Major depression is a disease that affects as many as 15 million people in the United States according to the American Medical Association. In 2009, the American College of Preventive Medicine called upon our nation’s primary care physicians to routinely screen their patients for signs of depression in order to prevent some of the life-threatening consequences of this disorder. With so many individuals suffering from depression and the likelihood that depression can lead to other conditions, such as alcohol and drug addiction, it is important to understand what this disease is and how it can be treated.
What Causes Depression?
Unfortunately, there is no distinct cause of depression. There are many factors that can increase an individual’s risk to suffer from this debilitating disorder, but no research has yet proven an exact science behind it.
There are several indicators that might be construed as causes. These indicators increase the probability that an individual may suffer from depression, but since some individuals have the same issues and do not suffer from major depression, they cannot be linked exclusively. Some of these factors include:
Currently, some researchers are looking for common genetic makeup characteristics that would define depression as hereditary. An individual who has members of his immediate or extended family suffering from depression is more likely to suffer from the disorder, as well.
Testing has shown physical differences in the brains of individuals who suffer from major depression.
Neurotransmitters are linked to mood, ability to feel pleasure and other factors related to depression. They are believed to play a role in whether the condition exists or is likely to develop.
When physical problems that affect the proper balance of hormones exist, changes in hormone levels can trigger depressive episodes.
Life can sometimes cause trauma that the human condition is ill-prepared for, such as death or abuse. These factors can influence an individual’s ability to cope with stress.
Can Depression Be Cured?
There is no cure for depression, although there are many treatments available that have proven effective. In some cases, medication is needed to stabilize an individual dealing with depression and related disorders.
Antidepressants should be taken only under the care of a physician and in strict accordance with the directions. Use of antidepressants in youth and young adults has been problematic as children and young adults up to 24 years of age show an increased risk of suicide after they begin taking antidepressants. Individuals suffering from depression and treated with antidepressant medication should be watched carefully, especially in the first weeks after receiving a new prescription or a change in dosage.
Other treatments for depression include psychotherapy, counseling and alternative therapies. Some of the key elements to talk therapy for the treatment of depression are the personal and unique elements of treatment. During counseling, the patient will learn how to identify the triggers for their depression, the causes as they relate to their life and their ability to cope, and how to manage the symptoms when they occur. When a depressive episode occurs, the more an individual understands about it, the better they can prevent the episode from progressing into an uncontrollable event.
The Mayo Clinic has stated that some individuals gain benefits from a variety of alternative therapies, including herbs, mind-body-spirit therapies, and the use of supplements. It should be stressed, however, that alternative therapies are most effective when used alongside traditional treatments rather than in place of them.
Signs and Symptoms
From time to time, everyone feels sad. When events in our lives combine to bring about feelings of sadness, it is normal to experience this human emotion, for instance the loss of a loved one or the frustration of losing one’s employment. The condition of depression exists when one feels sad for no apparent reason, or they are unable to recover from a normal loss, such as a death in the family.
When depression exists, there are accompanying symptoms that are recognizable and cause for concern. Each of the symptoms can exist alone and not indicate a problem; however, if several symptoms occur simultaneously or frequently, it is a good idea to have an evaluation by a professional medical or psychological provider.
A loss of interest in activities that have normally been appealing is one sign of depression. If an individual has always enjoyed long walks in the evenings but is not interested in them for long periods of time, it could be a sign that something is amiss. Feelings of excessive tiredness or lethargy may be associated with a lack of interest in physical activities that were once quite important. These individuals may also suffer from weight gain or changes in appetite.
Lethargy can affect an individual’s ability to think clearly or move with their former speed and agility, as well. A family member who was once the witty, charming life of the family dinner but is now distracted and uninterested in conversation may be showing signs of depression.
Other symptoms might include:
- Obsessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Lack of ability to concentrate
- Excessive crying
- Aches and pain for no apparent reason
Types of Depressive Disorders
Depression is an overall term that can refer to a number of subcategories of conditions. Also known as clinical depression, major depression and major depressive disorder, the condition can manifest at any age and in any situation.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD. Seasonal affective disorder is a condition associated with an overproduction of the hormone melatonin. Because the symptoms of SAD appear in the fall or winter months, when there is more darkness than light, many people incorrectly believe that it has to do with a lack of sunshine or Vitamin D. In fact, the body produces melatonin during the dark hours, and this hormone regulates our sleep, body temperature and the release of other hormones in the brain. An individual who produces more of the hormone than needed will produce drastic amounts in the darker months of the year and experience relief from the production during the lighter months. The symptoms are very similar to major depression, including irritability, sadness and weight gain.
- Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression. PPD is a condition experienced by women who have recently given birth; however, the disorder can last for years if not treated effectively. “Baby blues” result from the influx of hormones released after the birth of a baby. Often these symptoms resolve themselves in short order. PPD is a more serious condition that may require medical and psychological treatment. Postpartum psychosis is the most extreme form and must be dealt with by professionals who understand the disorder.
- Bipolar Disorders
Bipolar disorder is not necessarily “depression” by definition; however, depression plays a role in the disorder. Also known as manic depression, bipolar has characteristics of mania (the extreme highs of emotion) and major depression (the extreme lows). Some individuals will experience mood swings from one extreme to the other in a matter of hours, while others can exist in an unhealthy state of mania for weeks or months at a time, followed by deep crashes into depression that include suicide ideation and other life-threatening behaviors.
What Is a Dual Diagnosis?
When an individual suffering from a depression disorder is also diagnosed with drug or alcohol addiction, they are suffering from a dual diagnosis. Depression can cause an otherwise healthy individual to question their worthiness, leading them to seek refuge in the self-medication of alcohol and drug abuse. Other individuals, whose depression may stem from early childhood abuse or trauma, may turn to drugs to escape dealing with these troubling issues.
In other situations, an individual may have been introduced to drugs or alcohol by friends as a means to celebrate life and “have a good time.” Use of the drugs and alcohol can lead to addiction very easily, especially when other conditions are present, such as a family history of drug abuse. The destructive effects of drug abuse and addiction on one’s personal life can increase the addict’s likelihood of developing depression at a later date due to the breakdown of familial and interpersonal relationships.
Treating both the depression and the addiction is crucial to successful treatment of either, or both, conditions and should be addressed by professional clinicians experienced in dual diagnosis matters.
Effects of Depression on Families
Depression not only harms the individual who suffers from the disorder. The impact on families can be measured in terms of broken relationships and marked pain as family members suffer right alongside their loved ones. There can be no greater pain for a parent than to watch their children as they battle an unforgiving disorder alone. Children, when their parents suffer, can become confused and experience unneeded fear.
Ultimately, families can be torn apart by depression as the individual becomes more withdrawn and distant from their loved ones.
Seeking Treatment for Depression
When someone suffers from depression, they do not need to go through it alone. Treatment centers are available to diagnose and teach an individual and family torn apart by the disorder techniques to deal with the disease.
Here at Axis, we offer cutting-edge treatment for depressive disorders. Contact us today for more information on our offerings.