Depression is a prevalent mental illness that is still widely misunderstood. Many people make assumptions that those with the disorder are “sad.” The reality is, depression is a bit more complex than one simple emotion. It is more a dysregulation of emotions that creates chaos in one’s life when untreated. It interferes with families, relationships, and employment. Fortunately, as time goes by, we learn more about how major depression affects brain chemicals and responses. Let’s take some time to explore what the disorder is, what causes it, and its effects on the afflicted and their loved ones.
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What is Depression?
To understand the cause and effect of depression, we must understand the disorder itself. Clinical depression is classified as a mood disorder. The sadness, loss, grief, anger, and fear are common and often come at times outside of the usual reasons. Life events may trigger these emotions, but they will linger or spike up when things are going well for the individual.
Without treatment for depression, the mood disorder becomes worse. Relationships can be destroyed. Jobs and homes may be lost as well. The person may spend all their time sleeping and isolating themselves. They may struggle with what many of us consider mundane tasks. Unfortunately, there is no one type of depressive disorder; there are several. Each comes with its own struggles, and yet some symptoms overlap. This is why seeing a mental health professional becomes important. We need to know what kind of depression someone has so we know how to treat them effectively.
What Are the Types of Depressive Disorders?
When someone tells you they have depression, it may seem pretty easy to understand. Unfortunately, several types of depression can explain certain behaviors. Many of them have similar symptoms, but the difference lies in the brain chemicals and functioning. Let’s look at each type to get a better picture.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common types of depression across the country. This one causes the person to feel depressed more often than not. The depressed state can be days or weeks, and a doctor must follow the criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Chronic depression and dysthymia are also known as persistent depressive disorder. The major difference between this and major depressive disorder is the length of time for depressed states. Individuals with chronic depression/dysthymia are depressed for at least two years at a time.
Atypical depression is also widespread. This form of depression has similar symptoms with one true difference. People who deal with atypical depression can have their moods lighten temporarily in response to a positive event. However, the depressive states are just as frequent as well. It’s important to note that the mood swings are not extreme, an important differentiation from manic depression.
Bipolar or Manic Depression
Bipolar, or manic depression, is characterized by the extreme mood swings someone experiences. When in a manic phase, they do usual things in excess. This means that cleaning the bedroom will turn into a complete scrub down of the entire house, often moving at a very rapid pace that exhausts others. When they are not manic, they are at the low stage that mimics major depression. Unfortunately, people with bipolar disorder do not naturally have a middle ground. They are at an extreme high or low when left untreated.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs in the winter months. People with this depression often struggle because there is less sunlight. This is a medical condition in which the shorter days cause depression in the brain. Antidepressants can help, but many find success through light therapy. Scientists have designed lamps to simulate sunlight as treatment, a holistic approach to trigger stabilization within the brain.
When it comes to common mood disorders, postpartum depression is at the top of the list for child-bearing women. This occurs when a woman experiences major depression after the birth of her child. It creates a lot of stress for her, the child, and the rest of the family. It can be a hazardous situation to ignore, and seeking treatment is highly recommended.
What is more important to note is that 1 in 10 men also experience post-partum depression. This may sound shocking, but it is a recent development as studies have been performed. In addition, there is a difference in how it affects males and females. Females will usually experience postpartum depression within the first four weeks of delivery. Men, however, often don’t experience this form of depression until 3-6 months after delivery. In some cases, it may take an entire year for a man to develop it.
Psychotic depression is a major depressive disorder with psychotic episodes. Psychosis elements include hearing or seeing things not there, false beliefs, or paranoia. Medications will include anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.
The Common Signs And Symptoms Of Depression
Depression in all its forms has some common signs and symptoms. While some of these symptoms don’t apply to everyone, a doctor must determine if you have depression and the type based on the frequency and co-conspiring symptoms. This list is meant to give insight into what someone with depression deals with. For example, people with depression may experience the following symptoms:
- loss of interest in things or activities that once brought joy
- feeling sad, empty, or hopeless for days at a time
- weight loss or gain
- insomnia or sleeping too much
- fatigue and exhaustion
- fidgeting excessively that feels uncontrollable (bouncing a knee while sitting, tapping a finger, muscle spasms)
- feeling unnecessary excessive guilt
- frequent thoughts of death and suicide
- change in appetite
- low self-esteem
- trouble concentrating
- trouble making decisions
- feeling rejected
- social isolation
- mood swings
- feeling overwhelmed often
Causes of Depression
Depression is one of the most complex diseases out there. What causes depression is dependent on the individual. Some things will cause depression in some people and not in others. Or it will cause one type of depression in one and a completely different one in another. However, some trends show in groups of people with depression to focus on those trends.
Abuse can be emotional, financial, physical, sexual; complex or acute, and often of an interpersonal nature. Many people will experience multiple forms of abuse. Because of the nature of abuse, it has an effect on brain patterns. Fight or flight responses are suddenly heightened and dopamine stops being released at the necessary moments. This begins the hard journey through depression.
