One of the most common mental disorders, depression is a serious and complex disease that involves far more than the sad feelings, or ups and downs that everyone goes through. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities.
There are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic predisposition, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Major risk factors in developing depression include:
- Personal or family history of depression
- Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Death or loss of a loved one
- Major events: even good events, such as moving or graduating can sometimes trigger depression. Other events that increase risk include: changing jobs, losing a job, getting married or divorced, giving birth, retiring
- Serious physical illnesses
- Certain medications can trigger depression as a side effect
- Conflicts, social isolation, being cast out of a family or social group
If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you enjoyed earlier
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Sleep problems
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. The severity and frequency of symptoms, and how long they last, will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Although we are still far from the complete understanding of the neurological underpinnings of depression, experts believe stress can suppress the production of new neurones (nerve cells) in the hippocampus, thus causing depression. Every real or perceived threat to your body triggers a cascade of stress hormones that produces physiological changes. Your view of the world and your unacknowledged assumptions about how the world works influence how you feel and how you cope with stressful events.
Good news is that this can change! There are many effective treatments for depression, usually including some combination of talk therapy and medications. Start by seeing your doctor. Together, you can figure out what helps you feel better and handle stress in a healthier way.