Knowledge — 3 months ago

What Is Depression?

by Keren P.

What Is Depression, What Causes Depression

What Is Depression?

Depression is a feeling of low mood. It can be in reaction to certain life events or part of a bigger disorder like major depressive disorder. While it can be normal, it can also be a serious condition. According to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, depression makes up 99% of all mind-brain illnesses, whereas all of the other remaining mental disorders such as schizophrenia and psychosis make up the other 1%. In other words, depression is very common.

Depression Signs and Symptoms

There are numerous signs and symptoms of depression. If any of these sound familiar, you may be depressed.

  • Feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness
  • Difficulty concentration
  • Persistent irritability
  • Loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy
  • Isolation
  • Feeling worthless
  • Changes in sleep -- either you cannot sleep or suddenly you are sleeping most of the day
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • You often think about death and suicide
  • You can’t make decisions
  • You feel like you have no energy
  • Digestive problems that don’t get better
  • Pessimistic mood
What Is Depression

Causes of Depression

Depression can have both genetic as well as environmental causes. Some depression is clearly situational.  It is normal to feel depressed after the loss of a job, a breakup, or the death of a loved one. If you have suffered abuse in the past, whether it was emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, you are more at risk to suffer from depression later in life. Some people experience depression as the result of struggling with chronic illness. A low mood can even be a side effect of certain medications. A family history of depression or other mental illnesses can increase your likelihood for depression as well. While depression does appear to have a genetic component, it is believed that it is the result of multiple gene combinations versus one specific gene. Additionally, it is estimated that 30% of people with substance abuse problems suffer from depression.

Depression and Brain Chemistry

Researchers have found that there is a distinct difference in the brains of people who have suffered from depression versus those who have not. People who have suffered from clinical depression have been shown to have a smaller hippocampus in their brains than those people who have not. The result is fewer serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a chemical that is involved in mood regulation, and scientists believe that an imbalance of serotonin can lead to depression. Researchers disagree at this time as to why clinically depressed people have a smaller hippocampus. Some posit that they are born that way, whereas others believe that depressed people produce extra cortisol that shrinks the size of the hippocampus over time.

Depression Symptoms

Depression Treatment

Even though depression is a common occurrence, there is still a stigma about it and a lot of harmful beliefs that steer people away from seeking treatment. Well-meaning friends and relatives may tell the depressed person to just snap out of it. The depressed person may feel weak and like a failure for not being able to overcome the depression on his or her own. Depression is a very real illness. Misperceptions and bad advice will only make the depressed person feel worse.

In addition to there beyond a stigma against depression itself, there is also a societal stigma against therapy and antidepressant medications. While it's lessening, some people still believe that getting help from a mental health care provider and taking antidepressants is a sign that someone is “crazy.” Additionally,  the current environment of fear and mistrust of pharmaceuticals and science makes people want to avoid medications in favor of supplements and natural cures such as certain diets or exercise. While eating healthy and exercise may help, it does a disservice to the depressed person to tell them to avoid medication if their medical provider has determined they would benefit from it.

Signs of Depression

A depressed person should not be afraid to seek help.  He or she should start by telling their primary care physician. They would also likely benefit from therapy from a licensed provider (not a life coach or the like).  There are many different types of antidepressant medications on the market. It may take time to find the right one, and the depressed individual should know that it can take a few weeks for the medication to kick in and for them to start feeling a difference. There are also support groups and even more intensive treatment centers. Don't give up. You CAN feel better!

If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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