Depression – a disorder as old as the history of humankind. Already Hippocrates (460-377 BC) described melancholia, a condition very similar to today’s depression.
More than 350 million people globally are affected by depression and it can affect anyone – from young people to seniors. But what exactly means being affected by a depression? What are the common symptoms? And which treatments are available?
Depression is a serious medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and/or loss of interest. It is also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression and it affects your feelings, your way of thinking and how you behave. A Depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems, it may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living and often it interferes in doing your normal day-to-day activities.
Symptoms can include sadness, emptiness, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, a change in weight, a difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, an energy loss, anxiety, agitation or restlessness, slowed thinking, speaking or body movements, feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of death or suicide.
There are several forms of depression. One distinguishes between a Major Depressive Disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia), Psychotic Depression, Postpartum Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
- Major Depressive Disorder: This form is characterized by a depressed mood which lasts for more than two weeks and which impairs the patient’s life, including work, private life, relationships and friendships. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): This form lasts for at least two years and the patient may have episodes of a major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms. This is considered a chronic form of depression.
- Psychotic Depression: This form occurs when a patient has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
- Postpartum Depression: This form many women experience after giving birth when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is more serious than the “baby blues”.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: This form is characterized by the symptoms of a Major Depressive Disorder only during a specific time of year, usually winter. This appears to be related to the shorter days of winter, and the lack of sunlight in many parts of the country.
A depression is more than just a “blues” or feeling down for a few days. It is a medical illness, not a sign of weakness.
There are a number of factors that may increase the chance of depression but it is not known exactly was causes this illness. Factors that could be involved are biological differences, brain chemistry, hormones, inherited traits and life events. Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of these factors. It is supposed by longstanding theories about depression that important neurotransmitters – chemicals that brain cells use to communicate – are out of balance. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear different.
Moreover, the risk for depression could result from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors as research indicates. In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Other depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.
A comprehensive physical examination by a doctor should be the first step of getting a treatment to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms. Next a diagnostic evaluation for depression should be conducted by a Psychiatrist or a mental health professional. The treatment depends on the type of depression that you may be suffering from. For example, some patients with a clinical depression are treated with psychotherapy and others are prescribed antidepressants. Still others who don’t respond to standard depression treatments are treated by brain stimulation techniques such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also called electroshock therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
However, you should be aware that a depression will not be cured in only one day or with only one pill. Being patient is important and trying different antidepressant may be required to find the most effective one for you. Psychotherapy is an effective treatment but on its own it may not be enough to resolve severe depression. But it can play an important role when used with other treatments, including medications.
© GNC, German Neuroscience Center Dubai (Neurology, Psychiatry, Psychology, Counseling, Dubai, UAE)