WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Depression is classified as a mood disorder. It may be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities.
It’s also fairly common. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source estimates that 8.1 percent of American adults ages 20 and over had depression in any given 2-week period from 2013 to 2016.
People experience depression in different ways. It may interfere with your daily work, resulting in lost time and lower productivity. It can also influence relationships and some chronic health conditions.
Conditions that can get worse due to depression include:
It’s important to realize that feeling down at times is a normal part of life. Sad and upsetting events happen to everyone. But, if you’re feeling down or hopeless on a regular basis, you could be dealing with depression.
Depression is considered a serious medical condition that can get worse without proper treatment. Those who seek treatment often see improvements in symptoms in just a few weeks.
Depression can be more than a constant state of sadness or feeling “blue.”
Major depression can cause a variety of symptoms. Some affect your mood, and others affect your body. Symptoms may also be ongoing, or come and go.
The symptoms of depression can be experienced differently among men, women, and children differently.
Men may experience symptoms related to their:
- Mood, such as anger, aggressiveness, irritability, anxiousness, restlessness
- Emotional well-being, such as feeling empty, sad, hopeless
- Behaviour, such as loss of interest, no longer finding pleasure in favourite activities, feeling tired easily, thoughts of suicide, drinking excessively, using drugs, engaging in high-risk activities
- Sexual interest, such as reduced sexual desire, lack of sexual performance
- Cognitive abilities, such as inability to concentrate, difficulty completing tasks, delayed responses during conversations
- Sleep patterns, such as insomnia, restless sleep, excessive sleepiness, not sleeping through the night
- Physical well-being, such as fatigue, pains, headache, digestive problems
REASONS FOR DEPRESSION
Lots of things influence whether a person gets depressed. Some of it is biology — things like our genes, brain chemistry, and hormones. Some is environment, including daylight and seasons, or social and family situations we face. And some is personality, like how we react to life events or the support systems we create for ourselves. All these things can help shape whether or not a person becomes depressed.
Research shows that depression runs in families. Some people inherit genes that contribute to depression. But not everyone who has a family member with depression will develop it too. And many people with no family history of depression still get depressed. So genes are one factor, but they aren’t the only reason for depression.
Chemicals called neurotransmitters (pronounced: nur-oh-TRANZ-mit-urs) help send messages between nerve cells in the brain. Some neurotransmitters regulate mood. When a person is depressed, these neurotransmitters might be in low supply or not effective enough.
Genes and brain chemistry can be connected: Having the genes for depression may make a person more likely to have the neurotransmitter problem that is part of depression.
Stress, Health, and Hormones
Things like stress, using alcohol or drugs, and hormone changes also affect the brain’s delicate chemistry and mood.
Some health conditions may cause depression-like symptoms. For example, hypothyroidism is known to cause a depressed mood in some people. Mono can drain a person’s energy. When health conditions are diagnosed and treated by a doctor, the depression-like symptoms usually disappear.
Getting enough sleep and regular exercise often has a positive effect on neurotransmitter activity and mood.
Daylight and Seasons
Daylight affects how the brain produces melatonin and serotonin. These neurotransmitters help regulate a person’s sleep–wake cycles, energy, and mood. When there is less daylight, the brain produces more melatonin. When there is more daylight, the brain makes more serotonin.
Shorter days and longer hours of darkness in fall and winter may lead the body to have more melatonin and less serotonin. This imbalance is what creates the conditions for depression in some people — a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Exposure to light can help improve mood for people affected by SAD.
The death of a family member, friend, or pet sometimes goes beyond normal grief and leads to depression. Other difficult life events — such as when parents divorce, separate, or remarry — can trigger depression.
Whether or not difficult life situations lead to depression can depend a lot on how well a person is able to cope, stay positive, and receive support.
Family and Social Environment
For some people, a negative, stressful, or unhappy family atmosphere can lead to depression. Other high-stress living situations — such as poverty, homelessness, or violence — can contribute, too. Dealing with bullying, harassment, or peer pressure leaves some people feeling isolated, victimized, or insecure.
Situations like these don’t necessarily lead to depression, but facing them without relief or support can make it easier to become depressed.
Reacting to Life Situations
Life is full of ups and downs. Stress, hassles, and setbacks happen (but hopefully not too often). How we react to life’s struggles matters a lot. A person’s outlook can contribute to depression — or it can help guard against it.
Research shows that a positive outlook acts as a protection against depression, even for people who have the genes, brain chemistry, or life situations that put them at risk for developing it. The opposite is also true: People who tend to think more negatively may be more at risk for developing depression.
We can’t control our genes, brain chemistry, or some of the other things that contribute to depression. But we do have control over how we see situations and how we cope.
