We all get sad sometimes, but these feelings pass within a couple days. This is not depression. Those unfamiliar with depression might assume that a depressed person walks about with a long face, doesn’t say much, or cries all the time. In reality, depression is a mood disorder marked by a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in regular activities. You may have difficulty completing activities of daily living, getting enough sleep, and holding interest in relationships, work, education, and self-care.
Explaining Depression is Different from Person to Person
For some, depression begins as a feeling of sadness that eventually causes them to shut down, feeling incapable of coping with emotions and situations, developing into numbness and apathy. She may go about her daily life for some time, ruminating on thoughts or feeling like she’s on autopilot, eventually without much emotion except for a foggy feeling of sadness. Eventually, confusion, worry, fear, and self-loathing collapse into hopelessness and an inability to function. Though it may have happened over time, it is at this point that loved ones notice and feel alarmed.
Using Science to Explain Depression
Science has identified depression activity in the brain. The limbic system of the brain controls body functions including our moods. When we experience an impactful situation that causes an emotional response, the limbic system transmits signals via serotonin and noradrenaline that work to restore our equilibrium. Those with depression have a deficit of these important chemicals and the signals are interrupted.
Explaining the Experience of Depression
People’s experience of depression varies, and scientists and mental health professionals agree that there is no way to pinpoint an exact cause. Some people experience one seriously major episode of depression brought on by a significant life event. Others experience a depressed mood that can last for years and become what they understand as a normal set point. Factors that may contribute to depression include genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, hormonal imbalance, grief and loss, trauma, illness, eating disorders, chronic pain, or drug or alcohol use.
Treatment for Depression
It is estimated that depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide – about 4% of the world’s population – though less than half of those who suffer seek professional help. Different people and different types of depression respond to different treatments. The most common therapeutic tool is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a talk therapy that focuses on breaking down problems and beliefs and interrupt the cycle of negative thinking. Other therapeutic applications include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and in some cases, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Medication is sometimes prescribed to stabilize mood extremes and to help one function better. Integration of physical exercise, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and nutrition play a significant role in recovery for many people.
Complications of depression can increase and become serious, even life-threatening. If you think you are suffering from depression, consult with someone qualified to treat depression.