Most people have experienced depression, as it is a normal response to an aversive event, like the death of a loved one, loss of a job, relationship break-up or divorce. Depression mostly involves feelings of hopelessness and sadness, which can disrupt a person's ability to function in terms of daily living and social relationships.There are however, different varieties of depressive mood disorders and different causes, strategies and treatments.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder, is the most severe mood disorder. It is usually characterised by a loss of interest in activities that were formerly pleasurable (anhedonia). There may also be disturbances in energy levels, concentration, appetite and sleep. Many people, with this type of depressive disorder, are so lacking in energy and motivation that they could literally sleep twenty fours hours of the day. These depressive episodes may last for months (Solomon et al., 1997) and can result in suffers feeling guilty, worthless and hopeless.
There are many risk factors for developing major depressive disorder, which include having parents who suffered depression, parenting style, abuse, or neglect. The depressive episode, can then later be triggered by factors like social isolation, academic failure, relationship break-up, poverty or unemployment. Depression is also highly correlated with smoking, drug use, obesity and eating disorders.
Depression, can also occur as part of bipolar disorder, which is a very serious mental illness. People who suffer bipolar disorder, also experience episodes of mania, with elevated moods, inflated self-esteem and diminished need for sleep. People, who experience depression due to bipolar disorder usually must be wary of using anti-depressant medications or supplements, as they can be at risk for mania. Mood stabilizers like Valproic acid and lithium are important for this complex disorder.
Dysthymia, is a less severe form of depression, which can last for years. Although more subtle, this mood disorder is nevertheless chronic and relentless, often leading to low confidence, sadness and diminished motivation.
Causes of Depression
It seems, that depression can arise for many different reasons. Twin studies, show a strong genetic susceptibility for depression, perhaps as high as 84% (Cardno, Marshall et al., 1999). Other cited causes, are deregulated neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which are involved in cycles of hunger and sleep. Factors in the environment, also influence the propensity for an individual to become depressed, as life experiences and family style influence how you see the world. Many people who experience depression, have also experienced many negative life events, such as divorce, deaths of loved ones and being bullied or ostracised.
Treatment for Depression
There are a whole range of treatments for depression. Severe depression however, may require medications, which range in type and variety and must be prescribed by a doctor. For less severe depression, there are other strategies and some new research.
This approach, is focussed on helping depressed patients to change their thinking patterns. Cognitive restructuring, changes the negative self statements, that often characterise people who suffer depression. Free on-line providers are Mood Gym and My Ray.
Exercise has been shown to reduce depression, due not only to the release of endorphins (feel good body chemicals) but also by increasing serotonin.
A healthy diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and minimising processed carbohydrates can improve health and well-being. Supplements of omega 3 fatty acids, have also shown some positive results for counteracting depressive symptoms.
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