When we talk about mental health, we restrict it to a specific condition like anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. What we don’t realize is that, while we should be addressing these issues, we should do it in a way that incorporates ‘mental well-being’ as a whole. People who don’t suffer from mental health conditions should equally take care of their mental well-being. After all, the focus of mental health awareness campaigns are people who don’t know what depression is like or who have never had a panic attack so they can understand those who have.
In this article, we will be breaking down one of the most common and increasing mental health conditions i.e. depression or ‘major depressive disorder’.
Staggering stats on depression
- Depression can affect anyone at any age and from walk of life
- The common period of depression is 32 years
- Depression is most commonly seen in individuals between 18 and 25 years
- Depression affects more women than men
- Approximately 9% of women and 5% of men have depression
What causes depression?
While we don’t exactly know what causes depression, ongoing research suggests a chemical imbalance of sorts in the brain among other factors. There are several, naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that help the brain function the way it’s supposed to. Fluctuating hormone levels may lead to physical changes in the brain, ultimately affecting your mood or disposition.
Research suggests that the role of neurotransmitters in depression is very important and much of the treatment targets these chemicals to restore harmony and balance in the brain. It stabilizes the mood and generally makes you feel better.
Besides neurotransmitters, hormonal upsets can also trigger or contribute to depressive symptoms or depression. A prime example of that is pregnancy. A woman experiences a hormonal surge during pregnancy, which among other things often manifests as altering moods, mood swings or depression. These hormones continue to have an effect up until a couple of weeks after giving birth too until hormone levels go back to what they were in the non-pregnant state. In this case, pregnancy hormones contribute to post-partum depression.
It is unclear whether depression has a genetic component or not, but research shows that you are more likely to have (are more prone to) a mental health condition if one of your parents or first-degree relative had it too. Experts are trying to find genes that are responsible for depression through ongoing research.
Why is depression so common?
There is no clear-cut answer to this because there are several factors that may contribute to depression. Generally, it seems like everyone around you is crippled by anxiety and depression and it can be quite overwhelming. Some may attribute it to advancements in technology or rampant use of social media. Research shows that people who are avid users of social media are less satisfied with their lives and are less happy because of the immediate comparison to the picture-perfect lives on the web. While they’re not entirely wrong there are usually other things at play here too.
Depression is often placed at both ends of the spectrum. People either think of it as a ‘first world’ problem or one that primarily exists in developing nations. The truth is, depression is prevalent at similar rates in the majority of countries and the triggers for depression are similar too.
- Loss of a loved one
- Traumatic life event
- Alcohol/drug abuse
- Financial problems
- Chronic health problems
- Inaccessibility to healthcare
- Side effects of medication
- Sexual, physical, emotional abuse
- Domestic issues
- Relationship issues
- Certain personality traits are pre-disposed to depression-like low self-esteem, being too dependent and pessimistic
What are the symptoms of depression?
You would think that sadness is what describes depression best, but the duration of this state of sadness is very important for a clinical diagnosis. If there is a prolonged and continuous state of overwhelming sadness for at least 14 days, you are likely suffering from clinical depression or some form of major depressive disorder. There are other signs and symptoms of depression to look out for:
- Mood swings
- Feeling misunderstood
- Extremely sensitive
- Losing interest in daily activities
- Drug/recreational abuse
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling inadequate
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Body aches and pains
- Thoughts of self-harm or harming others
- Suicidal thoughts in severe cases
If you or someone you know are experiencing any of the above feelings, talk to your doctor right away. Lookup a help-line and ring them up for counsel and support. Know that you are not alone and that there are millions of people that feel the exact way you do. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. Going to a psychiatrist doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it means you require expert guidance. Break the silence and stigma against mental health and get help!
How do you treat depression?
The mainstay of depression therapy is two-fold; medication and therapy. Research shows that taking both is more effective in the long run as compared to sticking to just one mode of treatment. However, your doctor will decide the best treatment plan for you based on your symptoms and medical history.
There are several categories of anti-depressant medication and all of them act in different ways to restore the chemical imbalance in the brain. They are basically mood stabilizers, sedatives, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics.
Most people worry about the side-effects of these medications, but as with most cases it is important to weigh the risks and benefits. If the benefits trump the risks, then definitely go for meds. Most meds take at least 2 weeks to kick in and start showing their effects.
The goal of therapy is to change the mindset and mentality towards a situation so that you may come up with a positive response. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on personality adjustments, exploring relationships, coping and problem-solving rather than problem creating.
The takeaway message here is that depression is not an irreversible condition. It can very much be managed and treated effectively. All you need to do is take the first step and ask for help. Most people think that an online doctor is only there to treat serious issues. You can find doctors online in Pakistan for expert medical advice, a second opinion, to read and interpret your lab report, and to receive an online medical consultation for your health problem.