Depression is a common mental illness that negatively affects the way you feel and the way you view others and the world around you. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, sadness and unhappiness are commonplace for depression sufferers. Often these feelings grow worse and compound on themselves if left untreated.
It is estimated that around 280 million people, or 5% of the worlds population suffers from some form of depression. It is the leading reason for people visiting a doctor. Sadly, less than half of depression sufferers are being treated for the illness, whether that is through therapy or medication. Those statistics are very concerning to say the least.
Depression can lead to a wide range of other health problems and severely impact your ability to function on a day to day basis.
What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?
- Feelings of sadness or low mood
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep – sleeping too much or not much at all
- Feeling agitated and short tempered and easily triggered
- Feeling tired from basic activities
- Trouble concentrating, focusing or remembering things
- Feelings of guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
- Body aches and pains
There are many more symptoms of depression but this list covers the more commonly known symptoms.
Warning Signs Of Depression
If you or someone you know is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, then you may have depression.
I know for me as part of the illness I didn’t believe it was me with the problem, I thought it was everyone else around me that was an issue. It took me a long time to eventually realize that I was the one with the problem, not them. There was simply no helping me until I had that realization.
For this reason it is important to approach the subject delicately and gently if you know someone who may be suffering from depression, as they will already be feeling agitated, short tempered and easily triggered so they simply (as I was) may not be ready to hear it yet. You can consult a doctor on your own to discuss a diagnosis for a loved one and to seek advice on how to discuss the topic with them.
Why Sadness Does Not Mean You Have Depression
Feeling sadness is not the same as having depression. Sure, people with depression feel a lot of sadness, but people with sadness don’t necessarily have depression.
Sadness can be brought about by the death of someone close to us or the end of a relationship, among other things. Usually those feelings of sadness will not be accompanied by feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing as is commonplace with depression. It is possible that the grief from losing a loved one or the end of a relationship can lead to depression. Generally feelings of sadness, helplessness, low mood and loss of interest need to persist for 2 weeks or more before a diagnosis of depression is made.
What Causes Depression?
There are a lot of different causes of depression. It can be a combination of different events or life situations, or it can be genetic. Here are some of the known causes.
- Genetics – Although having a parent or relative with depression doesn’t necessarily mean you will suffer from it, it can increase the risk of experiencing depression.
- Drug and alcohol use – This can both contribute to mental illness as well as worsen symptoms as it is often used as a coping mechanism by those who already suffer from depression or other mental illnesses.
- Personal factors – People with low self-esteem, who worry a lot, are self-critical and sensitive to criticism are more at risk of developing depression
- Medical conditions – Coping with various medical conditions such as obesity, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease and other chronic illnesses can lead to depression through the stress and worry of coping with the disease.
- Childhood – certain childhood experiences and trauma can lead to depression later in life
- Brain chemistry – A chemical imbalance in the brain is a known contributing factor to depression
- Financial problems and low socioeconomic status can increase your risk of depression
Life events – things like work stress, losing your job, long term unemployment, being in an abusive relationship and long term loneliness or isolation can all cause depression
Different Types Of Depression
Major depressive disorder
Major depressive disorder involves feelings of sadness or low mood, loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy, tiredness and most of the other symptoms of depression listed above. Symptoms need to persist for 2 weeks before a diagnosis of depression is made. This is also known as clinical depression or unipolar depression.
This is a type of depression which includes psychosis among the symptoms. This can be in the form of delusions or hallucinations, where the sufferer may hear voices or imagine things that aren’t there.
People suffering from melancholic depression will usually lose almost all interest in life. It is often common to feel extremely down and fatigued, and have a strong sense of hopelessness.
Also known as PND or postpartum depression (PPD). This can occur during pregnancy or up to one year after giving birth. It is not uncommon for a new parent to feel overwhelmed and teary and anxious. When these feelings and other depression symptoms persist for longer than 2 weeks you may be diagnosed with postnatal depression. Having a baby is a massive life changing event and it’s not surprising that the number of people who suffer from postnatal depression is quite high – approximately 1 in 7 women who give birth will suffer from it.
Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by both highs and lows. Periods of mania as well as periods of depression can occur, and often a normal mood in between these periods.
Episodes of mania can include excess energy, feeling great, talking fast and hyperactivity. Episodes of depression come with the symptoms of depression listed above.
Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD)
SAD, as the name suggests, occurs seasonally. The most common occurrence is depression in winter which subsides when the season ends. It is believed that seasonal affective disorder is related to the differences in exposure to light during the various seasons.
How Is Depression Diagnosed?
The first point of contact is your local GP. They will discuss your symptoms with you and make a diagnosis. Sometimes they will also do a physical examination and blood tests to ensure there are no underlying causes such as a vitamin deficiency or chronic health problem.
Although it can be extremely difficult at first and the last thing you feel like doing is talking about it, this is a very important first step. It took me around 6 months before I finally saw a doctor, and I only wish I had done it sooner so I could begin tackling the problem. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me at first.
How Is Depression Treated?
Also known as talk therapy, it is usually the first form of treatment after a diagnosis of depression. This can be done with your GP, or you may be referred to a Psychiatrist or Psychologist or other qualified therapist. It’s important that you find a medical professional that you feel comfortable talking to and can be open about your feelings with. It’s no good paying good money to see someone who you have trouble discussing your feelings openly with. So take the time to find the right person for you, even if you have to try a few different therapists to get there.
They may work with you using a variety of therapies, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) as well as just discussing your problems and feelings and offering you different ways to process your thoughts and feelings.
Even just talking with close friends and family can be beneficial. They may not know the answers or how to help you, but having someone to talk to about how you are feeling and get it all out is very helpful and it is always useful to have a strong support network. Usually most people aren’t comfortable talking about depression or admitting they may be suffering from it, but trust me, you need to put all of that aside and talk to someone to begin the healing process. It doesn’t usually just go away on its own.
In addition to psychotherapy, your doctor may also prescribe you anti-depressant medication. These come in many formats such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) mood stabilizers and NDRIs (noradrenaline and dopamine reuptake inhibitors). There are more such as tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants, but I’m pretty sure the details are of no great interest to anyone reading this!
It is common to experience side effects when taking ant-depressant medication. The severity and type of side effects will vary greatly from person to person and won’t always be the same for each type of anti-depressant. Often the side effects will subside within a month or two of starting the drug.
Common side effects include
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sexual desire or sexual function
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain
Supplements For Depression
There are additional supplements you can take to aid you in your battle with depression. It’s unlikely any of these will cure you in their own right, however with the right diet, exercise and other depression treatments, supplements can be a very useful addition to your overall treatment plan. You can read a full list of the best supplements for depression here but some of the best ones include ashwagandha (or Indian ginseng), Omega 3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, Folate, Vitamin D, Zinc and Magnesium.
There is still more research to be done on the effectiveness of supplements for depression, but so far the results look promising and some supplements now have conclusive evidence behind them as a treatment for depression. Some supplements don’t interact well with antidepressants, so if you are on those then it is important that you speak to a doctor or professional before beginning any supplement.
Other Treatments For Depression
For medication resistant depression, your doctor may suggest undergoing TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) or ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).
ECT, or shock therapy, involves sending currents of electricity to the brain to cause a seizure, enabling the brain to kind of reset itself. Results are usually fast and this treatment has been shown to be especially effective for the most extreme cases of depression.
TMS involves the use of magnets to stimulate the brain. It isn’t invasive and doesn’t require anesthetic like ECT does, but it does require a large time commitment as a typical course of treatment will be between 15 and 30 sessions, with sessions being done 3-5 times per week. You can read more about my experience with both TMS and ECT here.
Personally, I haven’t had much luck with anti-depressants. It hasn’t been through lack of trying though. For me it has been a case of start a new pill, deal with the side effects, wait for an improvement, adjust dosage after little or no improvement, deal with the side effects again, come off that drug and deal with the withdrawal side effects, then start it all over again with a different drug. It’s all been a bit of a merry go round.
Often people think that the medication will cure them. Sadly, this is rarely the case. The medication, if it works, will generally help you by alleviating some of your depression symptoms and allowing you to do more for yourself to manage the disease, such as diet, exercise and mindfulness to help you live a normal life.
I personally prefer to focus more on psychotherapy, such as CBT, and teaching my brain how to manage the illness. I’ve had great success following the Destroy Depression system and have made significant improvements to my mental health naturally, without the use of drugs or invasive therapies. It costs less than a months supply of anti-depressants and comes with a 60 day money back guarantee. You can check it out here.
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