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Everyone experiences variations in moods – sadness, disappointment, temporary ‘blues’ or the normal grief that accompanies any crisis. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the end of a relationship are difficult experiences for an individual to endure. It is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such stressful situations. But, is it depression? What is depression?
Those experiencing trying times may often describe themselves as being ‘depressed’; but sadness and depression are not the same. While feelings of sadness will lessen with time, the disorder of depression can continue for months, even years. Researchers have demonstrated that it results from biochemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances involve disruptions in certain chemicals in the brain that affect our mood and emotions. When these chemicals are not in the right balance, it can lead to feelings of depression.
Social factors like stressful life events, family conflicts and a lack of emotional support, can contribute to its development. Additionally, individual temperament and genetic predispositions can make someone more susceptible to depression.
Fortunately, depression is very treatable. The majority (80%-90%) of people who receive treatment experience significant improvement, and almost all individuals derive some benefit from various treatment modalities. Unfortunately, individuals may not recognize their symptoms as signs of an illness, or they may fear the reactions of co-workers, friends, and family. As a result, millions of depressed people do not seek treatment and experience problems at their jobs or in their relationships.
Common symptoms of depression
Depression has a variety of symptoms, but the most common is a deep feeling of sadness. People with depression may feel tired, restless, hopeless, helpless, and generally overwhelmed by life. Simple pleasures are no longer enjoyed, and their world can appear dark and uncontrollable. Emotional and physical withdrawal are common responses of people going through depression.
It can occur at any age, but most often appears for the first time during the prime of life, from ages 24 to 44. One in four women and one in 10 men will confront depression at some point in their lives.
Recognizing the symptoms is the first step in seeking help and finding appropriate treatment. Some common symptoms of include:
- Change in appetite that results in weight loss or gain not related to dieting.
- Insomnia or oversleeping.
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue.
- Restlessness or irritability.
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt.
- Difficulty in thinking, concentrating, or making decisions.
- Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts of suicide.
Depression is diagnosed only if the above symptoms are not due to other conditions (e.g., neurological or hormonal problems) or illnesses (e.g., cancer, heart attack) and are not the unexpected side effects of medications or substance abuse.
It is diagnosed if a person experiences persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, in addition to five or more of the following symptoms for at least 2 consecutive weeks.
It is important to note that everyone experiences depression differently, and symptoms can vary in severity and duration.
Understanding the causes of depression
Depression is a complex mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. It can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being.
It can be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It is believed that an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, contributes to the development of depression. Additionally, traumatic life events, chronic stress, a family history of depression, and certain medical conditions can increase the risk of developing depression. It is important to remember that depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw, but rather a mental health condition that can be effectively treated.
Different types of depression
There are several different types of depression, each with its own unique set of symptoms and characteristics.
- Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most common form of depression and is characterized by at least 2 weeks of persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities.
- Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is a chronic form of depression that lasts for two years or more.
- Postpartum depression, which occurs after giving birth.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is influenced by changes in seasons.
Depression in Men and Women
Depression is often underdiagnosed in men, as they may exhibit different symptoms than women. Men with depression may be more likely to experience irritability, anger, and aggression, rather than feelings of sadness. They may also be more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as substance abuse, to cope with their symptoms.
Women are more likely than men to experience depression, which may be influenced by hormonal factors, such as changes during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Additionally, women may face unique stressors, such as balancing multiple roles and responsibilities, which can contribute to the development of depression.
It is crucial for both men and women to prioritize their mental well-being. For men, it is important to overcome the stigma surrounding seeking help and to openly discuss their feelings. Similarly, women should prioritize self-care, seek support from loved ones, and consider therapy or medication if necessary to effectively manage their symptoms. By acknowledging the importance of seeking help and utilizing appropriate resources, individuals of all genders can take positive steps towards managing and overcoming it.
Depression in Teens and Children
Depression is not limited to adults and can also affect teenagers. Adolescence is a time of significant physical, emotional, and social changes, which can contribute to its development.
Teenagers with depression may exhibit symptoms such as irritability, withdrawal from social activities, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and a decline in academic performance.
Younger children may also experience emotional difficulties, including temper tantrums. Temper tantrums are often a normal part of development in early childhood, but excessive and intense tantrums can be a sign of underlying emotional issues. Children with depression may display persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, and hopelessness. They may withdraw from activities, have changes in appetite and sleep patterns, experience difficulty concentrating, and show a decline in academic performance. Early intervention can make a significant difference in promoting the mental well-being of children and helping them develop healthy coping strategies.
Treatment for depression often involves a combination of medication and therapy. Medications, such as antidepressants, can help regulate brain chemistry and alleviate depressive symptoms. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), provides individuals with the tools to challenge negative thinking patterns, develop healthier coping skills, and make positive behavioural changes.
The specific treatment approach may vary depending on the individual’s needs and severity. It is important for individuals to work closely with healthcare professionals to find the most effective treatment plan for their unique situation.
Antidepressants may be prescribed to correct imbalances in the levels of chemicals in the brain. These medications are not habit-forming, and they generally have no stimulating effect on people not experiencing depression.
Psychotherapy or ‘talk therapy
Psychotherapy, or ‘talk therapy,’ is an effective treatment for depression. It can be used alone for mild depression or in combination with antidepressant medications for moderate to severe cases.
During psychotherapy, individuals have open discussions with a therapist to explore their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours related to depression. Therapy sessions can involve the individual alone or include family members, depending on the circumstances. The therapist provides support, helps identify negative thought patterns, and assists in developing healthier coping strategies.
Other treatment options that can go hand in hand with medication and therapy are:
Practising relaxation techniques
Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation can help relax the mind and body. These practices promote a sense of calmness and can alleviate stress and anxiety, which are often linked to depression.
Seeking social support
Surrounding yourself with supportive and understanding individuals can make a significant difference in managing depression. Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your feelings and experiences. Having a strong support system can provide comfort, encouragement, and a sense of belonging.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, depression can be overcome in the vast majority of people. If you are experiencing symptoms, see your physician or psychiatrist, describe your concerns, and request a thorough evaluation.
It is important to remember that recovery is possible, and with the right support and resources, individuals can regain control of their lives and find hope and happiness.
You will feel better.
If you or someone you know is going through depression, remember that you don’t have to face it alone. Help is available and reaching out is important. Reach out to a mental health professional or contact us at 1to1help. Our counsellors are here to lend a listening ear and provide assistance for any challenges you may be facing.