  • living with persistent pain

Statistics

In the U.S., major depression affects more than 16.1 million individuals aged 18 or older, or around 6.7 per cent of the adult population, during any given year.

According to the CDC, 3.2 percent of children and teenagers aged 3 to 17 years — about 1.9 million individuals — have been diagnosed with depression.

The CDC also reports that in any 2-week period, 7.6 percent of people aged 12 years or older in the United States had depression.

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