What is Depression?
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mental health condition marked by an extended sense of sadness and despair that affects how a person thinks, feels and functions. The condition may significantly interfere with a person’s daily life and may prompt thoughts of suicide. Depression isn’t the same as sadness and grief caused by a challenging life experience, such as the death of a loved one.
In 2012, an estimated 16 million U.S. adults, or about 7 percent of the adult population, had at least one major depressive episode, or experienced depressive symptoms, in the past year, making this condition one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Depression can affect people of all ages, races and socioeconomic classes, and can strike at any time. The condition is found in twice as many women as men, according to the NIMH.
In a recently published report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that women between 40 and 59 have the highest rate of depression (12.3 percent) of any group based on age and gender in the United States.
People with depression may experience a variety of symptoms, but most commonly, “a deep feeling of sadness or a marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. Other symptoms of depression may include:
- Irritability, agitation or restlessness
- Lower sex drive
- Inability to focus
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Change is appetite, eating too much or too little
- Chronic fatigue and lethargy
- Unexplainable crying spells
- Unexplainable physical symptoms such as headaches or body aches
- Feeling hopeless and worthless
- Withdrawal from social situations and normal activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
The causes of depression are not fully understood, but scientists believe that an imbalance in the brain’s signalling chemicals may be responsible for the condition in many of the patients. However, there are several theories about what this imbalance actually is and which signalling chemicals are involved. Moreover, a variety of distressing life situations are also associated, including early childhood trauma, a job loss, the death of a loved one, financial troubles, or a divorce.
Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors, according to the NIMH.
Certain medical conditions may also trigger depression, including an underactive thyroid gland, cancer, prolonged pain and other significant illnesses. Hormonally induced depression can arise after childbirth or at menopause as well.
Additionally, sedatives and high blood pressure medications are linked to depression, according to the NIH.
To diagnose a person with depression disorder, doctors may ask patients about their family health history, mood and behaviour patterns (such as eating and sleeping), and thoughts of suicide. They may also ask patients to report their depression symptoms on a printed questionnaire.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is a mental health guidebook for doctors published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose a person with the major depressive disorder, the person must show five or more of the symptoms (listed above) for at least two weeks. The person must also exhibit a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
It must also be ruled out that the symptoms are not caused by another medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, or due to the direct effects of a drug or medication. So doctors may do a blood test, or test the thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And lastly, doctors look at whether “the symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” according to the DSM.
Surveys have shown that up to half of Americans with depression don’t get medical help for their condition. Left untreated, major depression can set off a chain of social, emotional and health consequences that add to patients’ overall stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include alcohol or drug abuse, anxiety, social isolation and relationship conflicts, work or school difficulties, or suicide.
Depression treatment may involve psychotherapy therapy, medications, or a combination of the two.
Medication: Prescription drugs, called antidepressants, help alter mood by affecting naturally occurring brain chemicals. There are several categories of antidepressant, but doctors often start with a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and may try other medication if the patient’s condition didn’t improve. SSRIs target the brain’s serotonin, a signalling chemical (neurotransmitter) that studies have found to be involved in depression. This class of medication includes fluoxetine (commonly known as Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), escitalopram (Lexapro) and citalopram (Celexa). Side effects, which are usually temporary, include changes in sexual desire, digestive problems, headache, insomnia and nervousness.
Other classes of antidepressants include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs), Tricyclic antidepressants, and Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Psychotherapy: Also known as talk therapy or counselling, this treatment has been shown to help some patients with depression. A number of studies have suggested that combining psychotherapy and medication together works best for treating people with severe depression. Different types of psychotherapy include cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, dialectic behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and mindfulness techniques, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Less common treatments: For patients with severe depression who have not responded to any medication or psychotherapy, doctors may consider transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), according to the Mayo Clinic. TMS involves receiving brief magnetic pulses on the scalp to stimulate neurones that are thought to be involved in mood regulation and depression.
Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
Help a family member or friend dealing with depression get treatment and find resources
Helping someone with depression can be a challenge. If someone in your life has depression, you may feel helpless and wonder what to do. Learn how to offer support and understanding and how to help your loved one get the resources to cope with depression. Here’s what you can do.
Learn the symptoms of depression
Depression signs and symptoms vary from person to person. They can include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Changes in appetite — reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent mention of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Other people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without knowing why. Children and teens may show depression by being irritable or cranky rather than sad.
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they’re depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms of depression, so they may think their feelings are normal.
All too often, people feel ashamed about their depression and mistakenly believe they should be able to overcome it with willpower alone. But depression seldom gets better without treatment and may get worse. With the right treatment approach, the person you care about can get better.
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Talk to the person about what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned.
- Explain that depression is a medical condition, not a personal flaw or weakness — and that it usually gets better with treatment.
- Suggest seeking help from a professional — a medical doctor or a mental health provider, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist.
- Offer to help prepare a list of questions to discuss in an initial appointment with a doctor or mental health provider.
- Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going along to them and attending family therapy sessions.
If your loved one’s illness is severe or potentially life-threatening, contact a doctor, a hospital or emergency medical services.
Identify warning signs of worsening depression
Everyone experiences depression differently. Observe your loved one. Learn how depression affects your family member or friend — and learn what to do when it gets worse.
Consider these issues:
- What are the typical signs and symptoms of depression in your relative or friend?
- What behaviors or language do you observe when depression is worse?
- What behaviors or language do you observe when he or she is doing well?
- What circumstances trigger episodes of more severe depression?
- What activities are most helpful when depression worsens?
Worsening depression needs to be treated as soon as possible. Encourage your loved one to work with his or her doctor or mental health provider to come up with a plan for what to do when signs and symptoms reach a certain point. As part of this plan, your loved one may need to:
- Contact the doctor to see about adjusting or changing medications
- See a psychotherapist, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist
- Take self-care steps, such as being sure to eat healthy meals, get an appropriate amount of sleep and be physically active
resouces : wwww.mayclinic.com, www.healthylifestyle.com