Everyone feels sad sometimes. But depression, major depression, clinical depression or major depressive disorder is a serious illness than just feeling down. Depression is an illness and it gets in the way of your life. It affects the way you feel, behave and think. It could make you feel helpless, hopeless or empty. It makes it tough to function and enjoy your life. Some people describe depression as “living in a black hole.” Whatever the symptoms, depression is different from normal sadness. It robs you from your daily life, ability to work, study, eat, sleep and have fun.
Depression varies from person to person however, there are common signs and symptoms. The more symptoms you have, the stronger they are and the longer they have lasted, the more likely you are dealing with depression. When the symptoms become disabling, seeking help is recommended.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression:
What Can Trigger Depression:
Loss or Stress: Grief over a death, breakup or other loss may lead to depression. Physical abuse, job loss, or changes in finances can also trigger depression.
Family History: Depression tends to run in families. If one or more of your close relatives have depression, chances are you are more likely to develop it yourself too. It does not mean that you will have depression just because someone in your family has it.
Drugs and Alcohol: These substances can change the chemical balance in the brain. Some depressed people turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. This just makes depression worse.
Physical Illness: Some health problems may cause changes in the brain leading to depression.
Hormones: Hormones may affect brain chemicals which can lead to depression. Women may get depressed when hormone levels change quickly such as before their menstrual cycle, after giving birth, or menopause.
There are different types of depression, such as:
Dysthymia:Feeling mildly depressed, but you may have periods of normal mood. The symptoms are not as strong as major depression but it lasts at least two years.
Bipolar disorder:This is characterized by cyclic mood changes. Episodes of depression alternate with manic episodes such as high energy, impulsiveness, rapid speech, or little to no sleep. The switch from one mood to the next is gradual and with each episode lasting several weeks. When depressed, a person exhibits the usual symptoms of major depression however the treatment is different.
Major depression: Inability to enjoy life and experience pleasure. Symptoms lasts about 6 months if left untreated. Symptoms are constant ranging from moderate to severe. It is a recurrent disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): When summer ends and winter begins, many people feel depressed. It is triggered by limited exposure to sunlight and particularly women and young people are affected by SAD.
There is treatment for depression. What works for one person may not work for another and no one treatment is appropriate in all cases. The best approach involves:
support: talking to someone about how you feel can be great help. The person you talk to needs to be a good listener. Having a strong support system can speed your recovery. Reach out to others, because being alone can make depression worse.
lifestyle changes such as exercise, eating healthy, learning to manage stress, relaxation techniques and challenging negative thoughts can help alleviate depression. I mentioned some relaxation techniques under my post Natural Ways to Cope with Panic and Anxiety Attacks.
balancing emotions: learning how to recognize stress and expressing your feelings and emotions can make you more resilient.
professional help such as talk therapy or medications can help. Therapy can give you tools to treat depression and can give you skills to prevent depression from coming back.
Recovery takes time. With help, you can feel better and enjoy your life. Even after you get better, continue seeing your doctor and don’t stop taking medications if you are taking antidepressants. Stopping your medications too soon can invite depression to come back.
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Last reviewed: 16 Feb 2014