“I feel depressed.”
“You look depressed!”
These are statements that are quite common. You have either said it or heard it from someone, mostly when one is going through some difficult moments in their lives that make them feel stressed or unsettled. Are we justified in using the word ‘depressed’, or do we use it without knowing what exactly it means? What is depression?
Depression is one of the more common mental illnesses.
It occurs more in women than men (about 1.5 to 3 times more)
It may begin at any age, but onset is higher in early adolescence to mid- 20’s.
It is more frequent among people 18-29 years (three times).
What are the features of depression?
- Mood changes: Sad, empty or irritable.
- Decreased interest in previously pleasurable activities.
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of inappropriate guilt or worthlessness
- Indecisiveness or decreased concentration
- Significant change in appetite and weight (increase or decrease)
- Changes of sleep patterns, either increased or decreased sleep
- Changes in activity: either agitation or decreased activity
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideas or attempts
The above features can be broadly classified as mild, moderate and severe, depending on the intensity and duration. In major depressive disorder, the more severe form of depression, the symptoms occur nearly every day over a period of two weeks and often cause a debilitation of functioning in the person’s life, be it day to day activities, personal relationships, education or at their places of employment.
What are the causes of depression?
Multiple factors are thought to play a role in the developments of depression.
One school of thought fronts the biopsychosocial model which says that biological, psychological and social factors contribute to depression. Biological factors include hereditary genes/ traits, imbalance of hormones and defective brain chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters).
Psychological factors include severe trauma (emotional, physical or sexual), early loss- such as that of a parent neglect, and poor ability to relate to others. Social factors include dysfunctional family relationships, death of a loved one, divorce, changing school/jobs and substance use.
Another proposes that we all have in us an inborn vulnerability that makes us susceptible to developing mental illnesses, but that it varies from one individual to the next. People with higher vulnerability are more likely to develop depression when exposed to less amounts of stress than those with less susceptibility. An easy way to illustrate this model would be using a rubber band, if tightly wound (more vulnerable) it easily snaps (depression) when stress is applied to it, as opposed to looser band (less vulnerability).
How is depression treated?
Treatment is individualized, and your mental health care giver will be able to give you your treatment options after examining you and making a diagnosis. The options available are:
- Anti-depressant medications, which are of several types, the newer ones having fewer side effects hence are more tolerable to take.
- Psychological treatment (psychotherapy).
- Physical treatments such as Electroconvulsive treatment (ECT), especially for severe life-threatening depression, or symptoms that are not responding to other treatment.