Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.
What does not class as depression?
Depression is different from the fluctuations in mood that people experience as a part of normal life. Temporary emotional responses to the challenges of everyday life do not constitute depression.
Likewise, even the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close is not itself depression if it does not persist. Depression can, however, be related to bereavement – when depression follows a loss, psychologists call it a “complicated bereavement.”
Causes of depression
The causes of depression are not fully understood and may not be down to a single source. Depression is likely to be due to a complex combination of factors that include:
- biological – changes in neurotransmitter levels
- psychological and social (psychosocial)
Some people are at higher risk of depression than others; risk factors include:
- Life events – including bereavement, divorce, work issues, relationships with friends and family, financial problems, medical concerns, or acute stress.
- Personality – those with less successful coping strategies, or previous life trauma.
- Genetic factors – first-degree relatives of depressed patients are at higher risk.
- Childhood trauma.
- Some prescription drugs – including corticosteroids, some beta-blockers, interferon, and other prescription drugs.
- Abuse of recreational drugs (including alcohol and amphetamines) – can accompany depression or result in it. There are strong links between drug abuse and depression.
- A past head injury.
- People who have had an episode of major depression are at higher risk of a subsequent one.
- Chronic pain syndromes in particular, but also other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Types of depression
Depression comes in many shapes and forms. Knowing what type of depression you have can help you manage your symptoms and get the most effective treatment.
Major depression is much less common than mild or moderate depression and is characterized by intense, relentless symptoms.
- Left untreated, major depression typically lasts for about six months.
- Some people experience just a single depressive episode in their lifetime, but major depression can be a recurring disorder.
Atypical depression is a common subtype of major depression with a specific symptom pattern. It responds better to some therapies and medications than others, so identifying it can be helpful.
- People with atypical depression experience a temporary mood lift in response to positive events, such as after receiving good news or while out with friends.
- Other symptoms of atypical depression include weight gain, increased appetite, sleeping excessively, a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, and sensitivity to rejection.
Dysthymia (recurrent, mild depression)
Dysthymia is a type of chronic “low-grade” depression. More days than not, you feel mildly or moderately depressed, although you may have brief periods of normal mood.
- The symptoms of dysthymia are not as strong as the symptoms of major depression, but they last a long time (at least two years).
- Some people also experience major depressive episodes on top of dysthymia, a condition known as “double depression.”
- If you suffer from dysthymia, you may feel like you’ve always been depressed. Or you may think that your continuous low mood is “just the way you are.”
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
For some people, the reduced daylight hours of winter lead to a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD affects about 1% to 2% of the population, particularly women and young people.
- SAD can make you feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends or activities you normally love.
- SAD usually begins in fall or winter when the days become shorter and remains until the brighter days of spring.
If you’re facing serious depression, there’s no question that you should get help immediately and could possibly benefit from medication, which has helped millions of people. But if your case is mild to moderate, consider trying some of the following remedies. “The worst that could happen is that they don’t work, and then you can always try prescription drugs,” Mischoulon says.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Found naturally in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, may be effective in preventing and treating depression. A 2014 study in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that that taking omega-3 supplements for just two weeks significantly slashed depression in a group of patients who were at high risk for developing it. “Newer research suggests that inflammation could be an underlying mechanism of depression,” Mischoulon explains. “And omega-3s have been well documented as anti-inflammatory.”
Exercise tones both body and mind. Beyond triggering energizing, feel-good brain chemicals, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, exercise stimulates new nerve growth, which creates new pathways of communication and increases your brain’s flexibility. A 2013 research review in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that even low levels of physical activity—including walking and gardening for 20 to 30 minutes a day—can ward off depression in people of all ages. Yoga, in particular, is gaining traction as a remedy for depression. In one study out of the University of Westminster, people with mild depression who attended two hour-long Iyengar yoga sessions weekly reported significantly fewer depression symptoms and a brighter mood after just three weeks.
The processing of green tea happens by steaming the leaves. Steaming the leaves preserves the antioxidant levels. A study was conducted by Dr. Kaijun Niu et al., of Tohoku University Graduate School in Sendai, on 1,058 community-dwelling elderly Japanese individuals aged over 70. The impact of green tea on depression symptoms using a 30-item Geriatric depression scale was studied. Research showed that drinking 3 – 4 cups of green tea every day decreases the chance of developing depressive symptoms. The amino acid that is present in tea has a tranquilizing effect on the brain that is associated with relaxation.
Aromatherapy treatments are known to alter all the negative emotions, depression being one of them. This therapy works on a psycho-biological level and affects not just mental health, but physical health as well. Our sense of smell has the ability to influence our mood and also alter our emotions. This therapy can also be introduced into the body through the skin. Pamper yourself with aromatherapy and relieve your anxiety and stress.