Depression: What do we really know about it?

We all feel blue sometimes, and we may say “I‘m depressed”. However, when depression exists it intrudes on our everyday life causing serious problems to us and to people around us.

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There are different types of depression. The main three are the following: Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by a combination of symptoms causing dysfunction of the person when it comes to work, sleep, study, food, and actions or choices which used to offer satisfaction. It may appear once in a lifetime or more times in various life phases. Dysthymia is characterized by long-term symptoms (more than 2 years) which are not intense enough to disable someone. However, daily depressive mood keeps the person from functioning or feeling well. Minor Depression is characterized by symptoms which last for more than two weeks but cannot be classified as major. It is possible that this may evolve into Major Depression in case these mild symptoms are not dealt with. There are more types of depression that vary or can be associated with the different life phases one is going through. In Psychotic Depression, depressive symptoms accompany some type of psychosis (e.g. delusions or/and hallucinations); Postpartum Depression is common among women after labor; Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder with symptoms emerging some days before menstrual cycle, etc. Bipolar Disorder is also categorized in mood disorders, where depressive symptoms take turns with mania, a state characterized by hyper mood, increased speech speed, hyperactivity, and sometimes distorted thought and judgment, and poor social behavior. Also, there may be periods of hypomania, with less intense symptoms, during which the individual becomes more functional.

Which are the symptoms of depression?

The intensity, frequency and duration of symptoms vary according to depression type and the individual. An individual might experience some or all of the below:

  • Persistent feeling of sorrow, agony and emptiness
  • Loss of hope, intense pessimism
  • Feeling of guilt, unworthiness, helplessness
  • Loss of pleasure in whatever used to provide pleasure, including sexual arousal
  • Dysphoria, oversensitivity, stress and fear of upcoming danger
  • Decreased energy, fatigue
  • Difficulty in concentration, decision making, memory
  • Insomnia or too much sleep or very early awakening
  • Overeating or loss of interest for food
  • Somatic symptoms, migraines, cramps, gastrointestinal dysfunction, which persist relevant treatment
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

What causes depression?

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At Eternity’s Gate (Vincent van Gogh)

Depressive disorders are considered to be brain disorders. Research has shown that in periods when one suffers from depression important brain neurotransmitters are out of balance. However, biological, genetic, environmental and psychological factors can also trigger a depressive disorder, not necessarily altogether. Thus, sometimes it might be that biological and genetic factors (such as Central Nervous System disorders, Hypothyroidism, etc.) can be responsible for depression development, while in other cases the cause is traced to psychosocial factors (such as loss of a loved one, divorce, chronic unemployment, or person with a negative attitude to self, others and life, etc.). Nevertheless, in some cases appearance of a depressive episode has no apparent reason.

How is depression diagnosed and cured?

Even at its heaviest form depression is curable. The individual has to seek and receive the right treatment and the sooner the onset of therapy the better the outcomes. When an individual with depressive disorders visits a doctor motivated by somatic symptoms and the doctor acknowledges that the symptoms have no medical base, the individual must be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist. The therapist in turn has to diagnose the type of depression in order for the patient to be prescribed with medication, if necessary. When symptoms are mild or of medium intensity psychotherapy can have the best possible outcomes. However, in heavy cases the patient is advised to receive antidepressant treatment in parallel to psychotherapy.

How to help myself if I suffer from depression?

  • Visit a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or doctor immediately. As time passes a depressive disorder can become heavier or even chronic.
  • Stay alert. Do things you like, go out, exercise.
  • Set realistic goals. In this phase you might have the strength for far less than you used to do.
  • Prioritize and split jobs that have to be done in separate tasks.
  • Approach, practically and sentimentally, the people who are close to you. Talk, share your feelings, do things with others.
  • Understand that negative thoughts and depressive mood will change gradually, as a result of your therapy; thus don’t expect changes overnight.
  • Leave important decisions for when you feel better.
  • Get informed about depression but avoid putting psychiatric labels to yourself. With the right treatment depression can be overcome!

Eirini Dakou, Psychologist

 

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