Symptoms of depression cover a broad spectrum from dysthymia (dis-THIE-me-uh) which is chronic, mild, intermittent feelings of depression to more severe forms of clinical depression.
The symptoms of dysthymia can include:
- Low appetite or overeating
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
- Tiredness or other physical symptoms
- Low self-esteem/feelings of inadequacy
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
Whereas symptoms of clinical depression can include:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Anyone can develop depression. However, it is thought that a family history of depression can be a risk factor. Being the child or sibling of a depressed person can increase the risk of developing a depressive disorder. Women are twice as likely as men to be depressed at some point in their lives. Symptoms can vary between people and can be influenced by gender, age, and ethnic background.
It is not clear what the actual causes of depression are, an accepted theory is that a change in brain structure and chemistry can produce an effect. Neurotransmitters in the brain become out of balance in depressed people.
Possible causes for this imbalance could be:
- Certain medications, alcohol, or substance abuse
- Hormonal or seasonal changes
- A Traumatic event such as being the victim of abuse, losing a loved one, or losing a job.
What can I do about it?
Research shows that different forms of talk therapy or psychotherapy can improve depression that is mild to moderate in severity. The goal ofcognitive behavioral therapy is to help the individual to alter ways of thinking and behaving that may lead to depression. Interpersonal therapyhelps the depressed person to understand how their ways of interacting with others can contribute to depression. Psychodynamic therapy helps the person suffering from depression understand and come to terms with how issues from their past may unconsciously affect their current moods and actions. Studies indicate that most people who are having their first episode of major depression need at least six months of treatment to resolve the depressive episode.
There are many medications – antidepressants that are effective for treating depression. These medications affect the levels of brain chemicals and may take several weeks to feel the positive effect. It is important to remain watchful when taking them and work with a doctor during the process. Studies show that people suffering from depression tend to get better faster and more fully when treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication compared to treatment with either medication or therapy alone.
Additionally, there are some things you can do on your own that may alleviate your symptoms such as moderate exercise. A brisk walk can cause the release of chemicals called endorphins which can help elevate mood, self-esteem, decrease stress, increase energy level and improve sleep. Engaging in just 30 minutes of activity that elevates the heart rate three to four times per week is enough to receive the benefits of exercise.
Phototherapy, or light therapy can be an effective treatment for SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder) which can be caused by decreased light during the winter season. It involves sitting in front of a medical light box that emits a specific kind of light for several minutes daily. Phototherapy should only be used when recommended by a doctor and is often used with psychotherapy or medication to achieve the best effects.
Since loneliness frequently accompanies depression, having good relationships and social support can be an important part of recovery from depression. Try joining a support group in person or on-line, make sure you have regular contact with loved ones, join a club to avoid being socially isolated. Maintain a spiritual connectedness either through a place of worship or believing in a power greater than your self can be a powerful support and help to decrease depression.
A few important things to remember…
- Those who suffer from depression can often feel hopeless and unable to function.
- Depression is treatable and approximately 80% of people with this condition are able to recover with the help of medication, talk therapy or both forms of treatment.
- For those who do not improve with traditional interventions there are alternative treatments which can bring relief – just ask your healthcare professional for more information.
- Depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
- Depression can carry a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very, very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately.
- 1-415-499-1100 (in Marin County) 24/7 or
- 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or
- 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Please, if you are reading this and feel that you may be depressed, reach out to someone. Call a friend, family member, a sponsor, or health care professional. Talking with a professional can help prevent things from getting worse.