Depression is a mental disorder characterised by some very specific core symptoms. Unfortunately, nowadays, there are still people that think Depression is not a real illness but a sign of weakness or something that can be sorted out by the individual if she/he really wants. They are terribly wrong. Depression is a psychiatric illness with defined and well-known symptoms.
Depression affects people of every age and can happen to anyone. Many successful and famous people battle with this problem every day. Living with Depression is difficult for those who suffer from it as well as for their family, friends and colleagues.
What does depression feel like?
Depression affects people in different ways and causes a wide range of symptoms. In a Depressive Episode people may experience: persistent low mood; diminished interest or pleasure in activities; low energy; feeling of worthless or guilt; low self confidence; diminished ability to think or concentrate; agitation or slowing of movement; poor or increased appetite; poor or increased sleep; suicidal thoughts or acts. Symptoms of depression range from mild to severe, depending on the number of symptoms present and on their intensity.
When should I seek help for depression? Suffering from clinical depression is different from feeling low in mood or sad. In fact, feeling sad from time to time is a common experience for human beings and does not require specialist input. When your mood is persistently low, you think that life is not worth or there are other symptoms that make it difficult to cope with your daily activities, it is important to discuss it with your family members, GP, and Psychiatrist. There are people that usually wait before seeking help for Depression, however it is best not to delay. Asking for help and support if the first step to recovery.
Why did I get depressed? There is not a single cause of Depression. Many factors are deemed to be responsible. Depression has been linked to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Dopamine. The use of neuroimaging has shown which brain regions regulate mood and how other functions, such as memory, may be affected by Depression. Areas in our brain that play a significant role in Depression are Amygdala, Thalamus, and Hippocampus. Researches showed that the Hippocampus is smaller in some depressed people.
Stressful life events, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, financial worries, unemployment, can have an important role in the emerge of Depression. At the same time some personality traits, such as being overly self-critical or having low self-esteem, can make people more vulnerable to develop Depression.
Having family members that have suffered from Depression increases the risk of developing the same illness. However, due to the fact that Depression is a result of several concomitant factors, genetic predisposition cannot be considered the only cause. Also social isolation plays an important role in the genesis of Depression, which shows the importance of having support from family and/or friends. Some women are particularly vulnerable to Depression after pregnancy. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can lead to what is called Post-natal Depression.
When life is getting people down, some individuals try to cope by drinking alcohol or taking drugs. This can result in a spiral of depression.
A higher risk of Depression has been seen in longstanding or life threatening illnesses, such as cancer, coronary heart disease, head injury and chronic pain.
Treatment. Treatment for Depression can involve a combination of lifestyle changes, psychological therapies and medical treatment.
Medication is not the first choice if Depression is mild. In this case, it may be worth considering life style changes and psychological sessions.
Medical treatment is used for moderate and severe Clinical Depression. Antidepressants are a type of medication used to treat Depression. They work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters, such as Serotonin and Noradrenaline, in the brain.
Antidepressant medications are a first line treatment for Major Depressive Disorder and for sub-threshold Depression that has persisted for 2 years or more. Antidepressants are an option for short duration Major Depressive Disorder if there is a history of moderate to severe depressive episodes or if Depression has persisted for more than 2-3 months.
Antidepressants usually exist in tablet form. When prescribed, the medication is started at the lowest dose possible and it takes about 2-3 weeks before the benefits are felt. It is very important to take the medication consistently, every day, and not to stop it if you experience mild side effects. These can be easily discussed with your specialist and are mostly temporary. A course of treatment lasts at least six months.
Caring for someone with Depression. The support of friends and family can play a very important role in someone who is suffering from Depression. The best thing that relatives and family members can do is to simply listen, which makes people feel less lonely and isolated.
It is important to support the people we love to get medical help and be open about Depression. It might be hard for the people we love to have the energy to keep up contact, so carers may want to try to maintain in touch.
Caring for someone suffering from Depression is not an easy task and can be overwhelming at times. Therefore, it is always important that carers keep a balance in their life and maintain some spare time in order to look after theirselves. Carers that feel burnt out are encouraged to talk to their GP and find out if there is support they can access, such as counselling, family therapy or carers’ support network.
illustration by Benjamin Lacombe