Depression is a disorder which results in feelings of extreme sadness, low motivation and a loss of interest in doing those things that were once enjoyed. We can all feel sad at times- like when we lose a loved one, face stress or experience a major life-changing situation. In a normal situation these feelings of sadness ease once we have accepted the changes that have occurred in our lives. These are not symptoms of depression.
The Signs of Depression
There are both physical and psychological symptoms of depression. These include:
- Feeling that you would be better off dead or thoughts of self-harm.
- Feeling low for the majority of the day. The intensity of this can be up and down but this will last for weeks.
- Poor concentration and therefore difficulties in making decisions, plans and solving problems.
- No desire to take part in activities that are usually seen as pleasurable.
- Continuous negative thoughts, especially related to being unworthy or feelings of guilt.
- A lack of self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Irritable, agitated and restless.
- Numb and empty.
- A loss of energy, even at times when you’re not physically active.
- Feeling exhausted yet a loss of sleep. Sleep tends to be restless and you tend to wake one or two hours before your normal time. Alternatively, you may sleep more than normal.
- A lack of sexual desire.
- Slowed speech.
- Weight loss and a lack of appetite.
- Avoiding social situations which were enjoyed in the past.
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Drinking or smoking more than usual.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate or to remember things.
Any of these symptoms can be a sign of depression. In order to have a depressive disorder, you need to display at least five of these symptoms.
The Causes of Depression
We don’t fully know what actually causes depression. We do know that genetic factors can play a large part in depression. Like many mood disorders, depression does tend to run in families.
An individual’s characteristics are also a factor. Someone suffering from depression tends to think of themselves and the world around them in a negative way. The bad things seem to take over and the good things are not appreciated. If a person who is isn’t depressed views things like this in general then they may have a depressive personality style.
Medication and physical illnesses can also be a cause of depression. For example, anemia, influenza, alcohol/drug abuse, diabetes, glandular fever, hepatitis or thyroid hormones.
Depression can be caused by stressful life events. These can also cause a relapse of depression. Environmental and social stresses such as retirement, financial issues, loneliness, and childbirth can result in depression and especially for those people who are vulnerable.
Coping with Depression
Here are some coping strategies if you are struggling with depression:
- Get Active
If you don’t already, start to exercise. Evidence suggests that exercise can play a role in improving mood. A good starting point would be to take a gentle walk each day for around 20 minutes.
- Reduce Alcohol Intake
Alcohol can end up being a problem and it can be used as a way of coping or hiding how you feel. Alcohol is not a solution and can, in fact, make you feel even more depressed.
- Have a Routine
Someone who feels low is likely to end up with a poor sleeping pattern, i.e. sleeping in the day and staying up at night time. It is important to stick to your normal routine and wake up and go to sleep at the time you would usually do so. A lack of routine can also affect your eating habits. Aim to cook and eat regular meals.
Try and socialize as much as possible and refrain from avoiding people and situations. Stay in touch with family and friends as this way you will always have someone to talk to when you are feeling low.
- Eat Healthily
Quite often if you are feeling depressed you may not want to eat and as a result, end up being underweight. On the opposite hand, some people find comfort in eating and this can cause excess weight. Appetite can also be affected by antidepressants.
- Don’t Avoid your Fears
It’s easy to avoid the things that you find hard when you feel anxious or low. Its common to want to avoid travelling, driving and socializing. If you find yourself feeling like this, then it’s best to face your fears head on and not avoid them.
Help for Depression
If after a few weeks you are still feeling low then you should seek help. There are many different kinds of treatments for depression including TMS, medication and psychotherapy. Depression is one of the mental disorders which is treatable and a large majority of people respond well to treatment.
It could be brain chemistry that causes depression and therefore antidepressants may be the solution to help adjust brain chemistry. Medication usually produces results after a week of use. It can take up to 2-3 months to see the full benefits of the medication. If no improvements are felt after a few weeks then either the dosage of the medication needs to be altered, the medication may need to be changed or an alternate treatment may need to be explored
Psychotherapy, often referred to as ‘talk therapy’ can be used for mild depression. If the depression is moderate or severe then psychotherapy may be used alongside medication and TMS. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is recognized as an effective treatment for depression. The aim of CBT is to help an individual to change the way that they think and behave. Often improvement can be seen in 10-15 sessions of treatment.
TMS, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, is a form of treatment that is non-invasive. Magnetic fields are used which stimulate the nerve cells in the brain which can help improve symptoms related to depression. TMS tends to be used when other forms of treatments have failed to be effective or not been effective in relieving depressive symptoms.