Major depression is a mental illness that affects more than 9 million men and women in the United States alone. Depression can hit anyone - it can affect any age group, any race, any culture, and any class. If you are feeling persistently sad, irritated, fatigued, and hopeless, you may be suffering from this very common illness. There is no shame in having major depression. The most important thing is to realize that you are not alone. Major depression disorder can be effectively treated, with both prescription and drug-free treatments, so speak with your health care provider about overcoming your depression.
What is Depression?
Major depression is also known as unipolar disorder and clinical depression. It is a commonly occurring mood disorder throughout which the sufferer may feel persistently sad, overwhelmed, or hopeless. Major depression is more than just feeling blue it can affect the way you perform at work, your relationships at home, and your daily interests.
Major depression affects twice as many women as men, and commonly occurs between the ages of 25 and 44. However, major depression can hit children and teenagers with equal force. Most episodes of major depression last between 6 and 12 months, although some people face chronic cases of depression. The majority of sufferers will recover but will likely experience recurrent episodes of depression in the future.
Major depression is different from bipolar disorder (once known as manic depression). If you are suffering from bipolar disorder, you will experience periods of extreme highs and extreme lows. You may act extremely out of character and take risks that you usually wouldn't. Major depression, on the other hand, is not characterized by states of extreme highs.
Although it shares similar symptoms to major depression, postpartum depression is also different from major depression. Postpartum depression occurs after childbirth and is due in part to the drop in estrogen and progesterone levels in the body.
What Causes Depression?
Depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. One or more of these factors may trigger depression in a given individual, so there may not be any single cause. In terms of the biological component, neurotransmitters located in our brains can be involved in triggering or maintaining a depressive episode. Neurotransmitters, including the chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norephinephrine, are responsible for sending important signals to our brain. Imbalances in the levels of these neurotransmitters seemed to be linked to depression, although it is not clear if the imbalances are always the cause or result of the depression.
There is a clear genetic factor in depression, so certain people are simply born with a genetic makeup that makes them vulnerable to depression. If a close family member suffered from a depressive illness, you are more likely to suffer from one as well. Environmental factors also play a role in triggering depression. Stressful events, loss, big life changes, or single events, such as an abortion, can all set the depression ball rolling. This is especially true for people who have a pessimistic personality style or who tend to feel helpless when confronted with problems or crises. Alcohol abuse can also be a factor in depression.
Symptoms of Major Depression
- persistent sadness or irritability
- difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- weight loss or weight gain amounting to 5% of your body weight
- agitation or nervousness
- thoughts of hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt
- thoughts of death; suicidal thoughts or plans
Overcoming depression can be very difficult. Today, there are a variety of treatments for depression available to you. Between 80% and 90% of patients are effectively treated for their symptoms, thanks to recent developments in psychotherapy and medicine.
Using medication to treat major depression is becoming increasingly popular. Millions of people have been helped through the use if anti-depressant drugs.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): This group of antidepressants is widely used to help treat severe depression. The TCAs elevate mood, improve sleep, and hasten appetite. They take about 3 to 4 weeks to begin working and include drugs such as Imavate and Aventyl. However, they often have unwanted side effects.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): These antidepressants will work well for you if you are experiencing abnormal depression accompanied by anxiety, phobia, and oversleeping. Drugs in this category include Nardil and Parnate.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): These drugs work to stop depression by affecting serotonin levels in the brain. These drugs have fewer side effects than the TCAs and the MAOIs, and include Celexa, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. They may also have side effects and precautions associated with their use.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): This class of drugs is an excellent choice if you are experiencing your first depressive episode. It is a first-line treatment and has few side effects. Drugs include Effexor.
Buproprion (Wellbutrin): This is a newer drug used to treat mild depression. It works by blocking dopamine in the brain and has very few side effects.
Psychotherapy is an excellent alternative to drugs for mild cases of depression and is very effective when used in combination with medication for more severe episodes. If you are depressed, you may want to speak with a psychotherapist to find out what is involved and how it may help you. In order to be most effective, psychotherapy should be continued for at least six months.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): This type of psychotherapy works to change your methods of thinking. Depression often stems from negative thought patterns and a distorted self-image. During CBT, you will learn to explore your irrational beliefs and frame them in an accurate, more positive way.
Psychodynamic Therapy: Psychodynamic therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps to pinpoint long-term causes of your depression. It often links depression to conscious or unconscious conflicts in childhood, such as problems with the parent-child relationship. This type of therapy works best if you want to know more about your past and how it has contributed to your depression. It is usually a long term treatment that lasts for several years.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): Interpersonal Therapy focuses on improving the relationships in your life. During interpersonal therapy, you will learn how to deal with new roles and will discuss methods of adapting to them.
Inositol has been found to be a safe and effective alternative to SSRIs with minimal side effects in people with mild to moderate depression. A naturally occurring isomer of glucose, inositol is part of the vitamin B family and is commonly found in the part of fiber known as phytic acid. When you consume phytic acid, the bacteria in your intestines work to retrieve the inositol. Natural sources of inositol include nuts, seeds, whole grains and citrus fruits.
Individuals with depression are often found to have low levels of inositol in their system, By increasing ones levels of inositol, mild to moderate symptoms of depression are relieved. In a double-blind clinical trial, patients received either 12grams of inositol or a placebo for 28 days. At the end of the study, researchers noted that participants who received inositol had a marked improvement in their symptoms compared to the placebo group. However, unlike SSRIs, there were no changes in the individuals' liver, kidney or hematological function. Although inositol has few side effects associated with it, it is not recommended as treatment for depression in women who are pregnant.
Hospitalization is often a good option if you are severely depressed and are experiencing thoughts of suicide or have attempted suicide in the past. Depression often impairs your ability to look after yourself. Receiving treatment in a hospital can reduce the amount of stress you face and provide you with the opportunity to receive intensive treatment.
If you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, you may also want to investigate some natural remedies for depression. These, especially when combined with traditional medication, can be extremely effective. Be sure to consult your health care provider before beginning any alternative treatments.
Exercise: Exercising 30 minutes a day, three times a week can ease stress and help your brain restore its neurochemicals. Try aerobic activities such as jogging, swimming, and cycling, or non-aerobic activities such as yoga and tai chi.
Diet: Depression has been linked to nutritional imbalances. Certain vitamins and minerals are required in order for your brain to produce its neurochemicals. Folic acid, Vitamin B1, B6, and B12, and Vitamin C are all indicated in this process.
Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies for depression include St. John's Wort, gingko biloba, and ginseng. While these may be effective when combined with prescribed medications, it is extremely important to discuss their use with your doctor first. Herbal remedies can be just as potent as prescription medication and should never be taken with other drugs without first speaking with your doctor or a pharmacist.
Things You Can Do
If you are suffering from depression, here are a few simple tips to keep in mind everyday:
- Try to be around others. As much as you don't want to be, being around friends and family can really perk your mood.
- Force yourself to do the things that you used to love. Even if its just going to the bookstore or out for a coffee, anything to spice up your routine will help break the depression.
- Don't expect to be perfect. No one is perfect. Remember that.
- Divide tasks into smaller chunks. Things will be much easier to accomplish when they are divided into small tasks.
- Find one positive thing everyday. Continued negative thinking will only make your depression worse, so find one little thing that's positive in your life and hold on to that.