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Understanding Depression

Posted Jul 09 2012 6:16pm

Time for an education lesson!

I think understanding depression is difficult.  According to the World Health Organization, approximately 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Fewer than 25% have access to proper care.   I’m pretty sure that the number of people suffering from depression, especially mild and moderate depression, is much higher but goes undiagnosed because people don’t talk about it and believe that their feelings are just how life is suppose to be.  That’s what I thought for many years.

Depression can be different for everyone.  Some people will be able to tie their depression to a specific trigger while others may not know why they are depressed.   The exact cause of depression is not medically known but is believed to be some sort of imbalance in the brain along with other factors including the following:

  • Biological – those with depression appear to have physical changes in the brain.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that communicate information throughout our brain and body.  For those suffering from depression, it is believed that our neurotransmitters are out of whack (totally a ”medical term”).
  • Hormones – changes in hormone balance may trigger depression.  Thyroid, menopause, pregnancy among other conditions may result in depression
  • Genetics – Those with a family history of depression may be predisposed to it.  The specific genes that may be linked to depression is unknown
  • Stress and Trauma – Major life events and high stress situations such a death, financial problems, and other illnesses can trigger depression.
  • Diet – This is my own personal addition to the list that you won’t find in most main stream publications on the causes of depression.   The Standard American Diet is severely lacking in the many nutrients that our body needs.   If we don’t get these nutrients to feed our brain, I believe that we are more susceptible to depression.

As much as the causes of depression vary the symptoms may also vary widely from person to person.   Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Changes is sleep habits and/or insomnia
  • Irritability, anger
  • Loss of energy, fatigue
  • Self-loathing, self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness  (this symptom consumed me during my last major depression)
  • Concentration Problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Slowed thinking
  • Crying for no reason
  • Frequent thoughts of death, suicide
  • Reckless behavior
  • Reduced sex drive

The term depression is actually a very general term as its degree of severity can vary widely.  Depression can range from short, mild bouts of sadness to more severe longer periods of depression. Types of depression include:

  • Major Depression – also referred to as clinical depression. Its symptons range from moderate to severe and are constant.  Those with this type of depression have a severely low mood and complete inability to enjoy life and experience pleasure.  This is what I experienced in late 2007 after my grandmother passed away.
  • Dysthymia – This is a chronic form of depression but the symptoms are more mild than major depression.  Most of the time you are feeling depressed but may have fairly normal moods for short periods.  The period in my life after college up until I hit my major depressive episode was filled with this type of depression.   I think it is easy for this type of depression to go undiagnosed.  For me, I just thought that this was all life had to offer.  I didn’t know that there could be more fulfillment out of life.   I also think that this type of depression can most easily be treated with out the use of antidepressants.
  • Post-Partum Depression – Of all the types of depression, I think this one gets a lot of attention due to the fact that several celebrities have brought it into the spotlight.  This is experiencing sadness after the birth of your child and can result in feeling of disconnect from your child.  Usually develops within a year after childbirth.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - It is common for people to get into a bit of a funk but SAD is characterized by irritability, fatigue, weight gain and anxiety.  It is most common in winter climates, coming on in early winter and regressing by springtime.
  • Atypical Depression – This type of depression is less understood and therefore may be underdiagnosed.   Characterized by oversleeping, overeating, and a heaviness in your arms and legs.
  • Situational Depression – This is usually triggered by a life changing event such as the death of a loved one.   Usually doesn’t require help to clear up.   Although, if symtoms do not go away it may lead to major depression.
  • Bipolar Disorder – It is the experinence of both mania and depression.   You will have periods of extreme lows followed by periods of extreme highs.  Symptoms of mania include high energy, excitement, racing thoughts, and poor judgment.

As you can see, Depression is much more complicated than just feeling a little sad.  It comes in many forms and can affect anybody.  I find it to be a strange disease.  When you have never experienced depression it is difficult to understand how and why somebody is depressed.   It is not easy to just “get over it”.  Our brains is an organ that will probably never be fully understood.

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