Any man, woman, or child may feel down occasionally, but an unhappy mood that lasts for many days may indicate depression. Specifically, a generalized feeling of unhappiness or apathy that lasts for a minimum of two successive weeks and that is accompanied by disrupted daily activities likely indicates a major depressive episode. Unlike purely physical ailments, depression may be viewed as a negative or embarrassing trait, but being depressed should not be equated with having a weak personality. This is a highly treatable condition, and treatment for depression may be tailored to help you manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
While there is much debate in the medical community as to what causes depression, changes in brain structure and chemical action are widely considered as primary causes. Why people have so many diverse reactions to such brain alterations, however, may be due to many things, such as:
- Traumatic events
- Substance abuse
- Seasonal changes
- Hormonal changes
Losing a job or a spouse and the stress that often results from these traumatic events may trigger changes in the brain and therefore depressive episodes. Alternatively, depression may be linked to prescribed or even natural medications, alcohol or drug abuse, or the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or menopause. Some people are strongly affected by the lack of sunlight during winter months, and may experience depression during this time of the year as well.
Major depression profoundly affects daily life, and the symptoms may be emotional or physical. A general lack of interest in ordinarily pleasurable or routine activities often results, and this cycle may lead to feeling guilty and unworthy of the positive aspects of life. Decreased energy, reduced appetite, physical ailments, and sleeping excessively may all be indicators of depression.
Diagnosing depression accurately greatly depends upon obtaining a thorough account from the patient. Any pertinent medical history, such as having a sibling or parent who has similar issues should be communicated as well. Women are much more likely to be diagnosed as being depressed, but men and children experiencing depressive episodes may also benefit from one or a combination of the following treatment options:
- Talk therapy
- Light therapy
- Herbal supplements
- Pet therapy
- Surgical procedures
- Brain stimulation
- Social support
There are many antidepressant drugs that may positively influence brain chemicals, including norepinephrine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are intimately linked to sleep and cognitive functioning as well as to feelings of depression, and the right prescription drug may play a large role in combating depressing feelings. Accordingly, the right drug or combination of prescription drugs along with talk therapy often curtails moderate or mild cases of depression. Such interpersonal therapy may help depressed individuals overcome feelings of loneliness, understand and rebuild relationships, and give them a new-found reason for reconnecting with others. While some patients continue with longer term therapy, several months of talk therapy may be sufficient for others.
Physical activity is often another valid avenue for dealing with moderate or mild depression, as exercise typically results in a release in endorphins in the brain. Accordingly, these released endorphins increase the threshold for pain and improve mood as well. Engaging in twenty to thirty minutes of exercise a few days a week may increase energy levels, reduce stressful feelings, improve sleep habits, and raise self-esteem in depressed patients. Light therapy may produce similar effects for those suffering from seasonal depression as well.
Although often considered less reliable than the aforementioned treatments, herbal supplements such as St. John’s Wort may help curtail mild cases of depression. The unconditional love and companionship that pets often provide, however, often gives depressed individuals a beneficial and positive focus. While more risky, certain surgical procedures such as brain implants and treatments including vagus nerve and skull stimulation may be indicated for patients with depression levels that are particularly resistant to other forms of treatment. Perhaps the best way to ensure good mental health is to stay connected to the positive influences around you, as a lack of social support is a major component of depression. Working with competent medical professionals, finding the right combination of therapy, and keeping a positive outlook helps the majority of patients effectively work through their depression.