It wasn’t long ago that depression was a little understood or treated condition. It was only in the middle of the 20th century that depression started to be seriously studied. And up until recently, most people suffered in silence.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed about. Clinical depression is a medical illness that affects the mind and body. Your thinking and behavior are altered, causing a variety of emotional and physical issues.
While some people suffer from depression due to a current environmental trauma, many need to monitor it for a lifetime. Most health professionals realize that depression is something you may have to treat with a long-term commitment, just as you would any other conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.
Depression isn’t just something that affects adults. Teenagers, and even children, suffer from bouts of depression or long-term clinical depression.
If you or a loved one has been recently been officially diagnosed with depression, or you may think that you are suffering from depression, learn more about this fairly common disorder, including the causes, risk factors, and ways you can prevent it in the first place.
Diagnosis and proper treatment can help you control the severity of your depression symptoms, allowing you to live a rich and fulfilling life.
What’s the difference between depression and just having the run-of-the-mill blues? According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), published by The American Psychiatric Association, you suffer from depression if you have at least five of the following nine symptoms at the same time:
- A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
- Fatigue or a lack of energy almost every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
- Lack of concentration, and indecisiveness
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
- Significantly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
- A sense of restlessness (psychomotor agitation), or being slowed down
- Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than five percent of your body weight in a month)
What Causes Depression?
Clinical depression is caused by a variety of reasons. Some people suffer from depression based on a traumatic life event: a death in the family, a move, or a serious illness. But some people have a family history of depression, and they suffer from symptoms of depression for a lifetime, for no other reason than a chemical imbalance or a glass-half-empty personal disposition.
Besides genetics, there are other risk factors for long- or short-term clinical depression. They include:
- Physical or psychological abuse
- Major life events such as a job loss
- Substance abuse
- Prescribed or over-the-counter medications (should be abuse or dependence?)
- Conflicts with family, friends, or co-workers
Depression and Mental Health Medication
There are several treatment approaches for mental health disorders, including some interesting new developments. The two most common treatments are medications and psychotherapy.
A less common and somewhat controversial method is electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy). It’s used for severe depression where other treatments were ineffective.
Brain stimulation is an emerging treatment for depression. The treatment was first used in the U.S. in 1997 by neurosurgeons at Mayo Clinic in Florida. It’s used for Parkinson’s disease, cluster headache depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain among other ailments.
Here is just a sampling of popular mental health medications:
Combination Antipsychotic and Antidepressant Medication:
Treating Depression Without Medicine
There are many potential alternative or complimentary approaches to treating mental disorders. Here are just a few:
Yoga and Meditation – More and more studies are supporting the benefits of yoga and meditation. By reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration, yoga and meditation give people a perpetual calming effect.
Aromatherapy – Essential oils and similar aromatic compounds from plants are used to improve mood, cognitive function, or overall health. The consensus among most medical professionals is that there is some evidence that aromatherapy works, but more studies are needed.
- Lavender aromatherapy is traditionally believed to help treat anxiety.
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) may reduce agitation in people with severe dementia when applied to the face and arms twice daily. Steam inhalation of lavender aromatherapy may have similar effects.
Light therapy – Exposure to the bright light from a light therapy box is believed to alter the patient’s circadian rhythms and suppress the body’s natural product of melatonin. Together, these cause biochemical changes in your brain that help reduce or control symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and other conditions.
Hypnosis – When hypnosis is used for mental health purposes, it’s referred to as hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapists often use exercises that bring about deep relaxation and an altered state of consciousness, also known as a trance. In fact, hypnosis can teach people how to master their own states of awareness, which in turn can affect their own psychological responses.
Acupuncture – Research suggests that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for depression. One study conducted by psychologist John Allen of University of Arizona suggests that acupuncture may be as effective in treating depression as psychotherapy or drug therapy.
Massage – While studies are lacking in support of massage therapy for mental health issues such as depression, there have been reports by people who claim that their symptoms were lessened as a result of massage.
While the verdict is still out on whether or not you can prevent depression, what researchers and mental health professionals do know is that the effects of depression can be minimized and relapses can be avoided through the appropriate actions and behaviors.
The difficulty in preventing depression is that for some individuals, its cause may stem from biochemical alterations in the brain. And while medications can balance out these neural imbalances, sometimes they stop working or don’t work as effectively as they once had. In these circumstances, the individual must work with his or her health care provider in order to correct the inefficacies of the medicine.
When it comes to preventing depression, lifestyle behaviors play a significant role in thwarting off a relapse or halting an episode from ever beginning.
Numerous studies have pointed to the mind-boosting effects of physical activity. Therefore, maintaining a regular exercise routine, one that involves cardiovascular activity, has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of depression and even prevent their onset. Exercise releases natural feel-good endorphins in the brain, many of which are the same neurotransmitters that antidepressant medications seek to increase.
Aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week to fully experience this benefit.
Science is just beginning to uncover the precise connections between diet and mood. Certain studies have found that cultures in which fish consumption is high, their incidence of depression is markedly low. Cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel, which are rich in omega fatty acids, have been linked to a reduced incidence of depressive symptoms like anxiety and insomnia. In addition, the B vitamins have been associated with delivering brain-boosting nutrients to the brain. Supplementing with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as a measure to reduce depression risk should be done under the guidance of a medical professional.
Making sure you consume a well-balanced diet, one that is full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein like fish, and low in nutrient-void foods like sugars and refined starches, is an effective way to keep your mood balanced and your health in check.
Depression can be also be prevented by receiving support from those around you. Since social isolation is a factor in developing depression, staying connected to friends and family cannot be underestimated as a way to reduce the risk of depression. But you should stay away from social activities that are heavily focused on drinking alcohol since alcohol is a well-documented depressant that will just exacerbate symptoms rather than quell them.
If you are affected by depression, take solace in knowing that there is a host of resources available to you that can help you cope, treat and garner support for your condition.
With just a click of your mouse, scores of websites, online support groups, and professional mental health associations can be easily accessed and can offer information, new research news, advice, and tips for how to work through your depression. While most of these services are free, you will want to make sure that you are accessing a reputable organization that is comprised of certified mental health professionals.
Community Support Groups
The city or town you live in likely holds regular mental health support groups that are open and free to the public. Check with your local newspapers to find out the locations and times of meetings. Also, contact your local county health department to find out what kinds of mental health resources are available to you.
Often, colleges and universities with mental health programs offer counseling services at much lower rates than seeing a private therapist. While you may be working with a therapist-in-training, such programs are well-monitored and regarded as effective options for receiving mental health care. Check with the academic institutions in your surrounding area to find out which ones offer mental health services.