What is depression?
What is depression?
How does your brain work most of the time?
What can go wrong?
|Neurotransmitter||Symptoms or behaviors|
|Low norepinephrine||decreases in energy or motivation, poor attention and memory|
|Low serotonin||increases in depressed mood, food cravings, problems sleeping|
|Low dopamine||increases in cravings, compulsive behavior; decreases in satisfaction|
- feeling blue or sad more often than not
- feeling like life isn’t fun or pleasurable anymore
- losing interest in things that used to be a huge part of their life
- changes in appetite and weight, like eating significantly more and gaining weight, or not eating at all
- changes in sleep quality or amount of sleep, like sleeping less, or sleeping more but still feeling tired
- changes in speech, like becoming less talkative
- psychomotor agitation, like handwringing, pacing, or tapping the foot
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- low self-esteem
- thinking about death or wishing for death
- frequent, intense, or long lasting suicidal ideation, or thoughts about killing oneself
- stating that there is no reason to live
- feeling trapped or like they are a burden to others
- increasing alcohol or drug use
- giving away possessions or saying goodbye in a way that seems final
What causes depression?
- Biological factors: if one of your family members has a mood disorder like depression, you are much more likely to develop one yourself. Even other mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or alcoholism, increase your risk of developing depression.
- Psychological factors: stressful or negative life events, like death in the family, divorce, or loss of a job, often trigger depression. When you experience trauma or stress consistently and chronically, you are much more likely to have depression..
- Behavioral factors: increases in alcohol consumption or drug use can lead to the development of depression and can often make symptoms worse.
- Social factors: lack of social support, like meaningful relationships with peers or family, is associated with symptoms of depression
How common is depression?
Is it possible to prevent depression?
How is depression treated?
- Medications for major depressive disorder are called antidepressants. Antidepressants work by improving the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain. Some focus on blocking the reabsorption of specific neurotransmitters. These include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). Other antidepressants, like monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) focus on increasing neurotransmitter levels by regulating the enzyme (called monoamine oxidase) that is usually involved in reabsorbing them into the brain.
- Another medical treatment for depression is electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, which involves placing electrodes on a person’s head to pass electrical currents through their brain. This is often used as a way to improve neurotransmitter functioning when a person isn’t improving after taking antidepressants.
- Psychotherapy does not address the underlying causes of depression, but it can improve functioning both during and after depressive episodes. One of the most effective psychotherapies for major depressive disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying negative thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors and replacing them with more positive ones. This helps patients cope with old traumas as well as new stressful situations. Other forms of therapy focus on improving social relationships and setting long term goals. Psychotherapy is often combined with medication or other psychiatric treatments.
- Behavioral interventions for depression typically involve developing healthy lifestyle habits like exercising, meditating, listening to music, eating healthy foods, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule.
Consider the following:
- People around the world experience mood disorders, but some cultures use different terms to describe them. For example, people in Latin America use the word “susto” to describe a mental illness with symptoms similar to depression. Susto occurs when a person goes through a life event that is so traumatic, their soul leaves their body. It can cause problems with sleep and appetite, feelings of sadness and low self-worth, decreased interest in activities, and sometimes results in suicide or death. So, when you think about depression, remember to be mindful of cultural differences and context – it may help you better understand how the illness may progress and be treated within specific populations.
- While depression is a treatable mental illness, many people avoid seeking treatment. Why? In the United States, stigmas about depression and other mental illnesses are often the cause. In our culture, it is common to incorrectly believe that depression is a sign of weakness or a bad attitude - many people don’t think of depression as a real medical issue. As a result, those who experience depression may feel like there is something wrong with them - they feel guilty, hopeless, or ashamed that they can’t “just get over it.” To help change negative assumptions about depression, we should start thinking and talking about depression in the same way that we talk about other medical issues. If a person was diagnosed with cancer, wouldn’t we encourage them to try chemotherapy or radiation therapy? If a person burned their arm, wouldn’t we tell them to go to the hospital? When we approach mental illness from the same perspective, we can help empower people with depression to seek treatment and recover.