Depression is a mental condition characterized by consistent feelings of sadness and low mood. It’s normal to feel down or sad from time to time. Life’s demands can be overwhelming sometimes and put people in a state of emptiness or hopelessness. If these feelings remain for longer than usual, the individual may be battling depression.
The feelings of sadness and low mood from depression range from mild to severe, and it isn’t something people can snap out of by simply getting their acts together. It can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including work, play, and study. Depression is the world’s most common mental health condition and can get worse if not properly treated. It’s also the leading cause of disability worldwide and affects members of all age groups. A 2019 study showed that 18.5 percent of US adults have depression in any given two-week period.
Untreated depression can get severe and worsen the symptoms of other conditions like diabetes, cancer, and asthma. There’s no cure for depression, but a person can effectively manage the condition with drug treatment, psychotherapy, and natural remedies.
Why People Get Depressed
It’s difficult to point to a single reason for depression. Having depression is more often than not the result of an interplay of biological or circumstantial factors. The most common possible causes of depression include:
An imbalance of brain chemicals that regulate mood and behavior can trigger depressive episodes. Individuals with a less active frontal lobe also seem to report more cases of depression than the rest of the population.
A family history of depression can increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition and related mood disorders.
Other Medical Conditions
Some medical ailments like heart attack, stroke, insomnia, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease may increase depression risk. Those who experience accidents, physical or emotional pain for prolonged periods are also more likely to develop depression.
Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels during menstruation, postpartum period, perimenopause, and menopause can trigger depression.
Witnessing or experiencing abuse, trauma, and other violent events, especially during childhood, can affect how a person responds to fear and stress, thus increasing their likelihood of developing depression later in life.
Indiscriminate drug or alcohol use can lead to cases of depression.
Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms of depression vary in type and severity among individuals. A temporary feeling of sadness or low mood may not be depression. For a definite diagnosis, a patient must experience some of these symptoms daily for at least two weeks:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
- Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
- Lethargy, fatigue, and reduced energy
- Inability to concentrate, recall things, or take critical decisions
- Thinking about death or suicide
- Loss of appetite, weight gain, or weight loss
- Crying a lot
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Bouts of anger, irritability, and restlessness
- Chronic physical pain untraceable to any known cause
- Drinking and substance abuse
Drug Treatments for Depression
Depression treatment involves drugs that attempt to restore the balance of brain chemicals. The most commonly prescribed medications for depression are:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs act by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. They’re the most prescribed drugs in depression treatment. SSRI examples include Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
SNRIs raise the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Common examples include Effexor XR, Pristiq, and Cymbalta.
Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)
TCAs also increase brain serotonin and norepinephrine levels. They may present more side effects than SSRIs and SNRIs, so they must be used cautiously. Elavil, Tofranil, and Sinequan are some of the commonly used brands.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
MAOIs increase the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and tyramine in the brain. Their side effects limit their use, and they’re only prescribed if a patient isn’t responding to other classes of antidepressants. They include Nardil, Marplan, and Emsam.
Alternative Therapies for Dealing With Depression
Patients who don’t respond positively to drug treatment can explore alternative therapies and lifestyle modifications as a substitute or adjunct to medication.
Some of these treatments are unapproved by regulatory authorities even though they may have some scientific backing. It’s essential to speak to a professional before opting for these types of depression treatment.
Traditional Chinese healing systems find use in a significant number of conditions. Acupuncture is a type of treatment in which fine needles are inserted into specific points in the body to relieve symptoms.
The idea behind acupuncture is that disease is the result of an imbalance in energy. This treatment seeks to restore the balance of that energy. Studies show that acupuncture may help patients respond better to medications.
Traumatic circumstances can trigger depressive episodes, and patients can prevent those occurrences by changing how they respond to such conditions. Meditative practices like yoga and mindfulness help take the mind away from circumstances that can trigger depression or cause a relapse.
Use of Supplements
Some supplements like 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HT), Omega-3-fatty acids, and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may affect brain chemicals in ways that improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. The FDA doesn’t regulate these supplements, so patients must speak with their healthcare provider before using them.
Some herbs and plants have found use in depression treatment. Like other natural treatments, manufacturers may exaggerate the effectiveness of these herbs, so it’s up to the patient to work with their doctors to find out whether these herbs may help their symptoms. Common herbs for depression treatment include ginseng, St. John’s wort, chamomile, and lavender.
Generally, improving one’s way of living can significantly ease depression symptoms or prevent a relapse. Simple activities like eating right, engaging in regular exercises, and developing a sleep routine can help depression. Other changes can include avoiding stress, doing what one loves, and finding time to relax with friends and family.
Depression is a common mental condition affecting lots of people and causing significant loss of productivity. Thankfully, it can be managed and even reversed with the right combination of medicine, alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes.
The manifestations of depression vary among patients. Patients should work with their healthcare provider to devise a treatment combination that offers them the best possible outcome during treatment.