The term depression refers to a feeling of sadness which everyone experiences at some time or other. However, clinical depression or major depressive disorder is a mood disorder where a person suffers from feeling of extreme sadness or dejection accompanied by low self esteem and withdrawal from normally enjoyable activities. It may even lead to suicidal tendencies. Depression may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and are often noticed in combination with other mood disorders like anxiety, BDD(Body dysmorphic disorder), ADHD and post traumatic stress disorder. Treatment often includes drugs as well as counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy. If someone around you is depressed, it is very important to lend a sympathetic and affectionate hand in order to help him combat the situation.

Depression or major depressive disorder (MDD) is described as a mood disorder in which a person feels sad, blue and down. The intensity of the feeling may vary. They fail to enjoy or take interest in normal enjoyable activities. They may feel that life is not worth living and in extreme cases, may develop suicidal tendencies. Some people are efficient at masking the signs of depression. They appear a little too happy, full of energy and jumping from one subject to another. Others use alcohol or drugs to fight the symptoms of depression.

It is estimated by United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 121 million people in the world suffer from clinical depression and Americans constitute 30% to 36% of that number. More than 80% of depressed people are currently living without any treatment. Recent data shows that number of diagnosed cases of depression is increasing by 20% every year. A depressed person incurs twice the amount of health related expenses as compared to a person of comparative health not suffering from depression. All these data clearly show that depression is actually a serious condition that needs immediate attention.

Causes of depression

Several theories try to explain the causes of depression. These are as follows:

  • Slavich in 2004 theorized that depression may be brought about when stressful life events activate a preexisting vulnerability.
  • In a Swedish study by Kendlar et al in 2006, depression was found to be linked with genetic differences ranging from 30% in women to 40% in men.
  • Depression can be caused as side effects of certain drugs like steroids.
  • A hyperactive Hypothalamus Pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) can simulate the symptoms of stress leading to depression.
  • Poverty, social isolation, alcohol and drug abuse increases the risk of depression.
  • According to the Attachment theory developed by Bowlby in 1960s, negative relationship with caregiver in early phase of life may later lead to the development of depression.

Symptoms of depression

Some of the common symptoms of depression are as follows:

  1. Unexplained feeling of sadness and dejection
  2. Agitation, irritability and anger
  3. Difficulty in concentration
  4. Fatigue
  5. Nausea
  6. Feeling of hopelessness
  7. Atypical eating and sleeping behavior
  8. Loss of interest in activities once thought to be pleasurable
  9. Thoughts of suicide
  10. In extreme cases hallucinations or delusions may develop

Types of depression

Depression may actually be of different types. The major categories have been described here:

Type of depression Characteristics
Major depression Extreme sadness; lack of appetite or interest in enjoyable activities; overeating and weight gain
Atypical depression Major depression interrupted by moments of elation; related to social situation
Postpartum depression Witnessed by women after giving birth
Catatonic depression Extreme depression leading to loss of speech and control on limbs
Seasonal affective depression Symptoms of major depression manifest only in certain seasons
Psychotic depression Symptoms of major depression along with hallucination and delusion
Dysthemia Mild chronic depression that can last a lifetime
Manic depression Depression associated with quick and extreme mood swings; rate of suicide is high

Treatment of depression

Clinical depression is a sickness, not a choice. It cannot be solved with a simple buck-up speech. Some of the following treatments are used for depression:

  1. Medications are used to treat depression. They are quite effective in severe cases, but not very useful in mild cases. selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) are mostly prescribed.
  2. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy with the help of support groups, counselors and mental health professionals have been found to be useful.
  3. In case of severe major depression where the above methods have failed to produce satisfactory results, electroconvulsive therapy may be used. Pulses of electricity are send to the brain of the depressed person under general anesthesia. This method is also used to treat emergencies when the person has stopped eating or talking or is severely suicidal. The downside of the method is that it has high rate of relapse within the first six months after the treatment.

In addition to the above, several natural methods have been prescribed to treat depression. These are as follows:

  • Regular exercise
  • Exposure to regular doses of sunlight can be especially effective in dealing with seasonal depression
  • Maintaining a routine though it may seem hopeless and moot
  • Set goals and achieve them
  • Take on responsibilities and challenges
  • Try new activities which can trigger chemical changes in the brain
  • Modify your diet to include plenty of vitamin B6, Magnesium, folic acid and omega 3 fatty acids
  • Stick to a strictly regulated sleep pattern

How to handle a depressed person

If someone around you is depressed, the worst thing that you can do is to ignore the problem or joke it away. This makes the person feel more insignificant and misunderstood and in teens and young adults, it can even trigger suicidal tendencies. The best way to handle a depressed person is to lend a willing and sympathetic ear and listen to his problems even if they do not make much sense to you. A hug or a simple "I am there for you" can work wonders. Love and affection are best ways to approach depression. But if you find the person to be suicidal, it may become necessary to arrange for hospitalization.

Dealing with a depressed person is not easy. Remember to maintain your own mental equilibrium. Simply transferring the stress from him to you is not the best solution.