A depressive disorder is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, affecting one’s way of thinking, feeling and behavior. It interferes with one’s daily life and affects not only the person in question, but surrounding family and friends. There are various forms of depression: major depression, persistent depressive disorder, and depressive episodes associated with development under unique circumstances: psychotic depression, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder and depressive episodes specific to bipolar disorder.

Causes

A combination of genetic, environmental, biological and psychological factors determine the development of depressive disorders

Certain genes may be responsible for the development of the illness, though there are cases of depression occurring regardless of whether other family members suffered from the disorder or not

Brain-imaging technologies have revealed that patients’ brains exhibit visible changes – biological and brain chemistry differences affect neurotransmitters’ behavior producing chemical imbalances

Hormonal imbalances can also cause depressive disorders

Stressful situations and traumas can act as catalysts of depressive episodes

Symptoms and signs

Major depression:

Severe symptoms interfering with one’s normal working, sleeping, eating patterns

Inability to work or study

Episodes can occur from once in a lifetime to several ones

Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness

Angry outbursts, irritability, loss of interest and loss of pleasure in normal activities

Sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy, changes in appetite, anxiety, agitation

Slowed thinking, speaking or slowed body movements

Fixating on feeling guilty and past failures, trouble making decisions and remembering things

Frequent thoughts of suicide and unaccountable physical problems (back pain, headaches)

 

 

Persistent depressive disorder:

Depressed moods that last for more than two years

Milder symptomatic periods may alternate with more serious ones, but they still have to occur over a period of minimum two years

 

 

Other forms of depression:

Psychotic depression: a mixture of severe depression with some form of psychosis that manifests under various guises – delusions and hallucinations

 

Postpartum depression: hormonal and physical changes seriously affecting a new mother’s capacity to care for her newborn; 10-15% of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth

 

Seasonal affective disorder: a milder form of depression manifesting especially during the winter months, when there is a natural decrease in exposure to sunlight, and it generally ameliorates during the spring and summer months, though it is a serious enough condition to necessitate proper care and medication

 

Depressive episodes characteristic of bipolar disorder (alternating with manic ones)

Advice

Psychotherapy:

Cognitive behavioral therapy: emphasis on restructuring negative thought patterns, recognizing triggers that worsen and prolong depression

Interpersonal therapy: emphasis on understanding and improving faulty relationship patterns

Medications:

Antidepressants: alter the function of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, which have a significant role in regulating moods

Electroconvulsive therapy (formerly known as ‘shock’ therapy) is seemingly suggested in cases where psychotherapy and antidepressants are not enough in effectively treating depression – nowadays, the procedure consists of placing the patient under brief anesthesia in addition to being given a muscle relaxant as well, in order to induce a state similar to sleeping, for the duration of the actual administering of mild electric shocks that lasts for only a few minutes, most patients exhibiting no long-term side effects

Other types of brain stimulation therapies:

 Vagus nerve stimulation (the longest of the 12 cranial nerves, passing through the neck and thorax to the abdomen) and repetitive transcranial stimulation

MISCONCEPTIONS
  • Depression is not a ‘real’ illness, people being able to just ‘snap out of it’

    Antidepressants alone are enough when treating depression

    Antidepressants will change one’s personality

    Antidepressants have to be taken a lifetime

Statistics

NIMH estimates that 16 million adults in the U.S. had at least one depressive episode in 2012

 

According to the World Health Organization 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression

 

More women are affected than men

 

Depression is the leading cause of medical incapacitation worldwide

 

The average age of onset is 32 years of age

Did you know?

There are effective treatments for overcoming depression, yet fewer than half of those suffering from it are given proper treatment

 

Certain medications and certain medical conditions can also cause depression-like symptoms, namely viruses and thyroid disorders

 

Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia can often accompany depression

 

Heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease can also accompany depressive episodes

 

Some women suffering from an acute form of premenstrual syndrome, or while transitioning into menopause may experience rather serious forms of depression