Making an effort to think positively — like believing there’s a way around any problem — helps ward off depression. So does developing coping skills and a support system of positive relationships. These things help build resilience (the quality that helps people bounce back and do well, even in difficult situations).
Here are three ways to build resilience:
- Try thinking of change as a challenging and normal part of life. When a problem crops up, take action to solve it.
- Remind yourself that setbacks and problems are temporary and solvable. Nothing lasts forever.
- Build a support system. Ask friends and family for help (or just a shoulder to cry on) when you need it. Offer to help when they need it. This kind of give and take creates strong relationships that help people weather life’s storms.
Being positive and resilient isn’t a magic shield that automatically protects us from depression. But these qualities can help offset the other factors that might lead to trouble.
TREATMENT FOR DEPRESSION
Living with depression can be difficult, but treatment can help improve your quality of life. Talk to your healthcare provider about possible options.
You may successfully manage symptoms with one form of treatment, or you may find that a combination of treatments works best.
It’s common to combine medical treatments and lifestyle therapies, including the following:
Your healthcare provider may prescribe:
- Antipsychotic medications
Each type of medication that’s used to treat depression has benefits and potential risks.
Speaking with a therapist can help you learn skills to cope with negative feelings. You may also benefit from family or group therapy sessions.
Exposure to doses of white light can help regulate your mood and improve symptoms of depression. Light therapy is commonly used in seasonal affective disorder, which is now called major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern.
Ask your healthcare provider about acupuncture or meditation. Some herbal supplements are also used to treat depression, like St. John’s wort, SAMe, and fish oil.
Talk with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement or combining a supplement with prescription medication because some supplements can react with certain medications. Some supplements may also worsen depression or reduce the effectiveness of medication.
Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity 3 to 5 days a week. Exercise can increase your body’s production of endorphins, which are hormones that improve your mood.
AVOID ALCOHOL AND DRUGS
Drinking or misusing drugs may make you feel better for a little bit. But in the long run, these substances can make depression and anxiety symptoms worse.
LEARN HOW TO SAY NO
Feeling overwhelmed can worsen anxiety and depression symptoms. Setting boundaries in your professional and personal life can help you feel better.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
You can also improve symptoms of depression by taking care of yourself. This includes getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, avoiding negative people, and participating in enjoyable activities.
Sometimes depression doesn’t respond to medication. Your healthcare provider may recommend other treatment options if your symptoms don’t improve.
These include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT),or repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (RTMS) to treat depression and improve your mood.
Traditional depression treatment uses a combination of prescription medication and counseling. But there are also alternative or complementary treatments you can try.
It’s important to remember that many of these natural treatments have few studies showing their effects on depression, good or bad.
Likewise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve many of the dietary supplements on the market in the United States, so you want to make sure you’re buying products from a trustworthy brand.
Talk to your healthcare provider before adding supplements to your treatment plan.
Several types of supplements are thought to have some positive effect on depression symptoms.
St. John’s wort
Studies are mixed, but this natural treatment is used in Europe as an antidepressant medication. In the United States, it hasn’t received the same approval.
This compound has shown in limited studies to possibly ease symptoms of depression. The effects were best seen in people taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of traditional antidepressant.
5-HTP may raise serotonin levels in the brain, which could ease symptoms. Your body makes this chemical when you consume tryptophan, a protein building block.
Omega-3 fatty acids
These essential fats are important to neurological development and brain health. Adding omega-3 supplements to your diet may help reduce depression symptoms.
Essential oils are a popular natural remedy for many conditions, but research into their effects on depression is limited.
People with depression may find symptom relief with the following essential oils:
- Wild ginger: inhaling this strong scent may activate serotonin receptors in your brain. This may slow the release of stress-inducing hormones.
- Bergamot: this citrusy essential oil has been shown to reduce anxiety in patients awaiting surgery. The same benefit may help individuals who experience anxiety as a result of depression, but there’s no research to support that claim.
Other oils, such as chamomile or rose oil, may have a calming effect when they’re inhaled. Those oils may be beneficial during short-term use.
Vitamins are important to many bodily functions. Research suggests two vitamins are especially useful for easing symptoms of depression:
- Vitamin B: B-12 and B-6 are vital to brain health. When your vitamin B levels are low, your risk for developing depression may be higher.
- Vitamin D: Sometimes called the sunshine vitamin because exposure to the sun supplies it to your body, Vitamin D is important for brain, heart, and bone health. People who are depressed are more likely to have low levels of this vitamin.
Many herbs, supplements, and vitamins claim to help ease symptoms of depression, but most haven’t shown themselves to be effective in clinical research.