Depression: Causes, Symptoms, And Available Treatments
We are, at times depressed, and at times sad. We may understand the general feelings, but can we really tell the difference? And if we can tell the difference, can we accurately describe it? Then, even if we could describe it, does depression make a greater impact on our emotional and physical health compared to sadness?
Depression: How It Differs From Sadness
Sadness is a normal human emotion. We’ve all experienced it, and will so again. Sadness is usually triggered by a difficult, hurtful, or disappointing event. And therefore, we feel sad about something. This also means that when that something changes and our emotional hurt fades, our sadness ends.
On the other hand, depression is an abnormal emotional state, a mental illness that affects our thinking, emotions, and behaviors in pervasive ways. When we’re depressed, we feel sad about everything. Depression does not require a difficult event, a loss, or change of circumstance to trigger. In fact, it often occurs in the absence of any such triggers. People’s lives on paper might be totally fine, and yet they still feel horrible.
Depression colors all aspects of our lives, making everything less enjoyable, interesting, and important. Indeed, depression saps our energy, motivation, and ability to experience joy, pleasure, excitement, anticipation, satisfaction, and meaning. All your thresholds are lower. You’re more impatient, quicker to anger and get frustrated, quicker to break down, and you’re slower to bounce back.
Depression: Emotional Symptoms
- Loss of interest in life, a sense of guilt or worthlessness
- Lack of hope,
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Depression: Physical Symptoms
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Insomnia, especially early-morning waking
- Excessive sleep
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Appetite fluctuations; serious weight gain or weight loss
Depression: Handling Daily Life
People with depression find it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. They turn away from previously enjoyable activities and in severe cases, depression can become life-threatening. Depressed people are more likely to attempt suicide. Warning signs include talking about death or suicide, threatening to hurt people, or engaging in aggressive or risky behavior.
Depression: Risk Factors
Genetics play a key role. Having a parent or sibling with depression increases your risk of developing the disorder. Women are twice as likely as men to become depressed.
A prominent theory is altered brain structure and chemical function. Brain circuits that regulate mood may work less efficiently during depression. Drugs that treat depression are believed to improve communication between nerve cells, making them run more normally. Experts also think that while stress — such as losing a loved one — can trigger depression, one must first be biologically prone to develop the disorder. Other triggers could include certain medications, alcohol or substance abuse, hormonal changes, or even the season.
There is no lab test. To make an accurate diagnosis, doctors rely on a patient’s description of the symptoms. Discussing moods, behaviors, and daily activities can help reveal the severity and type. This is a critical step in determining the most effective treatment.
Research suggests exercise is a potent weapon against this disease. Physical activity releases endorphins that can help boost mood. Regular exercise is also linked to higher self-esteem, better sleep, less stress, and more energy. Any type of moderate activity, from swimming to housework, can help. Choose something you enjoy and aim for 20 to 30 minutes four or five times a week.
Antidepressants affect the levels of brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, and there are several options:
Some popular medication choices for depression include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reputake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Cymbalta (duloxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).
Give antidepressants a few weeks of use to take effect. If the first medication tried doesn’t help, there’s a good chance another will. The combination of talk therapy and medication appears particularly effective.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can help patients with treatment-resistant depression that does not improve with medication. VNS is like a pacemaker for the brain. The surgically implanted device sends electrical pulses to the brain through the vagus nerve in the neck. These pulses are believed to ease depression by affecting mood areas of the brain.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
Another option for patients with treatment-resistant or severe melancholic depression is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This treatment uses electric charges to create a controlled seizure. Patients are not conscious for the procedure. ECT helps 80% to 90% of patients who receive it, giving new hope to those who don’t improve with medication.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
A newer option for people with stubborn depression is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This treatment aims electromagnetic pulses at the skull. It stimulates a tiny electrical current in a part of the brain linked to depression. rTMS does not cause a seizure and appears to have few side effects.
Major depression is a condition that is highly treatable. More than 80% of people get better with medication, talk psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Even when these therapies fail to help, there are effective cutting-edge treatments that we have previously mentioned.
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