While many children and adolescents are diagnosed with depression, the elderly are at a higher risk of depression than any other age group. As we age, our hormones shift and have an impact on brain function. Triggers for dopamine slow or stop altogether. Combine this with folks enduring more loss of family and friends, and growing old is not for the weak.
For many depression sufferers, brain chemistry is a culprit for many diagnoses. When our brains produce too little, too much, or none of a necessary chemical for body function, clinical depression is likely.
Some medications also alter brain chemistry enough to cause mental health issues. So whenever a doctor discusses medication with you, be sure to ask about the risk of depression.
Conflicts With Loved Ones
Conflicts with family and friends can be a reason for clinical depression. This can be a traumatic experience, especially the type of conflict a person is involved in. Anything that has an element of abuse will surely be a factor.
Death or Loss
A loss of any kind, including death, depression may develop. For example, the loss of a home to a fire, a family friend being murdered, or a death of a family pet is devastating, and depression is likely.
Sex At Birth
One of the unexplainable risk factors for depression is the sex you are born with. Females are twice as likely to develop depression than males. The only reason that scientists can come up with is that it has to do with the hormones in the body.
If your family has a history of depression and other mental illnesses, you are at a higher risk of depression. It is believed that a gene is passed through families that causes chemical fluctuations in the brain. As a result, more doctors are now including mental health in their family history forms to stay on top of their patients.
Major Traumatizing Events
Traumatic events are a high contributor to depression in some folks. A traumatizing event is any occurrence or series of Traumatic events are a high contributor to depression in some folks. Trauma is any event, or series of events, that cause a lot of stress. This could be surviving a harrowing accident, being a victim of a home invasion, going through a divorce, losing a job, abuse/neglect, loss of a parent, domestic violence, or chronic bullying. It is important to note that just because you have a traumatic experience, does not mean you will develop depression. Only that your risk increases. People respond differently to traumatic experiences and seeking help from a professional can help minimize the impact the trauma has on the individual’s overall well-being
Major Illness Issues
Major illness can really increase someone’s chances of a mental illness. A cancer diagnosis and going through treatments is a difficult journey and many have suffered from mental health problems from dealing with it all. Family caregivers for sick people are also at the same risk. Caring for someone you know will die of their disease can leave the caregiver distraught over their duty and their emotions when they try to process what is occurring.
One cannot mention mental health without discussing drug addiction. It is often a co-occurring diagnosis with people with depression. This is because many people are undiagnosed and end up self-medicating with alcohol and other substances. Using drugs and alcohol only exacerbates mental illness, and depression exacerbates the addiction.
Effects of Depression On Physical And Mental Health
Depression naturally has a toll on one’s overall well-being, as we have explored so far. Mental health and physical health are reliant on each other. This is proven in people with a major illness who are likely to develop depression. However, it also can lead to serious issues with the physical body as well. Let’s look at some of the ways that depression can cause physical issues for our loved ones.
Weight Gain or Loss
Weight loss is commonly associated with depression. A low mood often translates into not eating during the day. Those who struggle with depression are susceptible to weight gain as many people often cope by eating foods that bring them comfort.
Chronic pain is a common denominator in folks with signs of depression. For example, the hips may start to hurt from sitting in a chair too long or laying down in bed all day. Headaches are the most frequent occurrence, and some will experience the worst ones during their low moods.
Heart disease is one of the scariest physical effects that mental health problems provide. Since depressed folks are likely to eat badly and become sedentary, they can develop heart disease. With that comes increased blood pressure and a higher chance of heart attack.
It is unknown if inflammation is a risk factor for depression or depression is a risk factor for people with inflammation. Either way, if you have one, then you have the other.
Sexual Health Problems
Low moods are linked to hormones, and sex hormones can also drop in production in the brain. This often leads to people not being able to desire physical intimacy. At the same time, low-self esteem can also contribute to a desire not to be intimate.
Worsening Chronic Health Conditions
Chronic health conditions can be isolating for some folks. Wheelchair-bound folks at home aren’t able to get out as often for fresh air and socializing. Someone who struggles with chronic pain may not go grocery shopping because it hurts too much to reach for the items on their list. Relying on others to do mundane tasks, in general, are very frustrating. This leads to developing depression, which in turn will make the chronic health condition worse. It becomes a dangerous circle.
While some people with a mental illness can sleep too much or too often, many struggles with sleep, it may be hard to fall or stay asleep. The less sleep we have, the harder it is for our body to restore itself overnight. We become foggy in our thinking, unable to concentrate and make good decisions. We are irritable and lash out at people. We get anxious when it becomes time to go to sleep the very next night.
Digestion needs the help of adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus to trigger the right chemicals to perform the duty. Sadly, these chemicals are also interrupted with depression, and people are left with stomach issues. It often looks like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Sometimes it is as severe as Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS). Combine it with a poor diet and sedentary life, and the stomach becomes very unhappy.
As you can see, depression can be complicated. Depression must be talked about more, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Therapists worldwide reported an uptick in patients due to the requirements to isolate at home, masking mandates, and travel mandates. With so many people with high blood pressure, chronic illness, and a slew of other health problems than mental health becomes even more likely. If we talk about it, maybe we can slow it down.