For many years there has been a common myth that depression is due to a personal weakness or lack of willpower. Many people think that a depressed person can simply "snap out of it" by using willpower, however, this is NOT True!
Depression is a medical illness that involves the mind and body and is caused by a chemical imbalance in the areas of the brain that control mood and emotion. It is a physical illness similar to diabetes or high blood pressure. Depression is one of the most common health conditions worldwide. A person with depression is not able to use willpower to control their moods any more than a diabetic can use will power to change their blood sugar levels. This chemical imbalance may result from many different factors. People suffering from this illness often require medications and/or talk therapy in order to recover just as a diabetic requires insulin in order to regulate blood sugar levels.
ARE DEPRESSED PEOPLE LAZY? NO! NO! NO! THEY ARE NOT LAZY!
SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
Physical symptoms are associated with depression, which cause people to feel profoundly tired, and extremely unmotivated. Many people find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and may sleep excessively during the day. In some cases they might find it difficult to fall asleep and may even awaken frequently during the night.
Another common symptom is a reduced appetite resulting in weight loss or an increased appetite resulting in weight gain.
Some people may even experience headaches, constipation and general aches and pains. These physical symptoms are real and often debilitating. They cannot simply be thought away. Unlike the common "blues" or sadness that many people experience, depression does not pass within a couple of days. This disorder interferes with daily life, normal functioning, and can cause pain not only for the person with the disorder, but also for family and friends. Most people who experience it need treatment to get better.
The vast majority, even those with the most severe depression, can fully recover with treatment, which may involve medications, psychotherapies, other many other methods.
Besides the physical symptoms, depression is also accompanied by changes in mood. People have a persistent feeling of sadness and are often unable to find pleasure in activities they once enjoyed such as hobbies, family activities, socializing, etc. Some people may have less or no desire for sexual relations. Sometimes intense irritability is also experienced which may result in short tempers and lack of patience.
Thought Patterns Often Change
Negative thoughts, pessimism, guilt, hopelessness and helplessness are feelings often experienced with this illness. Many people have difficulty remembering, focusing and/or concentrating, and self-esteem and self-confidence is usually very low. Symptoms of anxiety are frequently prevalent with many people suffering from depression. This often results in excessive worrying, nervousness, restlessness, panic, and difficulty with sleep.
Summary of the Symptoms of Depression
If five or more of the symptoms below are experienced for at least a two-week period, there is a strong possibility that depression is present and a doctor should be consulted.
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities
- Feeling sad or down
- Feeling hopeless
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
- Problems sleeping (sleeping too much, interrupted sleep or not enough sleep
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Appetite change - unintentional weight gain or loss
- Irritability, feeling edgy
- Being easily annoyed
- Feeling fatigued or weak
- Feeling worthless, self-loathing, feeling like a failure
- Loss of interest in sex
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
TYPES OF DEPRESSION
Dysthymia is very much like major depression in that the person has a low mood that lasts for at least a year or two; however this illness involves fewer symptoms than major depression and is not as debilitating.
Major depression (also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder) can affect a person's ability to function. This disorder involves persistent feelings of sadness and the inability to experience pleasure with activities once considered enjoyable. This illness may also include constant lack of interest, motivation and energy, the inability to sleep or too much sleep, an increased or decreased appetite, weight gain or loss, memory loss, difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, restlessness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Psychotic depression occurs when a severe depressive illness is accompanied by some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality, hallucinations, and delusions.
Postpartum depression is a form of major depression that usually occurs in women within the first four weeks of giving birth, however it can also occur at a later date.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder, which occurs in the fall or winter due to the lack of sunlight during the shorter days of the winter months. Special lamps are often used to treat this disorder, as are antidepressants. People who experience SAD usually find that is goes away in the spring.
CAUSES OF DEPRESSION
Research has shown that depression is caused by a disorder in the brain, caused by a chemical imbalance. Brain-imaging technologies have shown that the brain of a depressed person looks different than that of a person without this disorder. It has been determined that parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, appetite, behaviour, and sleep function abnormally and that neurotransmitters, the chemicals responsible for communication between brain cells, are out of balance. What researchers have not yet determined is what actually causes this imbalance to occur. It is thought that genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors may all be involved.
Genetics are thought to be involved, as depression tends to run in families. However, this disorder also occurs in people without a family history. Genetic research indicates that the multiple genes acting together with other factors, such as environmental, could be the cause of risk for depression.
Trauma of various types, the loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Future depressive episodes may then occur with or without an obvious trigger.
Depression is one of the most successfully treated mood disorder or all, even in severe cases. However, the earlier treatment begins, the greater the chances of a speedy and full recovery and the chances of recurrence are greatly diminished.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor because some medical conditions, such as a thyroid disorder and viruses, can display similar symptoms. A doctor can ask specific questions, conduct an examination, and lab tests to rule out these other possibilities.
If depression is confirmed then it is important to tell your doctor about any family history of depression, when the symptoms were first noticed, how long they have lasted, their severity, whether they have occurred before and if so, how they were treated. It is also important to tell the doctor if alcohol or drugs are being used.
Once diagnosed, the patient can be treated with medication (antidepressants) and/or psychotherapy as well as a number of other options.
Antidepressants are commonly used to balance chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. There are three different chemicals involved in regulating mood that may need to be adjusted: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Studies have shown that psychotherapy (talk therapy) in combination with medication is often the most effective form of treatment. However, psychotherapy alone, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, has been found to be just as effective as medication. The treatment chosen will depend on how long the patient has had depressive symptoms, the severity of those symptoms, and whether or not the patient has responded well to a specific treatment in the past.
There are several other treatment options available as well, such as electro convulsive therapy (ECT), trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and deep brain stimulation. Sometimes a change in lifestyle, a change in environment and/or diet are also needed to assist in full recovery.
For more detailed information on treatments and medications, see our section on treatments.
DEPRESSION IS TREATABLE
Between 80-90 per cent of all depressed people respond well to treatment. Most depressed people who receive treatment find some relief from their symptoms.