Almost all of us tend to develop the feeling of ‘being down in the dumps’ from time to time. And even though small bouts of these sessions do not cause any issues, frequent and prolonged cases of the same can clearly indicate that you are suffering from something more serious; depression!
Now what exactly is depression? And how can you distinguish it from seemingly normal sessions of apathy and sadness? Well, it’s quite simple really. A normal episode of sadness would generally abate after a few hours and would not cause any other side effects in the body.
In the case of depression, the individual in question would have episodes of apathy that last for weeks on end. Coupled with other health related symptoms, these episodes generally disrupt the person’s daily activities, leaving him/her drained at the end of the day.
Who is more likely to develop depression?
Depression is a medical problem that can affect any and every individual. However, if you have a family member (either a parent or sibling) who suffers from the condition, the chance of you getting affected by the same issue is comparatively higher than for normal individuals. Depression is also more prevalent in women than in men with the risk ratio being 2:1.
How is depression caused in the first place?
There is no standard cause for the development of depression in an individual. However, certain theories state that a person is likely to suffer from depression is his/her brain structure and the chemical functions in the same undergo a change.
This change can be triggered off by emotional or physical events like trauma, hormonal changes, post – pregnancy changes in women (called postpartum depression), stress, substance abuse, alcoholism, medications, or even seasonal changes (called SAD; seasonal affective disorder). Accordingly, these events disturb the normal function of certain substances in the brain called neurotransmitters.
Diagnosing depression with these tell tale signs
Depression can trigger off a series of emotions inside the brain. Some of the more common symptoms exhibited by depressed individuals include acute sadness, loss of interest in life, decreased interest in otherwise pleasurable activities, diminished hope, guilt ridden feelings and suicidal thoughts.
Individuals who suffer from depression also suffer from extreme fatigue throughout the day. They feel less energetic to perform even normal tasks, and experience consistent body pains like cramps, headaches, digestive disorders, chronic pain etc. In some cases, people suffering from depression find it very difficult to sleep properly at night while in others; individuals suffering from the condition actually sleep continuously for hours on end. Then again, some individuals suffering from depression exhibit symptoms of anorexia wherein their appetite decreases alarmingly, while others start to gorge on food wherever they go. Depression also leads to decreased libido in individuals.
While the symptoms of depression are easy to diagnose in adults, when it comes to children, diagnosing and treating depression is difficult; and is often ignored by parents. A kid suffering from depression would most probably appear angry, disoriented and confused throughout the day (called ‘acting out’), would find it difficult to complete homework or simple chores, and would find it extremely difficult to make friends, or play with a group.
What to tell a doctor:
Just like the cause, there are no standard tests to diagnose depression in individuals. Rather, a qualified expert would most probably take note of certain details like symptoms, medical history and current medications, daily activities, behavioral changes; mood swings etc. before coming to a decision about the issue. Being open with the doctor helps as this would be the only way he/she can adjudge the type and severity of the issue, and recommend an appropriate treatment to combat the same.
Medications, Herbal Supplements, and other Alternative Treatment Methods
Usually, treatment for depression starts with anti depressants which help to alter the chemical substances (norepinephrine and serotonin) in the brain. Constant consumption of anti depressants would most probably yield positive results within a month (with good follow up that is).
A common herbal supplement used for fighting mild depression goes by the name of St. John’s Wort. Although the supplement works well for miniscule cases, it does not prove effective in the case of severe depression; and can have unnecessary affects on the body. And so, it is always recommended that you check with your doctor before switching to this particular medication.
An effective method to combat any kind of depression involves sitting in front of a light box which emits different shades of light for fixed intervals every day. Called Light Therapy (or Phototherapy), the method makes use of a specially designed light box that either emits a bright or dim light.
Another effective treatment that helps more than 80% of the individuals who opt for it is called Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In this method of treating depression, electric charges are passed through the body to generate a controlled seizure which the patient is not aware of. This method of depression control is said to work effectively for those individuals who don’t recover with medications.
Vagus Nerve Stimualtion (VNS) is another procedure you can opt for in case you don’t find medications desirable. In this procedure, a pacemaker like device is surgically implanted in the body. The device helps to ease depression by sending electrical pulses via the vagus nerve in the neck to the brain, thereby affecting the areas in the brain responsible for mood swings.
Combating Depression via other ‘non-procedural’ processes
Even though medications and procedures can help treat depression in an individual to an extent, at the end of the day, it is up to the person in question to change his/her outlook towards life. Accordingly, combining the following options with your treatments would ensure that you rid yourself off depression and prevent the same in the future as well.
Talk Therapy Sessions
A good counseling session will always work wonders in easing your heart and brain. There are different talk therapies that range from a couple of weeks to several months, and which focus on different areas of an individual’s lifestyle (for example, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy and interpersonal therapy etc.)
Make sure to go out, mingle with people and hang out with a group of friends regularly. Depression usually affects individuals the most when they are alone. Try to avoid situations which would leave you alone. Opt to go out with friends, meet family members, go on holidays with loved ones, get involved in support groups, chat with friends online, join activity classes, or get a pet! Do anything and everything possible to stay focused on other things apart from thoughts of solitude!
Exercise is a good way to combat any illness and depression is no different. A good exercise regime is known to cure any kind of depression, no matter how severe it may be. Exercising regularly will enable you to eat better, sleep better, work better and think better. Choose a fun activity (something you enjoy a lot) and couple it with your exercise routine to make it more enjoyable and consistent.