SciTech

Health Talk: Depression

Depression, represented here by Vincent Van Gogh, is a medical condition that can be easily treated, but is often ignored. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Depression, represented here by Vincent Van Gogh, is a medical condition that can be easily treated, but is often ignored. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In most cultures, including our own, we are raised to think of depression as a taboo topic. It is not difficult to see why this is the case, considering the number of different preconceptions people have about the disease. From the notion that having depression is just a normal part of life to the notion that the ability to overcome depression is a measurement of willpower, it is safe to say that there are misconceptions about the condition, making it difficult for people to get a real sense of the illness.

Because of this, it may not be hard to believe that the majority of people with depression never seek help, even though research has shown that most people with the condition will respond to treatment. As convenient as it is for most people to neglect depression, it truly is a severe illness and, like any other illness, has significant negative effects on a person’s family and friends, and the people he or she might encounter throughout his or her daily life. Additionally, depression affects the quality of a person’s work and may even lead to the deterioration of the person’s overall health.

So what exactly is depression? Before we attempt to answer this, it may be important to first point out that the word “depression” has two different meanings. The website www.healthcentral.com defines depression as a state in which a person has a low mood and generally lacks the will to engage in activity. According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), someone who is depressed will experience feelings of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness, but will return to a neutral state with time and support.

Depression, however, can also be used as a more general term for Major Depressive Disorder, a mental disorder in which a person constantly experiences an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem and a loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy. This type of depression can seriously change a person’s lifestyle.

It is also known as clinical depression, major depression, unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder. This form of depression is more than just a state of mind; rather, it is the result of physical changes in the brain, connected to an imbalance of one or more different types of neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry signals throughout the brain and the nervous system.

Someone who has major depression is suffering from more than just “the blues” and may not be able to overcome the problem on their own. They may dismiss their condition as nothing serious, but this form of depression is the form that is often misunderstood and at times underestimated. It may be surprising to find that 16 percent, or around 1 in 6 Americans, consisting of men and women of all ages and coming from different kinds of backgrounds, have or will have this type of depression during their lifetime.

According to www.psycom.net, depression is the combined result of numerous biological, psychological, and social factors. These factors include family history, past or existing trauma and stress, a pessimistic personality, physical conditions or ailments, and even the presence of other psychological disorders. Although some of these factors may appear to have a greater effect on an individual than others, depression is different for everyone and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The signs of depression are numerous. Aside from gathering information about a patient regarding the factors listed above, doctors diagnose depression by looking for a list of different symptoms.
Symptoms of depression vary greatly among individuals, and they manifest in different ways. Some of these symptoms include constant feelings of sadness, irritability, or tension, loss of energy or feeling tired despite lack of activity, a change in appetite or significant weight loss or weight gain, irregular sleeping patterns, and a decreased ability to make decisions or concentrate. More emotional signs include constant feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness, and in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide and death. For anyone who may be experiencing one or several of these symptoms, it is imperative that he or she talk to a doctor about potentially suffering from depression.

There are many different treatments used to combat depression, one of which is antidepressants. This type of treatment aims to improve the symptoms of depression by targeting chemicals in the brain that are out of balance and restoring them to a more equilibrated state. Depending on the type of depression, a doctor may choose to use different types of medication. As this is the case, some treatments may take longer than others, and different patients may experience different side effects. Alternatively, doctors may suggest forms of treatment, such as psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) or even electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but only for more extreme cases. Ultimately, one should never make decisions without the proper consultation from a professional.

Although depression carries a negative connotation when viewed in the context of a mental disorder, the fact remains that it is a prevalent and very critical condition, but one that can be treated easily.

It is important that we learn to approach depression more intelligently, so that we can eradicate unrealistic notions and take steps to prevent an illness that affects such a vast number of people worldwide.