Depression Symptoms, Causes, And How to Treat It

Depression is a disorder of the mind with characteristics of mood fluctuations, the emphasis being on constant low mood with very little self esteem, loss of interest in daily life or in general pleasure filled activities. 

Depressive disorder can also be referred to as recurrent depressive disorder, clinical depression, major depression, unipolar depression or unipolar disorder.  It is a major mental disability that negatively impacts a person’s family life, school or work life, sleeping and eating habits and the person’s overall health condition.

A depressed person can be found to be absorbed with feelings of worthlessness, unnecessary guilt or regret over something, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and even self hatred.  In some very serious cases depressed people may also exhibit signs of psychosis which include delusion or hallucinations that are generally unpleasant.

Other common symptoms of depression are lack of concentration or memory, being aloof from social activities, reduced libido and thoughts of death and suicide.  Depressed people typically become victims of insomnia wherein the person wakes very early and is unable to get back to sleep.  It also includes facing difficulty falling asleep.  Usual complains of a depressed person are fatigue, frequent headaches or digestive problems.  A depressed person’s appetite decreases resulting in gradual weight loss.

This disorder is mainly diagnosed on the basis of the person’s self reported experiences, behavior patterns noticed and reported by friends and relatives and also by an examination of the mental status.  Depressive disorder if left undetected may lead to slow recovery and also worsen the person’s health.

The knowledge of the nature and causes of depression has developed gradually over the centuries.  However the findings are still said to be incomplete.  Some depression run in families which means the nature and cause in such a case is biological.  A particular incident or an event could also be involved in triggering an episode of depression.

Thus an important loss in the family, a chronic illness, difficult relationship, financial problems or any unwanted change in the life pattern could result in the onset of depressive behavior.  Research over the years has proved that both men and women are equally vulnerable to depression, the risk factors in both cases remaining the same.

Depressive disorder patients are mainly treated with anti depressants and in some cases are also given psychotherapy or counseling which may or may not be effective.  Let’s discuss some treatments in detail.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

In depression the brain serotonin levels are often low.  SSRIs mainly help to increase the amount of neurochemical serotonin in the brain by blocking the serotonin reuptake in the brain.  The block takes place in the synapse of the brain the region where the brain cells or neurons are connected to each other.  Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that transports messages at the synapse from one neuron to another.  Therefore the work of SSRIs is to maintain a high concentration of serotonin in the synapses of the brain.  This treatment has proved to be helpful in relieving the symptoms of depression.

Dual action antidepressants

The latest antidepressant drugs seem to have very strong affects on both norepinephrine and serotonin systems.  Venlafaxine, duloxetine and desvenlafaxine are the three dual action compounds that appear to have promising effects on severe and chronic cases of depression.  All the three antidepressants are considered to be serotonin and norepinphrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs.  Mirtazapine is tetra cyclic antidepressant which works in a completely different biochemical sites.  It has its affects on serotonin but at a postsynaptic site i.e. after the nerve cells are connected.  Consumption of this antidepressant increases the histamine level which induces drowsiness.  That is why it is prescribed before bedtime and is given to people who face trouble falling asleep.

Electroconvulsive therapy

This therapy is mainly conducted when the prescribed antidepressants are not helping the patient and he is severely depressed and having suicidal tendencies as well.  The procedure of this therapy is to pass an electric current through the patient’s brain to induce controlled convulsions.  These convulsions or seizures release massive neurochemicals in the brain.  This process has proved to very effective for many people as the depression is relieved within one or two weeks.

Psychotherapies

Psychotherapy is another form of treatment that has been used effectively for depressed people that even includes short term therapy.  Talking therapies enable the patients to get a deeper understanding of their problems and continuous verbal dialogue with the therapist help them to find a solution.  Behavioral therapies enable the patients to build or learn certain actions that can be both satisfactory and rewarding.  These therapists also help the patients to do away with certain behaviors that could have been responsible for their depression.

The above details only highlight the fact that depression is all about negative thoughts.  The patient is burdened with self hatred and has thoughts of giving up.   The large variety of treatments available today enables depressive disorder patients as the negative thoughts start disappearing gradually.   However there are certain things that a patient can do to deal with their situation.

The patient must eat healthy food all the time.  He should make sure to take enough rest that can elevate his mood.  The negative feelings should be expressed – it could be in the form of talking to friends, writing in journals etc.  A depressive disorder patient must not take too much responsibility and should set easy targets for himself.  He should do what he can, when he can, by judging the priority of the task.

Expecting too much too soon from himself will only aggravate the feeling of failure.  He should try to be involved with family and friends more and more.  He can engage himself in some physical activities like exercising or going to a movie or even participating in social services.  Major life decisions like job change, marriage or divorce should be taken only once the depression is relieved totally.  Above all the patient should realize that the negative thoughts are part and parcel of the depression and will fade away once the medication starts to take effect.

Family and friends can also do their bit to help a depressed person by getting a proper diagnosis done followed with an effective treatment.  They can also provide him emotional support by listening to his problems very patiently without stopping him abruptly.  But the fact of the matter remains that a depressive disorder patient cannot quit treatment all of a sudden without consulting a doctor because incidence of a relapse is very common.  Therefore the best way to prevent it from happening again is to continue with medication.  However that doesn’t mean the treatment should continue forever,    just until the doctor or therapist thinks it’s safe to stop.