Overview – What is it?
Depression is a common mood disorder characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, anger, emptiness and loss of interest for normal activities like hobbies, among other symptoms.
It is caused by hormones, inherited traits and biological differences, among other risk factors.
It can be diagnosed by physical exam, psychiatric evaluation and lab tests.
Depression can be treated using medication, psychotherapy and other therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy.
To prevent depression, you should control stress, get treatment for early signs of depression and seek long-term maintenance treatment.
Causes – What causes it?
There is no definite cause of this mental condition, however there are some factors that are believed to increase your risk of getting depression. These include:
- Biological changes: Changes in the brain’s physical state increase depression risk.
- Brain chemistry: Neurotransmitters which are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain can lead to depression.
- Hormones: Changes in hormones, which can result from pregnancy, can also lead to depression during pregnancy or after delivery. Hormone changes can also occur during menopause.
- Family history: Having a close family member who has suffered depression increases your risk of getting the same condition.
- Personality: People who are unable to cope with stress and trauma are more likely to suffer depression than those who have successful coping strategies. Having issues with your self-esteem can also cause depression.
- Life events: Going through some experiences such as work issues, losing a loved one and financial problems can increase your risk of getting depression.
- Childhood trauma: Traumatic events such as sexual abuse can lead to depression.
- Some prescription medications: Certain medications such as those used in treating hypertension can lead to depression.
- Drug abuse: Alcohol and abuse of other drugs also puts you at an increased risk of suffering depression.
- Head injury: Having suffered a head injury in the past can also increase your risk of depression.
- Previous episode of depression or other mental health issues: If you have had depression before or other mental health issues such as anxiety, you are at an increased risk of suffering depression.
- Chronic pain syndromes: Some chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease make you more likely to suffer depression.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
You can have one or multiple depression episodes in which the symptoms can include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, worthless or guilty
- Losing interest in activities like sex and hobbies
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Exhibiting feelings of anger, irritation and frustration, even on small issues
- Feeling tired or lacking energy leading to slow movement and speech
- Reduced appetite leading to weight loss or having increased cravings for food which can lead to weight gain
- Experiencing frequent thoughts of suicide and death, and making suicide attempts
- Having unexplained physical problems like headaches and back pain
- Problems with concentrating, remembering things or thinking and making decisions
- Experiencing anxiety
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
There is no specific test to diagnose depression, however, a diagnosis is made depending on your symptoms and psychological evaluation by a mental health professional. It usually begins with:
- Physical exam: During this, the doctor asks questions about your health which can help in determining whether the depression is due to an underlying physical health problem.
- Lab test: The doctor can order a complete blood count test to test whether your thyroid is functioning properly.
- Psychiatric evaluation: A mental health professional asks about your symptoms which can help in determining which type of depression you are suffering from and how severe your condition is.
The common types of depression include:
- Major depressive disorder: It is the most common and most severe type of depression which is characterised by sadness, worthlessness and hopelessness that do not go away on their own. Its subtypes include peripartum depression, seasonal depression and psychotic depression, among other forms.
- Persistent depressive disorder: This type of depression, on the other hand, is mild but exhibits chronic symptoms that can last for at least two years.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Depression can be treated through the following methods depending on the type and severity of the condition:
- Medications: Among those that are used in the treatment of depression are antipsychotic and anti-anxiety antidepressant medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and atypical antidepressants, among others.
However, before using these drugs it is important to discuss the side effects with your doctor. Anti-anxiety medicines can be added for short-term use. To find the right medication, you need to try several medications or a combination of medicines and be patient to find one that works well for you. You should not stop using these medications abruptly as they can at times cause physical dependence which is not the same as addiction but can cause withdrawal-like symptoms or even worsen the depression. Ensure you gradually and safely decrease your dose instead of stopping abruptly.
- Psychotherapy: This treatment option involves talking about your condition and related issues with your mental health professional and is also referred to as psychological or talk therapy.
Other types of therapy include:
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): It involves passing electrical currents through the brain to impact the neurotransmitters’ function and effect in the brain to relieve depression. It is usually used for people who do not improve with medications, are unable to use antidepressants due to health reasons, or are a high suicide risk.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): Used for people who do not respond to antidepressants. In this therapy, a treatment coil is placed against the scalp which sends brief magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain that are involved in regulation of mood and depression.
- Light therapy: Involves exposure to doses of white light which can help in regulating mood and improving depression symptoms. It is mostly used for seasonal affective depression.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
There is no exact way to prevent depression, but you can reduce your risk factors by:
- Controlling stress
- Find ways to improve your self-esteem
- Keep yourself busy and avoid overburdening yourself, for example by indulging in fun activities
- Join a support group to get help if you are depressed
- Get treatment for early signs of depression to prevent the condition from worsening
- Get long-term maintenance treatment to prevent relapse
- Talk to friends or family or a mental health professional to help you get through tough situations to avoid depression
- Do not drink or take other drugs that can cause depression
- Set boundaries between your professional and personal life to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious and depressed
- Take good care of yourself by avoiding negativity from other people, getting enough sleep and eating healthy
- Get regular exercise for 30 minutes on at least 3 to five days a week.
- Get regular check-ups if you experience depression symptoms
- Do not stop taking antidepressants abruptly as that can worsen your symptoms