Understanding depression

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The normal ups and downs of life mean that we can all feel low from time to time. But if emptiness and despair have taken hold of your life and won’t go away, you may have depression.

Depression makes it tough to function and enjoy life like you once did. Just getting through the day can be overwhelming. But no matter how hopeless you feel, you can get better. Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment of depression is the first step to overcoming the problem.

Depression does not always have a single cause. Depending on the individual the cause may be genetic, due to past circumstances, the result of trauma or grief. It is important to remember the interplay between the individual and their situation can play a part in determining their risk factors for depressive disorders.

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What is depression? 

Depression is a complex condition and can have an impact on mood, behaviour, relationships, sleep, appetite and cognition. Vulnerability to depression may be due to genetic factors, losses in early life, or both. Episodes of depression arise from big stressful life event or a build-up of small stresses. These activate the vulnerability that then comes to be maintained by depressed thinking, action and relationships.

What causes depression?

Depression can be caused by:

  • Hormonal dysfunction: Changes in the hormone balance in the body can cause depression. These changes may be caused by thyroid problems, for example, or displayed in the period of menopause amongst other conditions.
  • Genetic: Depression is more common in people with a history of depression in the family. Researchers around the world are trying to find the specific genes which are involved in depression.
  • Live events: Some life events such as the loss of a loved one, financial strains, and high tension can cause depression in some people.
  • Childhood trauma: Traumatic events during childhood such as abuse or loss of a parent can promote permanent brain changes, which can make the person more susceptible to depression.
What’s the difference in incidence of gender or age?

Women are about twice as likely as men to become depressed. This may be related to hormonal fluctuation over the life span. It is important to remember though that increased rates of diagnosis of depression may be related to the way women are encouraged to discuss their feelings, in fact it is expected.

People who are elderly are at higher risk of depression. Elderly people with few social supports, encountering health difficulties make this population more vulnerable to the disorder.

What are other conditions/ experiences which can interact with depression?
1) Health Conditions

Chronic health issues such as cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, and many others increase your risk of becoming depressed. In fact, it has been shown in studies that experiencing chronic pain changes the structure of the brain itself

2) Trauma and grief

Experiencing abuse whether in one’s distant past or living with it can be a catalyst for low mood. Natural life events such as bereavement may also trigger a depressive episode.

3) Changes and stressful events

Divorce and difficult life circumstances Starting a new job, moving home.

4) Medications and substances

Certain drugs such as ecstasy and marijuana can compound depression as can alcohol. Prescription medications, even the birth control pill may also contribute to depression. People who engage in drug and alcohol abuse in an effort to mask Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or numb. These feelings are with you most of the day, every day.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Aware lists eight main symptoms which, if five or more are experienced for two weeks or more, require a formal assessment by a health professional. These symptoms are:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or bored
  • Low energy, feeling tired or fatigued
  • Under- or over-sleeping, or waking frequently during the night
  • Poor concentration, thinking slowed down
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of guilt
  • Aches and pains with no physical basis, e.g. chest/head/tummy pain associated with anxiety or stress. 
  • Loss of interest in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts
How is depression managed or treated?

Overcoming depression involves learning how to control and change patterns in thinking, behaviour and relationships that maintain depression and keeping the number of stresses in your life to manageable proportions. When diagnosis is made in earlier stages (mild and moderate stages), therapy sessions can be extremely helpful, and can alleviate the condition without medical intervention. In other cases, physicians might prescribe antidepressant medications, improving sleep, appetite and energy levels, combined with psychological therapy, which can develop skills to fight depression and prevent relapses. About two thirds of people benefit from a combination of psychological therapy and medication.

How can therapy sessions help?
  • Helping them to understand their behaviours, emotions and ideas which can be contributory factors.
  • Identifying and comprehending life problems or events such as a serious disease, bereavement/loss, divorce or separation, abuse etc
  • Recovering the enjoyment of life and sense of control
  • Learn techniques to deal with problems and change patterns in thinking and behaviour.
What habits might help manage depression?
  • Eat freshwater fish: This kind of fish such as salmon, anchovies or sardines is rich in fat acids omega-3, which is a natural source of anti-depressant.
  • Green vegetables: It has been proven that a deficiency of vitamin B can contribute to depression. Eating food with folic acid can help to combat this. Maintain a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, beans and cereals.
  • Exercise: improve your mood with regular exercise. For example, aerobics classes or sports stimulate the liberation of chemical substances in the brain which help to elevate good mood.
  • Meditation: It is good for treating depression and low levels of stress. Investing in meditation might improve your mood and combat stress and anxiety. One of the simplest forms of meditation is to sit quietly with your eyes closed and pay close attention to your breathing.

If you think you may be struggling with depression, we can help. Visit our team page here to read about our mental health professionals. Call us at 076 680 1060 or email hq@mymind.org to get your first appointment within 72 hours.

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