Depression is an ailment that effects over 300 million people worldwide. A whopping 10.3 million people in the US alone have been diagnosed with some form of depression at later times in their lives. Depression can even lead to severe anxiety and social discomfort and comes with numerous symptoms that can affect daily functionality. Major trouble that people face with respect to depression is diagnosing this disorder and understanding what it is and how to treat it. Our goal is to give you a better understanding of everything related to this extremely prevalent ailment.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental disorder, classified more specifically as a mood disorder. There are different types of depression but the most commonly diagnosed type of depressive is Major Depressive Disorder, which can be defined as any stretch of at least two weeks during which one experiences extreme feelings of sadness, which also manifests in a number of severe symptoms. Depression tends to occur in the brain when the production of certain neurotransmitters is unregulated, resulting in low levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and many other chemicals in the brain, necessary for normal function. Serotonin is what is known as the “feel good” hormone and is responsible for the feelings of happiness and joy we feel. Dopamine deals with the motivation-reward and drives parts of the brain. A fluctuation in these hormones is what results in a depression in most adults and some young adults. Studies have also shown that depression can develop in children as well and become worse over time. Depression can also result in the worsening of other conditions like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, obesity and numerous other ailments. This is because the symptoms of depression can restrict your productivity and day-to-day functioning.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Depression is more than just feelings of sadness or being down. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain which is why the ailment most affects your emotional output but it has numerous other symptoms as well that can affect the brain and the body. Because the symptoms can fluctuate and also can resemble the symptoms of other ailments, they are often missed. Symptoms of Depression can manifest differently in men, women, and children.
Here are the symptoms of depression that can be seen in men:
- Drastic changes in mood, leading to irritability, anger, and extreme aggression.
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Sudden loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and taking up on more harmful activities like excessive drinking or even drug use.
- Becomes prone to suicidal thoughts and suicidal tendencies.
- Develops a difficulty in concentrating and completing tasks
- Social awkwardness, anxiety, difficulty participating in conversations.
- The sudden drastic change in sleeping habits, resulting in either insomnia or excessive sleeping.
- Sudden physical pain and headaches
- Digestive issues
- Fatigue and exhaustion
In women, the symptoms of depression are largely similar but have minute differences. These symptoms include:
- Irritability and mood swings
- Feelings of emptiness, and hopelessness and development of anxiety.
- Withdrawal from friends and social gatherings
- Disinterest in formerly interesting activities.
- Suicidal thoughts and tendencies
- Slowed cognitive responses
- Excessive sleeping, or restless sleep in the night, leading to insomnia.
- Heavy fatigue and drastically low energy levels.
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Physical pains and headaches, and increased intensity and occurrence of cramps
The symptoms of depression in Children manifest themselves more differently than the symptoms of adults and can often be hard to pinpoint. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for possible symptoms and have your child checked regularly. The symptoms of depression found in children are:
- Mood swings, irritability, with sudden bursts of great anger or sadness.
- Feelings of worthlessness, very low self-esteem and feelings of despair and intense sadness
- Refusing to attend school, or frequently getting in trouble at school or having frequent problems with other students or siblings.
- suicidal thoughts or morbid thoughts in general.
- Difficulty in concentrating causing changes in grade and performance in school.
- Excessive sleeping or difficulty sleeping at all.
- Low energy levels, constant feelings of exhaustion.
- Fluctuations in appetite and weight, also relating to digestive problems.
Because depression can also manifest itself physically, depression can lead to lower functionality and even reduced mobility, which can worsen or even cause other physical conditions. While there are still many who do not think depression is a real ailment, these symptoms are found to be common in all depression patients and can severely hinder the quality of life, making this ailment even harder to treat. But these symptoms also make it clear to the world that depression is a disease that affects a large number of people globally and needs to be treated appropriately and medically.
What Are the Causes of Depression?
We have understood that depression is largely caused by an imbalance of the chemicals in your brain that regulates your mood, energy levels, long-term memory, motivation and drive, and even concentration. But what can cause these imbalances to occur? There are a number of reasons that chemical imbalances can occur in the brain, and they can be attributed to environmental and circumstantial factors or biological factors. Some of the causes include, but are not limited to:
- Early Trauma: Childhood and early-in-life traumas can be a huge trigger for depression as they have drastic effects on the way we react to fear and stress, and other negative stimuli in general. Many times this trauma might not even be identified early on, and cases have arisen of adults with depression realizing late in life that the symptoms originated from early childhood trauma.
- Structure of the Brain: The brain isn’t only the place that regulates hormone production, it also controls the nervous system which can play a role in causing or worsening depression. It has also been theorized that low activity in the frontal lobe of the brain can also be one of the major causes of depression. However, much scientific research is still left to be done on the link between the brain and depression, as it is a complex relationship, to say the least.
- Medical Conditions: There are also numerous ailments that cause depression as a side-effect of its damage. Chronic illnesses, in general, can lead to depression, due to prolonged suffering. Conditions like Insomnia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and even arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease have been known to cause depression as the condition itself progresses or worsens.
- Family History: Some people have a genetic predisposition for depression, meaning that the conditions causing this ailment can be passed down genetically through your family tree. A person generally has a much higher risk of suffering from depression if people in their family have also suffered from some form of depression in the past or any kind of mood disorder for that matter.
- Substance Abuse: Abuse of substances like narcotics and alcohol can also lead to severe depression, as the substances can affect brain chemistry in large doses. Depression can also begin to manifest itself as a symptom of withdrawal from a substance when a user decides to quit. This is why many programs that help to treat alcohol and drug abuse also deal with treatments for some forms of depression commonly found in people suffering from withdrawal. Many people with depression also often turn to substance abuse when they find themselves unable to cope fully with the symptoms of depression. This can, in turn, exacerbate an existing anomaly in the brain chemistry.
- Other Risk Factors: The truth is there are many different things that can cause the chemical imbalance in the brain that ultimately causes depression in children and adults. Many people go their entire lives never learning the true cause of their depression, and in come cases, never even diagnosing it. Since Major Depressive Disorder can be defined as any period lasting a minimum of two weeks during which intense negative feelings overwhelm the patient, depression can occur after a number of different situations that could result in a life change. For example, many instances of depression occur after loss of a job, or a close friend or relative, as the brain struggles to cope with the change, and production of serotonin and dopamine are seriously impaired. However, these types of depression don’t usually last for extended periods of time. There are more chronic forms of depression that can occur, and these are affected by a number of factors, such as constantly low self-esteem or a previous history of mental illness. There are also some medications that can cause depression as a side effect. There is still a lot about depression and what causes it that is being discovered.
How Do You Test For Depression?
There are a number of ways to diagnose depression, by evaluating your psychological well-being and checking for the usual symptoms of depression. That is why it is important to keep track of random changes you find in your mentality or lifestyle, for example, changes in diet or loss of appetite, disturbed or impaired sleeping habits, low levels of energy are all symptoms that a physician might look for when diagnosis depression.
However, depression can also be caused by or linked to a number of other conditions that are also affected by the hormone levels and the chemical constitution of the body. So when a physician is trying to determine if you have depression and what type it is, they might also check for a series of physical conditions which can cause depression, or exacerbate the symptoms of depression worsening the condition. These physical ailments are usually related to the endocrine and neurological systems as well as the nervous system in certain cases.
These include, but are not limited to, head trauma, various types of cancers, tumors found in the nervous system, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease. Vitamin D deficiencies, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Medications for certain ailments like arthritis and asthma have also been known to cause depression, along with illegal substances like steroids, amphetamines and diet pills (some of which are legal and over-the-counter medications).
Because there is an endless number of possible causes for depression, and because this disease can manifest itself at any point of time, it is important to get checked any time you feel you are suffering from possible symptoms of depression for a prolonged period of time. Failing to treat depression adequately will worsen the condition and its symptoms leading to more drastic damage like complete social isolation, panic attacks, addictions and self-mutilation or suicide.
What are the Types of Depression?
There are four types of depression that can be identified and diagnosed by most physicians and mental health care professionals. These varieties are differentiated based on the severity of the symptoms being experiences as well as the duration the symptoms last. They are:
Major Depressive Disorder
This is the most severe and most common type of depression that occurs. This is the type of depression that can occur after a traumatic experience, a sudden change or shift in lifestyle or comfort, loss of a loved one, etc. This type of depression begins to manifest itself by filling the sufferer with immoveable feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Other symptoms like disinterest in enjoyable activities, drastic changes in weight, unmanaged sleeping habits, exhaustion, a decrease in cognitive function, suicidal thoughts or self-harm may also start to occur. When a combination or permutation of any 5 of the symptoms of depression occur for over two weeks, it is diagnosed as clinical depression and more specifically Major Depressive Disorder. Because of the numerous reasons why this type of depression might occur, the American Psychiatric Association further divided this disorder into further subtypes, termed as specifiers, like psychotic features, anxious distress, melancholic features and even postpartum onset which can occur in women during the final stages of pregnancy or immediately after giving birth.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
This type of depression used to be called dysthymia but is more commonly understood as chronic depression. It is usually milder but can last up to an entire lifetime, with sudden episodes of major depression. Unlike major depressive disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder can only be diagnosed when the symptoms have lasted for a minimum of two years, which can make it more virulent and difficult to deal with as it can be a life-long ailment. While persistent depressive disorder can be caused by traumatic episodes or physical conditions, more often than not, PDD can be traced back to a familiar genetic predisposition for depression. This type of depression also manifests itself in feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem, coupled with a lack of productivity and disinterest in normal day-to-day activities that others around them might enjoy.
