What is depression?
Everyone experiences occasional low moods, however, clinical depression is a more pervasive experience of repetitive negative rumination, a bleak outlook and a lack of energy. Depression can produce persistent feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, pessimism, or guilt. Suicidal thoughts can occur with depressive episodes, which is why it's important to be aware of the signs if you or a loved one experience prolonged low moods. Depression also affects concentration, motivation, and other aspects of everyday functioning. It can disrupt sleep and it interferes with appetite, causing weight loss for some people or weight gain for others. Depression can also affect people’s physical health, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and it can weaken the immune system. Depression is often accompanied by anxiety. It causes distress for both those living with the disorder and for those who care about them. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. However, even in the most severe cases, depression is highly treatable with psychotherapy, with or without the use of antidepressant medication.
The signs of depression
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience a few symptoms, some people experience many. The severity of symptoms varies among individuals and over time. Depression often involves persistent sadness, anxiety, feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness. It can also involve the loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex. Decreased energy and fatigue are also common, as are restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. Many people with depression have thoughts of death or suicide and may experience disruptions in sleep and in appetite. Persistent physical symptoms may include headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
What causes depression?
There is no single known cause of depression. It likely results from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Traumatic experiences, which overwhelm the person’s ability to cope, may trigger a depressive episode. Subsequent depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger. Depression is not an inevitable consequence of a negative life event. It is only when an event causes excessive rumination and negative thought patterns, especially about oneself, that mood enters a downward spiral. However, depression can also force us to reflect on our current habits, coping mechanisms and relationships, to help us understand our needs and what we require to lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
How is depression treated?
Depression, even the most severe cases, is highly treatable. As with many illnesses, the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it can be and the greater the likelihood that recurrence can be prevented. Certain medications, as well as some medical conditions, such as viral infections or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression and should be ruled out first by a doctor. The most common treatments are psychotherapy, with or without the use of antidepressant medication. Psychotherapy addresses the thinking patterns that cause depression, and prevent it from recurring. Medication can be useful to relieve severe symptoms of anxiety and low moods so that people can engage in psychotherapy.