Are you concerned that you or someone you love could be depressed? We all experience the blues or down moods once in a while; but when these feelings persist and compromise our daily functioning, it can be a sign of depression. Depression is a common disorder that can take a major toll on a person and his or her family. The good news is that help and treatment are out there; although many depressed people never seek them out. It's imperative to look for the critical signs or symptoms that could mean you or your loved ones are at risk.
Two major signs of depression are: (1) Loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed and (2) Overwhelming hopelessness or pessimism.
Other major signs and symptoms include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
- Decreased energy and sluggishness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Insomnia - especially early morning awakening, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Constant pains, headaches or stomach problems that do not respond to treatment
Every individual may express different signs and symptoms with different frequency or severity - but if 5 or more of these symptoms apply to you or someone you know - it could mean depression.
Depression in Women
Depression is also much more common in women - it affects about twice as many women as men and it's the number one cause of disability in women. One in four women will experience severe depression over the course of her life. Research suggests that hormones could play a big role directly affecting brain functions for emotions and mood. This helps explain why women may be particularly vulnerable during hormonal transition periods such as perimenopause and the post-partum period.
What Causes Depression?
There is no single cause of depression and in most cases this disorder stems from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. A person does not have to experience a traumatic or sad event in order to become depressed. What we do know is that the brains of people who are depressed tend to look different from the brains of people who are not depressed. Depressed people tend to show changes in the parts of the brain that regulate mood, behavior, sleep and appetite functions. Furthermore, depressed people tend to have an imbalance in neurotransmitters - the chemical messengers of your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulated mood and other body functions. Diminished serotonin levels may contribute to depression. Many anti-depression medications are targeted and serotonin to prevent its clearance or breakdown.
How Is Depression Treated?
Even severe depression is highly treatable - so the first step is to seek help from a medical professional. Your doctor may want to do some blood tests to rule out other conditions such as thyroid disorder, which can trigger depression. Certain medications can also exacerbate the problem.
For most people a combination of anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy is the most effective treatment. There are several different classes of medication and different types of talk therapy - so you should speak with your doctor about finding a treatment that works best for you. Many of these medications have side-effects - so it's important to have that conversation with your doctor.
There are also simple tips that can help everyone fend off blue moods and prevent depressive symptoms. Ensuring adequate sleep, getting enough exercise, reaching out to social supports, exposure to sunlight, and taking in Omega-3 fatty acids are all great first-line strategies to fight depression.
Visit these resources for diagnosing and treating depression: