Depression affects approximately 10% of the U.S. population. Feeling sad or upset is a normal response to situations of loss, stress, illness, or other emotional occurrences. Major depression is different and can last for long periods of time, interfering with a person’s health and daily life. If you or someone you know has been suffering from symptoms of depression, there are a few things which are important to know:
The signs and symptoms of depression can be variable. Often, somebody who has been suffering from the disorder may not even realize that they have it.
Intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness are the most well-known characteristics of depression. You might experience a range of other emotions as well. A loss of enjoyment for activities or things that used to make you happy is very common. You may also have a lack of motivation for performing daily tasks, experience high levels of stress or anxiety, exhibit increased irritability or anger outbursts, or trouble becoming aroused in an intimate way. It may be difficult to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions. Thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide are also signs of severe depression.
Your mental and physical health are very closely tied. During a depressive episode, there are some physical symptoms you may notice such as low energy, sleeping too much or too little, appetite changes, indigestion and other digestive problems, and weight loss or gain.. Odd pains such as headaches, stomach aches, or back aches are also possible. You may find yourself crying nonstop, exhibiting purposeless physical actions such as hand-wringing or pacing, or slowing your speech and movements.
Depression is a Real Illness
One of the most important things to understand about depression is that it is a real disease with physiological connections. While the most obvious symptoms may be emotional, major depressive disorder is not a passing emotional state. You can’t expect someone with depression to “snap out of it,” “be happy,” or “get over it.”
Depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry. Neurons (brain cells) use several complex methods for communicating between each other and along nerves. One mechanism involves sending specific chemicals, called neurotransmitters, as messengers. The main neurotransmitters in emotional regulation are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Though these have many functions, they are involved in controlling feelings of happiness, reward, pleasure, appetite, and energy. Changes in the balance or composition of these neurotransmitters can lead to mental conditions such as depression. What often happens in depression is too little serotonin is produced, or it is reabsorbed too fast. Some scientists now think this may be related to chronic, low levels of inflammation in the brain or central nervous system.
Depression is Treatable
There are many different treatment options available for managing depression, and the majority of patients who receive proper treatment will overcome this condition. However, every person and every case of depression is unique. This means that patients need to work together with healthcare provider(s) to develop treatment strategies that work. The first course of action is to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she may perform a physical and/or psychiatric evaluation to determine factors contributing to your illness.
The most common and well-known treatments for depression are antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. For mild depression, psychotherapy or “talk therapy” is often adequate. This involves speaking with a licensed therapist, either alone or with family members, or in a group. For moderate or severe depression, psychotherapy is best alongside antidepressant medication. Antidepressant medications work to restore a normal balance to the neurotransmitters in your brain, enabling normal emotional control and response. They are not stimulations and are not addictive.
Research is still uncovering information about the causes of depression. With it, newer treatments are being developed. One example is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive technique which sends magnetic pulses to stimulate specific regions of the brain. This therapy has been shown to be effective even for patients who are resistant to antidepressant medication.
Self-care and Coping
There are a few things you can do on your own to help ease the symptoms of depression. Most have to do with taking care of your body. Good physical health is important for mental well-being.
Regular exercise is especially helpful. Not only does exercise improve your physical health, it also boosts the production of endorphins, which elevate your mood. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of nutrients and low amounts of inflammatory foods is also good for your brain. Maintaining connections with friends and family is important, too. Additionally, make sure you get plenty of sleep at night.
Emergency Help is Available
If you are ever thinking about committing suicide or harming yourself or others, it is critical that you stop and seek help immediately. Even if you don’t have time to make an appointment with a doctor, there are several ways to receive help at any time of day, any day of the year. Calling 911 is always an option, and there are several mental health hotlines available. You can also walk in to any emergency room.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
You can live a life of health and wellness and we are here to help you achieve that goal.