Depression

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Depression is a serious illness. Health professionals use the words depression, depressive illness or clinical depression to refer to it. It is very different from the common experience of feeling unhappy, miserable or fed up for a short period of time.

When you are depressed, you may have feelings of extreme sadness that can last for a long time. These feelings are severe enough to interfere with your daily life, and can last for weeks or months, rather than days.

Triggers and Causes

The causes of depression are complex. Genetic, biological, and environmental factors can contribute to its development. In some people, depression can be traced to a single cause, while in others; a number of causes are at play. For many, the causes are never known.

Situations: There appears to be a complex relationship among stressful situations, our mind and body’s reaction to stress, and the onset of clinical depression. It is clear that some people develop depression after a stressful event in their lives. Events such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the end of a relationship are often negative and traumatic and cause great stress for many people. Stress can also occur as the result of a more positive event such as getting married, moving to anew city, or starting a new job. It is not uncommon for either positive or negative events to become a crisis that precedes the development of clinical depression.

Biological: it appears that there are biochemical causes for depression, occurring as a result of abnormalities in the levels of certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain. While we still don’t know exactly how levels of these chemicals affect mood, we do know that the levels can be affected by a number of factors.

Heredity: Certain types of depression seem to run in some families. Research is ongoing as to exactly which genes are involved in depression. Just because someone in your family has depression, however, doesn’t mean you will. Sometimes, family members who were known to abuse alcohol or other drugs were unwittingly trying to improve their mood (often called “self-medication” by professionals). Likewise, you can become depressed even if no one else in your family is known to have depression.

Personality: People with certain personality traits are more likely to become depressed. These include negative thinking, pessimism, excess worry, low self-esteem, a hypersensitivity to perceived rejection, overdependence on others, a sense of superiority or alienation from others, and ineffective responses to stress.

Medical conditions: Depression is more likely to occur with certain medical illnesses. These “co-occurring” conditions include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, hormonal disorders (especially perimenopause or hypothyroidism, known as “low thyroid”), Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical depression should not be considered a normal or natural reaction to illness.

Substance abuse: While it has long been believed that depression caused people to misuse alcohol and drugs in an attempt to make themselves feel better (self-medication), it is now thought that the reverse can also be the case; substance abuse can actually cause depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Clinical depression is not something you feel for a day or two before feeling better. In true depressive illnesses, the symptoms last weeks, months, or sometimes years if you don’t seek treatment. If you are depressed, you are often unable to perform daily activities. You may not care enough to get out of bed or get dressed, much less work, do errands, or socialize.

Adults: You may be said to be suffering from a major depressive episode if you have a depressed mood for at least two weeks and have at least five of the following clinical symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness,
  • Crying spells
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Significant increase or decrease in appetite
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Change in sleep pattern: inability to sleep or excessive sleeping,
  • Agitation or irritability,
  • Fatigue or loss of energy,
  • A tendency to isolate from friends and family,
  • Trouble concentrating,
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Men and women sometimes show depression differently. Specifically, men are more likely to experience irritability, sleep problems, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities they liked previously as a result of depression whereas women tend to have overt sadness and feelings of worthlessness and guilt when depressed. For people who tend to suffer from an increase in appetite, tiredness, and the tendency to sleep (atypical depression), carbohydrate craving, sometimes specifically for chocolate, may occur. That has been found to sometimes be an indication that the person tends to suffer from irritability and anxiety in addition to depression.

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