What is depression?
Depression is a psychiatric illness that affects one in six people in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of people with depression do not realize that they have a treatable illness and do not seek treatment.
Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of despondency. It is different from the short-lived feeling of unhappiness when a person feels down at times. If this feeling stays for months on end, the person must talk to people close to them about it or seek professional help. This is because untreated severe depression can culminate in suicide, the tenth leading cause of death reported in the United States.
How is depression treated?
A person with depression may initially turn to family and friends to get emotional support from them. Venting their feelings (mental catharsis) in front of people close to them helps calm down their depressive feelings. If these feelings keep coming back or are persistent, it becomes necessary to seek professional help for depression.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and mental therapists are the various professionals who help to treat or counsel people with depression. Medications prescribed for depression known as antidepressants exhibit their effects within a week. They may sometimes take more than a week to work best. Along with medications, various therapies are employed to treat depression that includes psychotherapies (cognitive behavioral therapy) that help patients with depression to change the way they feel about the situations in their life.
People who receive support from friends and family and who are in touch with professional psychiatric support are less likely to act on their suicidal impulses than are those who remain aloof.
What causes depression and suicidal tendencies?
Depression could happen when there is a decrease in the functional balance of the brain chemicals e.g., serotonin and norepinephrine. These chemicals (neurotransmitters) transfer the information from one nerve cell to another. Decreased norepinephrine causes dullness and lethargy and decreased serotonin causes irritability, hostility, mood swings and suicidal ideation.
A single factor does not cause depression, rather the cause is multifactorial.
Not everyone affected by depression ends their life. However, some factors greatly increase an individual’s risk of suicide.
The common ones include
- Family history of depression/suicide
- Alcohol abuse
- Substance abuse (especially opiates and cocaine)
- Family violence
- Separation or divorce in the family
Other risk factors include
- Lack of social support
- Constant negative attitude
- Loss of a loved one
- Failure in career or personal/social relationships
- Prior suicide attempt(s)
- Presence of a firearm in the home
- Exposure to the suicidal behavior of family members, peers and celebrities
- Battling with a chronic illness or terminal stage of a disease
- Antidepressant medication use(it is necessary to take them under strict medical supervision)
Depression can also be due to an existing physical illness. A medical examination by a doctor will help rule out other such causes.
What are the signs of depression?
Anyone who feels down most of the day nearly every day for weeks or months may be suffering from clinical depression. There are certain signs or behavioral changes that can help someone to check if they or their close loved one is suffering from depression. These are
- Loss of pleasure in all activities
- A feeling of lack of energy
- Feeling of fatigue
- Feeling unmotivated
- Frequent tearfulness
- Unable to concentrate
- Memory problems
- Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Feeling tired the next day even after getting an adequate number of hours of sleep the night before
- An increase or decrease in appetite
- Weight loss
- Loss of interest in sex
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of guilt
- Unrealistic ideas and worries
- Hopelessness about the future
- Constant feeling of negativity
- Thoughts of suicide
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