This type of depression is well known today as Bipolar disorder. It is a little different from the usual types of depression as people suffering from it tend to have frequent and extreme mood swings and often go through manic phases. The condition itself can differ from person to person and can often lead to periods of mania couples with depression. Because the hormone production in the brain is largely unregulated, people suffering from Bipolar Disorder tend to experience extreme ups and downs, with sudden bursts of absolute joy and happiness which can be followed almost immediately by depression and anxiety. Some bursts of energy can also last longer and peter out quietly, and later be overpowered by feelings of sadness. Because Bipolar disorder manifests itself in two different extremes, the symptoms can range from fatigue and exhaustion to sudden bursts of high energy, as well as restlessness and hyperactivity. People with bipolar disorder can suffer from feelings of depression while at the same time maintaining unrealistic ideation of their own abilities. These manic episodes can sometimes spiral out of control and require hospitalization.
Seasonal Depression (Major Depressive Disorder With Seasonal Pattern)
Formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this type of depression is caused by changes in the weather patterns. Basically, the onset of depression is dependent on the season. For the most part, seasonal depression tends to set in during the winter, causing extreme feelings of despair and lowness, lethargy and excessive sleeping, and an increase in appetites and cravings causing weight gain. Season depression can be linked to the combination of cold weather and minimal exposure to sunlight, which is a major source of serotonin in the body. There are, however, a few cases where SAD symptoms begin to manifest in the summer, with winter being the more positive season.
How Can Depression Be Treated?
Whether depression is a life-long battle or a seasonal destructive disorder for you, it is always a struggle to cope with it and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Most of the symptoms of depression can lead to lethargy, social isolation and a general disinterest in ordinary life. That is why it is so important to treat this ailment as best as you can and as soon as you can. There are many different types of treatments available that can help improve not only your quality of life but also your mood, your health, and your cognitive functions.
There are some medications that can help you manage your symptoms while others require an extra boost from other forms of treatment available. That is why it has become the common practice, and in fact, the suggested practice to mix and match treatments offered by physicians with home remedies and alternative treatments.
The most common type of medications used to treat depression is anti-depressants, though mood stabilizers have also been known to help a lot, especially when treating bipolar disorder. However, medications should only be taken with the prescription and under the supervision of a medical professional as there are many side-effects to these medicines.
Seeing a psychologist, or therapist or any mental health professional on a regular basis is also extremely important as it helps to keep track of your progress, possible moods swings and other symptoms, and also makes it easier to determine the best treatment that will work for you. It can also help physicians to keep an eye on any side-effects that medications may cause.
Light Therapy is one of the newer but definitely effective treatments for depression. While it is most commonly used in people suffering from seasonal depression, it can be effective in all types of depression. This is because light (sunlight especially) can help to increase the production of serotonin in the body. Sleep therapies can also be important for a similar reason as nightfall increases the production of melatonin in the body which is the hormone that helps us to sleep.
Alternative therapies have also begun to be used more and more frequently in effectively treating depression, such as acupuncture and meditation. Herbal supplements can also be used now to help treat depression such as fish oil or kratom. Kratom is an herbal supplement that is available freely on the market and can help uplift your mood. It is available in many different types and can also give you a burst of energy or help you sleep depending on what your need is.
Exercise is also prescribed to people suffering from any form of depression as the activity can raise your endorphin levels and get the heart pumping and blood flowing. It can also give you an adrenaline rush which can make you feel happy and joyful and can boost your energy levels drastically. Not to mention, a daily regimen of exercise can help keep you in shape and physically healthy which can improve confidence levels and feelings of self-worth and drastically raise your self-esteem.
I believe that you or someone close to you are suffering from the symptoms of depression we discussed above, do not wait any further. Contact your nearest mental health care specialist or physician to determine if depression has made its way to your life. The battle ahead will be difficult but armed with all the tools necessary to fight this monstrous disease, you will find that depression does not have to reduce your quality of life.