Too often underestimated, depression is one of the most common psychiatric pathologies. It is also the second leading cause of disability in the world, behind back pain. But how can you tell the difference between depression, and a simple case of the blues?
Definition: What is Depression?
Depression is a chronic, psychological illness characterized by a lack of motivation and a great sadness. Depression occurs durring depressive episodes, the duration of which depends on the individual, and can last anywhere from days to years. To describe this disease, the medical community uses the term clinical depression.
There are several degrees of depression, which can be described as mild, moderate, and major (severe). Depression mainly affects psychology (mood and behaviour), but can also manifest itself through physical problems. This is why a depressed person may be more vulnerable to infections as their immune system is weakened.
However, do not confuse feeling depressed with depression. The term depression is often used incorrectly in everyday language to describe periods of sadness, feelings of emptiness, boredom, and melancholy. Depression, meanwhile, is a chronic disease that can have serious consequences and requires management.
Causes of Depression
The causes of depression are multiple, complex, and involve several factors. Genetics could play a role: many long-term studies have shown that a history of depression in the family can be a risk factor. From a biological point of view, an imbalance of certain transmitters such as serotonin has also been observed in those suffering from depression.
Quality of life, substance abuse, lack of physical activity, living conditions such as a precarious economic situation, isolation, and stress, can have a profound affect on the psychological state of an individual. Burn out in particular can lead to depression.
What's more, various life events, dramas, bereavements, and separation are all factors that can trigger depression. A traumatic or abusive childhood can disrupt the functioning of certain stress-related genes, and can contribute to the development of depression in adulthood.
Symptoms: How to Recognize Depression
Depression is characterized by a depressive mood, as well as loss of interest or pleasure in virtually any activity for at least two weeks. In children and adolescents, it is possible to to observe irritability rather than sadness. Depression has four other typical symptoms necessary for diagnosis:
- change in appetite, weight, sleep, and psychomotor activity
- lack of energy, fatigue
- thoughts of worthlessness or guilt
- difficulty concentrating, thinking, making decisions
Other additional symptoms may appear. This includes an aggressive attitude, emotional sensitivity, agitation. Contrarily, it could also be the impression of acting in slow motion, a drop in libido, a sense of emptiness, and an impression of not feeling anything.
Physical pain, such as headache and back pain, can occur on top of the other aforementioned symptoms. Victims of depression can also experience dark and suicidal thoughts.
Treatment: How to Cure Depression
In the case of mild to moderate depression, it can be effectively treated with psychotherapy. If the depression is more severe, psychotherapy may be accompanied by the taking of antidepressants. Sometimes these medications are prescribed for moderate depression, but intake should be limited and closely monitored. The right treatment and right dosage of medication should be established by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist.
In more extreme cases where the patient is exhibiting suicidal behaviour, hospitalization is necessary. One can then consider electroshock therapy, which induces an epileptic fit to stimulate the brain. These electroshocks are administered under general anesthesia, two to three times a week for six to 12 weeks.
The treatment for depression depends on the causes. As it is difficult for a depressed person to talk about his or her discomfort, family support plays a crucial role in the healing process.