Depression Defined: What is Depression Really and How Do You Beat It?
Depression is defined as a mental illness in which a person experiences deep, unshakable sadness and diminished interest in nearly all activities. Some depression seems to come out of the blue, even when things are going well. Others seem to have an obvious cause such as a marital conflict, financial difficulty, or some personal failure. Most psychologists believe depression results from an interaction between stressful life events and a person’s biological and psychological vulnerabilities. Depression runs in families also. Genetically identical twins raised in the same environment are three times more likely to have depression in common than fraternal twins, who have only about half of their genes in common. In addition, identical twins are five times more likely to have bipolar disorder in common. Studies have shown that certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters play an important role in regulating moods and emotions. Neurotransmitters involved in depression include nor epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. Studies have also suggested a relationship between neurotransmitter levels and depression. An imbalance of hormones may also play a role in depression. Many depressed people have higher than normal levels of hydrocortisone (cortical), a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress. In addition, an underactive or overactive thyroid gland can lead to depression.
Depression usually begins during a person’s 20s or 30s. The illness may come on slowly, and then deepen gradually over months or years. It may erupt suddenly in a few weeks or days. A person who develops severe depression may appear so confused, frightened, and unbalanced that observers speak of a “nervous breakdown.” Depression causes serious changes in a person’s feelings and outlook. A person with major depression feels sad nearly every day and may cry often. People, work, and activities that used to bring them pleasure no longer do. Symptoms of depression can vary by age. In younger children, depression may include physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches, as well as irritability, “moping around,” social withdrawal, and changes in eating habits. They may feel unenthusiastic about school and other activities. In adolescents, common symptoms include sad moods, sleep disturbances, and lack of energy. Elderly people with depression usually complain of physical rather than emotional problems.
Depression usually alters a person’s appetite causing them to eat more or less and it also may alter their sleep habits. People with depression may oversleep or sleep for fewer hours. Depression also changes one’s energy level. Some depressed people may be restless and agitated, engaging in fidgety movements and pacing. Others may feel sluggish and inactive, experiencing great fatigue, lack of energy, and a feeling of being worn out of carrying a heavy burden. Depressed people may also have difficulty thinking, poor concentration, and problems with memory. People with depression may often experience feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, guilt, and self-blame. At least fifteen percent of seriously depressed people commit suicide, and many more attempt it. In some cases, people with depression may experience psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations.
Depression can be treated effectively with antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Up to seventy percent of people with depression respond to antidepressant drugs. They generally take at least two to three weeks to become effective. Antidepressant drugs are not addictive, but they may produce unwanted side affects. Psychotherapy produces no physiological side effects. Depressed people treated with psychotherapy appare many kinds of psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy assumes that depression stems from negative, often irrational thinking about oneself and one’s future. In this type of therapy, a person learns to understand and eventually eliminate those habits of negative thinking. In interpersonal ear less likely to experience a relapse than those treated only with antidepressant medication.
There therapy, the therapist helps a person resolve problems in relationships with others that may have caused the depression. Psychodynamic therapy views depression as the result of internal, unconscious conflicts. Psychodynamic therapists focus on a person’s past experiences and the resolution of childhood conflicts. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can often relieve severe depression in people who fail to respond to antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. In this type of therapy, a low-voltage electric current is passed through the brain for one to two seconds to produce a controlled seizure. For milder cases of depression, regular aerobic exercise may improve mood as effectively as psychotherapy or medication. In addition, some research indicates that dietary modifications can influence one’s mood by changing the level of serotonin in the brain.