Overview and Facts
Most people occasionally experience feelings of sadness. It’s completely normal. But when a person starts to experience emotional states such as extreme sadness and feelings of being hopeless and worthless for days or even weeks at a time, it may be an indication of a depressive disorder.
Depression is a mood disorder, meaning it affects the body, mood and thoughts. It can affect everything from a person’s behavior to the way one feels about oneself to the way a person eats. About 20 million American adults are affected by depressive disorders every year. Children and teens can suffer as well.
When a person experiences five or more depressive symptoms, it’s possible they are suffering from depression. If depression goes untreated, it can continue for weeks, months, or even years.
Types of depression:
Clinical depression: Also known as major depression, this is a disabling type of depression that prevents one from functioning normally
Chronic depression: Characterized by depressed mood for two years or more
Seasonal depression: Also called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this type of depression routinely starts in the fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer
Atypical depression: Symptoms include weight gain, anxiety and excessive sleeping
Bipolar disorder: Also known as manic depression, this is a complex mood disorder. Bipolar symptoms occur when the individual alternates between high and low mood swings
Psychotic depression: Along with regular symptoms of depression, the individual may experience delusional thoughts or hallucinations
Postpartum depression: A type of depression experienced by 1 in 10 new moms after delivery
Signs and Symptoms
There are lots of signs that you or someone you know could be depressed. Symptoms of depression can be mild, moderate or severe. From mood swings to panic attacks to anxiety disorder, certain key behaviors can indicate that someone is depressed. If someone has at least five of the nine key symptoms of Depression at the same time, they are considered to have a depressive disorder. These key symptoms include:
- Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
- Increased or reduced appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Impaired thinking, extreme difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, self-hate
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed (including sex)
- Preoccupation with death, thoughts of suicide
- Sleep disturbances (trouble sleeping or sleeping too much)
Though depression often appears as feelings of helplessness, it can also appear as anger. It’s possible that a person suffering from severe depression could also show psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations or delusions.
Causes and Diagnosis
A death of a close friend. Chronic Illness. Genetics. Low-self esteem. These are just a few of the many things that can trigger Depression. There is not an exact cause of depression, but it is mainly believed to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances could be hereditary – some types of depression such as Bipolar Disorder seem to run in families. But depression can just as easily occur without genetic links. It can be caused by events in a person’s life. More often than not, a combination of factors is involved with depression. Here are some examples of causes of Depression:
Alcohol, smoking, and drug abuse: Abuse of alcohol, cigarettes, and recreational drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), ecstasy, and marijuana can lead to depression.
Chemical imbalances: Having an abnormal level (whether high or low) of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine can cause depression.
Gender: Though depression can occur in people of both genders and all ages, races and economic levels, women tend to experience depression more often. Women are particularly vulnerable after giving birth. It is common to experience temporary depression, but when it lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, it’s possible the woman is suffering from Postpartum Depression.
Chronic Illnesses: An individual who suffers from a chronic illness such as diabetes or cancer has a higher risk of depression
Stress: A loss of some type, whether it is a death in the family or the loss of a job, can cause severe stress, which can then trigger depression.
Medications: Certain medications, such as sleeping pills, birth control pills or blood pressure medication, can cause depression when used over a long-term period.
Personality: Certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem and being self-critical, pessimistic and easily overwhelmed by stress, can make an individual prone to depression.
Tests and Treatment Options
Before performing any tests, a doctor will typically rule out the possibility of other diseases by reviewing medical history. Questions about symptoms, duration, stress, medications and behavioral changes will help the doctor determine whether symptoms could indicate a depressive disorder. This can also rule out other mental health conditions that may produce symptoms that are similar to depression. Blood tests can also determine if levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are healthy, which will help doctors in diagnosing depression.
Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of balancing neurotransmitters, drug therapy, psychotic treatments and counseling. Treatment depends on the severity of the depression as well.
Some health care providers believe that antidepressant drug therapy combined with psychotherapy drives better results than either therapy alone. Though antidepressants can be effective, they are not suitable for everyone, as they pose a potential risk of suicidal behavior in young adults. Some of the more common antidepressants include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
- Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Here are just a few of some of the other methods of treating depression:
- Electroconvulsive therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Light therapy
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
While some episodes of depression are not preventable, there are choices people can make in their lives that can help avoid depression:
- Develop regular sleep patterns
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Learn how to reduce and manage stress
- Participate in supportive relationships
- Do things you enjoy
- Practice relaxation techniques