Food for Thought: Learning More About Depression

Eric Carpine Features

This is the third in a series of articles from HNP’s wellness committee. For further information, contact chair J. Patrick Kelly at 201-280-7644 or member Sr. Vicki Masterpaul at 716-373-0200, ext. 3304.

Depression has often been called “the common emotional disturbance.”

Many people with depression describe the condition as a feeling of separation from themselves. They view their lives from the outside like watching a movie. This isolation affects relationships with friends and loved ones. Until the symptoms of depression are managed, depression negatively alters life and makes it extremely difficult for those suffering from it.

Due to the complexity of depression,  its exact cause has to be determined. Researchers have narrowed down certain possibilities to conclude that depression may be caused by a chemical imbalance, genetic factors, psychological predisposition, physical factors, and environmental stresses. Surveys indicate that during any given time period, roughly six million people suffer from some degree of depression. Anyone is a candidate for depression, but certain groups of people have an increased susceptibility to it.

What does depression feel like?
Depression is not simply “being sad” or “being in a bad mood.” Depression is a physiological problem caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Also known as clinical depression or major depression, it can last months or years if left untreated.

Some symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, negativity and pessimism; persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness. Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed. Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”.
  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia, early morning awakening, or oversleeping. Appetite and or weight loss or overeating and weight gain. Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts. Restlessness, irritability.
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain. People with major depression can not simply “shake off” their feelings.

Depression does not go away by itself; however, almost all people with depression can overcome it with proper treatment.

How common is depression?
The following depression statistics present a look at the scope of depression and how it affects adult men and women.

  • Depression is a common emotional disorder affecting about 7% (13-14 million people) in any given year.
  • Only 20% of those who experience depression will receive an appropriate treatment plan.
  • 16% of all adults will experience depression.
  • 97% of those suffering from depression say their work, home life, and relationships are negatively affected.

Genetic factors
Depression often runs in the family which has led researchers to believe there may be a genetic link to the condition. Sometimes, depression can occur in generation after generation of a particular family. At other times, however, there appears to be no genetic link. Researchers conclude that while you are more likely to develop depression if another family member has the disorder, signs of depression may appear in instances where it has not appeared in any other family member.

Psychological predisposition
Scientists believe that there may be a link between depression and a certain psychological
predisposition for negativity. People who have low self-esteem, a negative attitude, and an overall pessimistic view of life may be more likely to exhibit signs of depression. Depression is also more 
likely to occur in people who are easily overwhelmed by stress.

Physical factors
Physicians have noticed a correlation between physical illness and depression. Those that suffer from a heart attack or stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and other hormonal disorders seem to be more likely to exhibit signs of depression. The recovery from a physical illness is often hindered by depression, and often the depression remains even after the physical ailment is resolved.

Environmental stresses
While researchers do not see a direct link between negative things happening in one’s life and depression, certain environmental stresses may trigger the disorder. The death of a loved one, getting a divorce, or losing a job can elicit depression. Positive stresses such as moving, being promoted, and having a baby can also potentially cause depression. As mentioned earlier, the way in which a person deals with stress may greatly affect his or her chances for developing depression.

How can depression affect my life?
The effects of depression can impact every aspect of a person’s life. Feelings of happiness, contentment, enthusiasm, and pleasure are diminished. Activities once enjoyed are no longer of interest, and many people with symptoms of depression experience fatigue and listlessness. Work, school, and other activities that require concentration become extremely difficult. Even love, an emotion of pleasure, becomes difficult to feel when symptoms of depression are being experienced.

Types of depression 
Depression is a complex disorder that has many counterparts. Some specific types of depression Include dysthymia, manic depression, cyclothymia, post-partum depression, seasonal affective disorder, existential depression, mood disorders due to a medical condition, medication-induced depression, and substance-induced mood disorder.

Personal resources
Coming to terms with depression in a person’s life takes a tremendous amount of self-will and determination. Some methods of dealing appropriately with depression and the source of life’s problems are understanding related symptoms of depression, developing a weekly wellness plan, keeping a “progress journal,” seeking professional help and being tested for depression during your annual physical.

If I have depression, I have options from which to choose. One can choose to enter into therapy. Some forms of therapy that are helpful are cognitive behavioral therapy, literary therapy, talk therapy. Some alternatives include herbal therapy, vitamins and the like. The first step in recovering your positive mental health is to talk with your doctor and discover together what are good medications for your particular experience of depression.