Depression is a mood disorder in which a person experiences a persistent feeling of sadness and loses interest in activities they used to engage in. It is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.

Life events such as bereavement, loss of a job, or abuse can lead to depression. Doctors however consider feelings of grief to be part of depression if they persist. Depression is an ongoing problem. It consists of episodes during which symptoms last for at least 2 weeks. It can last for several weeks, months, or years.

Depression is a complex condition and no one knows exactly what causes it but it can happen for a variety of reasons. The following issues and events are likely to lead to depression as far as the victims are concerned. They can be considered as the main causes of depression;

Main causes of depression:

  • Death or a loss. Sadness after the loss or death of a loved one can increase the risk of depression. Although it is natural, it could go as far as causing depression for some people.
  • Abuse. Being abused is something no one would want to encounter. It could be physical abuse, sexual or emotional. Being abused is life threatening in the sense that it can make you more vulnerable to depression later in life.
  • Age. People who are elderly are at higher risk of depression. That can be made worse by other factors, such as living alone and having a lack of social support.
  • Personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends.
  • Gender. Women are about twice as likely as men to become depressed. No one’s sure why. The hormonal changes that women go through at different times of their lives may play a role.
  • Major events. Even good events such as starting a new job, graduating, or getting married can lead to depression. So can moving, losing a job or income, getting divorced, or retiring. However, the syndrome of clinical depression is never just a “normal” response to stressful life events.
  • Serious illnesses. Sometimes, depression happens along with a major illness or may be triggered by another medical condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

The symptoms of depression can include the following;

  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
  • Experiencing difficulty in concentration, thinking and making decisions.
  • Reduced interest in activities that one used to enjoy.
  • Loss of sexual desire.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • A depressed mood.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue.

Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression.

Also, medical conditions (e.g., thyroid problems, a brain tumor, or vitamin deficiency) can mimic symptoms of depression so it is important to rule out general medical causes.

Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Depression can occur at any time, but on average, first appears during the late teens to mid-20s. Women are more likely than men to experience depression. Some studies show that one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime. There is a high degree of heritability (approximately 40%) when first-degree relatives (parents/children/siblings) have depression.

Risk factors for depression:

Anyone can be affected by depression, including someone who appears to be living in relatively ideal circumstances. Many factors can play a role in depression. They include the following:

  • Personality. People fighting low self-esteem are easily overwhelmed by stress and are generally pessimistic. They are more likely to experience depression.
  • Environmental factors. Being exposed continuously to violence, abuse, neglect or poverty makes you vulnerable to depression.
  • Genetics. Depression can run in families.
  • Biochemistry. Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.

How is depression treated?

The good thing is that depression is one of the most treatable mental disorders. Approximately 80% – 90% of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.

A doctor should first conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation before treatment. In some cases, a blood test might be necessary to ensure that depression is not due to a medical condition. By carrying out the diagnostic evaluation, the doctor will be able to establish what caused the depression, be it environmental factors or others, to be able to plan the course of action. The following are some of the options for treating depression;

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a medical treatment that has been most commonly reserved for patients with severe major depression who have not responded to other treatments. It involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia.

Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy may involve only the individual, but it can include others. For example, family or couples therapy can help address issues within these close relationships. Group therapy brings people with similar illnesses together in a supportive environment and can assist the participant to learn how others cope in similar situations

Medication. Brain chemistry may contribute to an individual’s depression and may factor into their treatment. For this reason, antidepressants might be prescribed to help modify one’s brain chemistry.

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