WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
I’m sure you probably have heard of depression in one way or another either from a friend, a colleague, a family member or especially here on the internet. The incidence rate of depression these days makes it pretty hard to have a fair idea of what depression is. What exactly is depression?
Depression is a mental disorder that affects our mood and influences our way of life. It is characterized by extreme sadness, persistent feelings of guilt, negative thoughts, the feeling of self-worthlessness, loss of interest and in extreme cases, the pressing thoughts of suicide.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a person with major depression disorder must exhibit at least five of these symptoms persistently for a least two weeks.
- Irritable mood
- Significant loss of interest/pleasure in almost all activities or all activities
- Excessive weight loss or weight gain along with an increase or decrease in appetite
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- The feeling of worthlessness and guilt
- Inability to sleep
- Psychomotor agitation
- Thoughts of suicide
If you find yourself constantly exhibiting five or more of the above symptoms please seek medical consultation immediately.
Depression was formerly known as Melancholia and according to research has existed right from the ancient Mesopotamian era.
Throughout history, mental illness has been attributed to demons and evil spirits. Extreme measures such as exorcism, isolation, beating, burning, starvation, drowning, to name a few, were used as methods of treatment. What else does this sound like either than an unfathomable offence?
People suffering from depression were humiliated and abandoned by friends and family. Depression just like any medical malady can be traced to a cause and as a result can be treated. It is far from demons and bad omens.
The rate of depression has skyrocketed sparking a surge in concern.
According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people worldwide are affected with depression, of which women are the most prevalent. It is estimated that 15% of adults are bound to experience depression at some point in their lives. Scary as it sounds, it even gets worse than that.
Suicide associated with depression is shown to be the second leading cause of death across the world. This all seems like a dead end but don’t relent just yet- “where there is life, there is hope”.
There has been a lot of controversies regarding the causes of depression since ancient times. Hippocrates, a Greek physician at the time suggested that depression was caused by the imbalance of body fluids (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm) which he called Humour. Other physicians also argued that the brain was the root of all mental illnesses.
The complex nature of depression makes it difficult to pinpoint its exact causes but due diligence of specialists has made it possible to narrow them down to the following;
- Biological factors such as genetics and anatomy
- Genetics – A person whose family has a history of depression is highly susceptible to depression compared to an individual whose family has no history of depression.
- Changes in the structures of the brain- It has been shown that people with recurrent depression have a smaller hippocampus than those with early-stage major depression disorder. The hippocampus plays a role in short-term memory, behaviour and response.
- Changes in the activities of some parts of the brain such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the amygdala. These two areas in the brain seem to be the processing centers for risk and fear. Brain imaging studies show a decrease activity in the vmPFC which is responsible for the responds to fear, our emotional responds and decision making. The amygdala on the other hand, shows an increase in activity in depressed people. It is associated with the experience of anxiety, fear, anger, sorrow , aggression, decision making and memory
- Chemical factors such as neurotransmitters and hormonal imbalances
- Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and GABA have been studied and shown to decrease in people suffering from depression. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that are fired up through several nerve cells in order to effect a required action across the body. The brain needs proper amount of nutrients in order to produce the necessary amount of neurotransmitters that regulate our mood.
- When the body encounters stress, it releases stress hormones such as cortisol. Stress increases the level of cortisol and decreases serotonin and dopamine levels which then causes depression.
- Social/environmental factors such as:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Drug abuse
- Poor sleep
- Bad diet
- Bad company
- Depression can also be due to traumatic events such as child abuse, sexual abuse, the loss of loved ones and other medical conditions.
There is no particular solution to depression since we are all unique in our own ways. However, these measures have proven useful in the recovery of depression.
- Interpersonal therapy; communicate with others about how you feel.
- Exercise : regular exercise has shown to improve depression as much as medication does.
- Nutrition: eating well helps to regulate our emotions and keeps our body healthy.
- Sleep: It is important that we get enough sleep; at least 8 hours each night. Less sleep is shown to worsen the symptoms of depression.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy: This changes the patterns of thinking and behaviour that affect our attitudes and beliefs.
- Medication: Antidepressants correct the neurotransmitter and hormonal imbalances. Medication should be used in conjunction with other therapies along with lifestyle changes to effect the required solution.
Be sure to get in touch with your physician concerning treatment and medication as self-medication can aggravate depression when done wrong.
Depression has existed since the dawn of time, however, it is heartbreaking how far it has extended its reach. Let’s all play our part by spreading this information to anyone who might be in need of it. Together we can change the world.