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Debamita Banerjee

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Depression: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Depression is a mental disorder that causes long bouts of sadness, feelings of loss of hope, lack of interest in daily activities and resentment towards one's life. It must not be waved off as mere mood fluctuation as depression can not only severely damage a patient's mental health but also induce suicidal tendencies. It is also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people around the world suffer from major depressive disorder across all age groups. The most essential step in dealing with depression is to identify it, reach out to sources you can trust and get professional help.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEPRESSION AND SADNESS

It is possible to confuse periods of hardships and sadness in your life with depression and vice versa. The principal difference between the two is that depression is a clinical condition with long-term effects whereas everybody goes through sad phases due to the inevitable highs and lows of life. More often than not, sadness is an emotion triggered by specific situations whereas a person can be depressed without any apparent cause. One can be sad as a by-product of depression but the illness in itself surpasses just the emotion. Depression affects a person psychologically, emotionally and physically unlike sadness.

CAUSES OF DEPRESSION

Depression can be caused by a variety of biological, environmental and social reasons. As a result of depression, the serotonin(also known as the happy hormone) and ephedrine levels in our brain lower down. A significant portion of the population might have a greater tendency to be affected by depression but it can affect people from all walks of life, making it all the more dangerous. 

  • Genetic Vulnerability - Different genetic endowment makes different people more or less susceptible to depression. The effect is not as pronounced in diseases such as Bipolar Disorder but it's still accountable. According to Harvard Medical School, A person with a first-degree relative who has suffered from depression is 1.5 to 3% more likely to encounter the condition compared to an average person.
  • Gender - Research shows that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression in their lifetime. Medical professionals cannot pinpoint a particular reason for this but it's often linked to the numerous hormonal changes women go through. On the other hand, the possibility of men identifying their depression and seeking treatment for it is a lot lower compared to women.
  • Abuse - A person who has gone through serious mental, physical or emotional abuse at any stage in his/ her life is vulnerable to depression because of the trauma.
  • Death and Failure - Losing a loved one or failing to achieve a lifelong dream can take a heavy toll on anybody. Depression can be a consequence of such mishaps.
  • Serious illnesses - It's often observed that patients with terminal illnesses such as cancer develop depressive symptoms. Major accidents can also trigger such episodes.
  • Substance abuse - Persistent consumption of alcohol and drugs impairs mental function and stability. As a result, nearly 30% of addicts suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Their usage can provide temporary gratification but they further increase the severity of one's issues.
  • Postpartum pitfalls - Childbirth can often be followed by postpartum depression. A new mother goes through immense hormonal fluctuations which can result in baby blues i.e. crankiness,agitation,despair and anxiety. It can last from a few days to a few months after the delivery.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies - Deficiency of vitamins such as vitamin B6, B12, D and minerals such as Magnesium, Iron and Folate can lead to poor neurological functioning. Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to improve mood and memory. A diet deficient in these important nutrients can make a person vulnerable to all mental disorders including depression.
  • Other Personal Reasons - This can include anything ranging from breakups to moving to a new city. Any drastic event that's overwhelming for an individual can trigger depressive thoughts.

DEPRESSION SYMPTOMS

Major depressive disorders affect both the psyche and the physical abilities of a patient. Following is a list of depression symptoms, a patient might suffer from all or multiple symptoms mentioned below.

MENTAL SYMPTOMS

  • Fluctuating emotions - If your emotions seem to be uncontrollable or unexplainable in repetitive cycles for extended periods, it's likely that you're suffering from depression. The mind functions on extremes during depression, you can be extremely sad one moment and intensely hyper the next. Acute mood swings are bound to be experienced.
  • Anxiety - Although anxiety is not a necessary prerequisite for depression, they usually surface together in an individual. Anxiety incites panic, dread, lack of focus, rapid breathing, high pulse rate, restlessness, immoderate sweating and muscle twitching. If you can identify with the majority of these factors, you're suffering from anxiety and are at a high risk of having depression.
  • Self Loathing - Depression often makes people feel inferior. You might feel like you're a burden on your near and dear ones or incapable of any legitimate achievement. Your life might seem meaningless and not worth living to you.
  • Escapism through Addiction - Depressed people are always on the lookout to relieve themselves from the pain they are in, even if momentarily. If you find yourself turning to alcohol, smoking, gambling or drug usage to stay distracted, then it could be a sign of deep-set and unresolved issues.
  • Lack of concentration and indecisiveness - A person suffering from depression often has problems concentrating or focusing on a particular action. Inability to make important or mundane decisions and picking between alternatives can be signs of depression. The decisions they do make are frequently impulsive and irrational.
  • Apathy - A person suffering from depression generally lacks all enthusiasm and excitement regarding anything occurring around them. They're indifferent and tend to stay stuck in their brain.
  • Suicidal tendencies - If your depression has turned severe, you might have urges to end your life. In this case, seek help from a medical professional as soon as possible.

PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS

  • Headaches - Depression can cause mild throbbing near the eyebrow region regularly. It is not as excruciatingly painful as migraines but rather persistent.
  • Sleeping issues - An obvious indicator of depression can be an unhealthy sleep schedule. Being too stuck in one's thoughts can lead to a lack of adequate sleep and even insomnia. Contrary to this, a depressed person might also sleep excessively long to avoid their brain.
  • Fatigue and Low energy levels - People going through depression often complain about not having the energy to do even simple tasks. A patient can feel like they are perpetually exhausted.
  • Changes in Appetite - Food is the fuel our bodies run on but as a consequence of depression, a person tends to often project their emotions on the food they consume. Some people binge eat, others start losing their hunger cues. Based on this, depression has been linked to various eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
  • Sexual Problems - An individual suffering from depression might notice a low sex drive and poor performance during the act. 
  • Aching Muscles - Consistent throbbing and pain in your back can be a corollary of depression. Recent studies suggest that inflammation in the body may correlate with the neural circuits in our brain.
  • Stomach Discomfort - Depression tends to disrupt all our body's natural cycles. As a result, patients might experience irregular bowels. A Harvard Medical School study suggests that poor mental health can have repercussions on the digestive system in the form of nausea, cramps and bloating.

SOLUTIONS AND REMEDIES FOR DEPRESSION

Despite the lack of consideration and awareness regarding depression, it is a serious condition that needs to be treated to ensure a victim's well-being. Here are a few steps you can take to battle depression.

  • Fight the Stigma - In recent years, mental health has been making its way into mainstream media and is now a topic for open discussion. Still, society can often demean and put down people fighting the ailment. Educate yourself as much as you can regarding the subject and do not fear seeking help. Acknowledging your issues is the only way you can begin dealing with them.
  • Contact a healthcare professional - It must be kept in mind that depression is a clinical condition and medical assistance is required to deal with it properly. You might be prescribed antidepressants or therapy sessions after a thorough consultation. 
  • Seek social support - If you have been feeling distraught and low for a long time, connect with your family members and loved ones. Discussing your problems will rid you of loneliness. You can also reach out to sources that can act as an outlet for your feelings. These can include support groups and dedicated forums.
  • Meditation - Depression can leave a person feeling strangled by their thoughts. Calming your mind through meditation can help you get a better grip on the situation. It's a step towards regaining your concentration and helps you relax from the constant inner turmoil.
  • Exercise - Regular exercise is known to boost endorphins and serotonin. It leads to the birth of new brain cells and awakens neural networks. Increasing your productivity without a lot of brainwork raises morale on down days.
  • Have Patience - The procedure to revive from depression can be slow and demanding. You might not find the best fit in your therapist on your first try. Different medication is effective on different people. It is a difficult time to go through but remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In the video linked below, Dr. Ashish Mittal elaborates on the various behavioral symptoms and treatment options for depression.  

Depression brings a strenuous period in one's life. A patient of depression might feel like they're at constant war with themselves and society. Do not feel any shame or guilt for what you are going through, mental illnesses are just as potent as physical illnesses. Building healthy social relationships can prove to be a great asset while undergoing rough patches with your mental health. Everyone deserves a chance at a happy life. Do not let an illness make you question your self-worth.  

If you have a hard time discussing your feelings amongst people you know, visit here to find a community of individuals who are going through the same issues as you. You can receive first-hand insights and advice from our healthcare experts. We lend an ear to any difficulty that bothers you and provides you an outlet to pour your heart.

References :

  1. What causes depression? - https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression
  2. Depression - https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression