Depression is a mood disorder that involves a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in life. It is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, how you think, and how you act. It is estimated that 5% of adults globally suffer from depression.
While depression cannot be cured, it is among the most treatable mental disorders. It cannot be cured as the current treatment methods do not result in complete disappearance of symptoms. However, it can be treated – the symptoms of depression can be managed and their severity reduced with time. With timely diagnosis and proper treatment, a diagnosis of depression does not hinder a person’s quality of life.
Depression is different from the mood fluctuations people experience as a part of life. Though depression and grief have some similarities, they are very different. In grief, positive memories often accompany feelings of sadness. With depression, the feelings of sadness are constant. Depression usually causes the person to experience feelings of low self-worth, low self-esteem or even self-loathing. Grief does not typically engender these feelings in a person. Doctors only consider feelings of grief, sadness and loss of interest to be symtoms of depression if they persist.
Without proper diagnosis and treatment, depression lingers and becomes progressively worse. In severe cases when depression goes untreated, it may result in self-harm or even death.
What are the symptoms of depression?
The symptoms below are associated with all the different types of depression. They can vary from mild to severe and include:
- Reduced interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Fatigue or loss of energy fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of sexual desire
- Changes in appetite
- Depressed mood
- Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide, or an attempt at suicide
- Unintentional and is weight loss or gain
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
Common types of depression
Depression can find expression in different ways depending on different factors. The following are the most common types of depression found in adults:
- Major depressive disorder (MDD)
Generally referred to as clinical depression, the typical symptoms associated with depression are relevant here. If a person experiences these symptoms for more than two weeks, they are diagnosed with MDD.
- Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
This is a mild but long-term form of depression. It often exhibits a low mood occurring for at least two years along with at least two other symptoms of depression. People suffering from this type of depression experience periods. It is often treated using psychotherapy and medication.
- Bipolar disorder
This disorder is characterised by episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. Treatment is usually lifelong and involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
- Postpartum depression
Postpartum depression occurs after giving birth. Depression can have its onset during pregnancy or after the birth of the child. Some of the symptoms include social withdrawal, treble bonding with your baby, and thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby. Those who develop postpartum depression are at a greater risk of developing major depression later on in life. It is treated using psychotherapy, medication, and hormone therapy
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is also referred to as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. This is seen in people who only experience symptoms of depression during the winter months. SAD is believed to be triggered by disturbance in the normal circadian rhythm of the body. The seasonal variation in night/day pattern causes this disruption leading to depression. It is more common in areas within and around the tropics. It is treated using medication, psychotherapy, and light therapy (phototherapy).
- Atypical depression
Sometimes referred to as depressive disorder with atypical features, this type of depression often does not follow what was thought of to be the “typical” presentation of the disorder. However, despite its name, atypical depression is more common than its name may imply. With this type of depression, a person’s depressed mood can brighten in response to positive events. The person exhibits symptoms including intense sensitivity to rejection, strongly reactive moods, excessive sleep, excessive eating or weight gain, and fatigue, weakness and feeling weighed down. It can be treated through psychotherapy and medication.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
This is a severe and sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This disorder includes physical and behavioural symptoms that usually resolve with the onset of menstruation. PMDD usually result in extreme mood shifts that disrupt personal and work relationships. Irritability, anger, hopelessness, Extreme fatigue, inability to concentrate, food cravings or binging, and extreme sadness are some of the symptoms associated with PMDD. It is often treated using medication and self-help and coping.
What causes depression?
The causes of depression are not fully understood by the medical community. However there are many possible causes. Furthermore, there are numerous factors which sometimes combine to trigger the symptoms associated with depression. The following are some of the causes/factors that lead to or increase a person’s risk of suffering from depression:
- Brain chemistry: There may be a chemical imbalance in the part of the brain that manages the mood, emotions and appetites of a person.
- Hormone levels: changes in female hormones during the menstrual cycle, or postpartum period, or menopause may raise a person’s risk of depression.
- Family history: People who have a family history of depression are at a higher risk of having depression.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to violence, poverty, abuse, and neglect in childhood, puts people at a higher risk of having depression.
- Other medical conditions: There are certain medical conditions that put you at a higher risk e.g. chronic illnesses, chronic pain, insomnia, cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and heart attack.
- Substance abuse: A history of substance abuse may increase an individual’s risk of having depression.
How is depression treated?
Depression is a common mental disorder yet is among the most treatable of mental disorders. About 80% to 90% of people with depression eventually respond to treatment, with positive results and progress.
Before diagnosis or treatment, professionals usually conduct a diagnostic evaluation, which includes an interview and a physical examination.
The physical examination is used to rule out any other medical causes that may exhibit the same symptoms as depression. For example, thyroid problems, a brain tumor, and vitamin deficiency may exhibit symptoms similar to depression.
The interview can help to identify specific symptoms and explore medical and family histories with special attention to environmental, psychological and social factors, which may increase a patient’s risk for depression.
The following methods are used to treat depression:
This method of treatment is used for depression that may be caused by brain chemistry and hormone levels. For this reason, antidepressants are usually prescribed to help modify the brain’s chemistry. While antidepressants may produce improvement within the first week of use, their full benefits are often seen within 2 to 3 months. Patients are often advised to monitor their progress while on the medication in case the dosage of the drugs may need to be amended.
This method is often used to manage the mild forms of depression. For mild to severe forms of depression, psychotherapy is often used along with antidepressants. A common form of therapy used is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It has been found to be effective in treating depression. It focuses on problem-solving in the present and helps the individual to recognise their negative thought patterns with the goal of changing their thoughts and behaviours to respond to challenges in a more positive manner.
- Electro convulsive therapy (ECT)
This method of treatment has been reserved for patients with severe major depression and who have not responded to other methods of treatment. This treatment method involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anaesthesia. The patient typically receives ECT 2 to 3 times a week for a total of 6 to 12 treatments. This treatment method is managed by a team of trained medical professionals which include a psychiatrist, an anaesthesiologist, and a nurse or physician assistant.
- Self-help in coping
This refers to individual activities that a person can do to help reduce the severity of the symptoms of depression. Some of these activities include:
- getting enough, regular sleep
- getting enough exercise
- Eating a healthy diet
- These activities however are seen as complementary to receiving professional help. On their own, these activities may not be sufficient in safeguarding and treating depression as a mental disorder.
Depression is a real illness but fortunately help is available. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression are able to improve and live a healthy life.
If you or someone you love experiences any symptoms of depression the first step is to seek help through a family physician or psychiatrist. Doing this is the first step in addressing your mental health needs and securing your health to live a life you can enjoy.