Depression is a common but serious disorder. The American Psychiatric Association and World Health Organization define depression as a mood disorder that involves intense feelings of sadness, irritability, emptiness, and hopelessness. A person loses interest in activities they once enjoyed. Major Depressive Disorder interferes with a person’s everyday activities and interpersonal relationships. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about depression.
1. What is Depression?
Major Depressive Disorder, commonly known as clinical depression, is categorised under mood disorders in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). It is characterised by a low mood and sadness, loss of interest in activities, and low self-esteem that persists for two weeks or longer.
2. What are some of the causes of depression?
Although there is no singular cause of depression, many factors can increase the risk of developing it. All these factors interplay with each other. Generally, a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors underlie depression. Some factors which increase susceptibility to depression are:
- A family history of depression.
- The major negative life-changing events such as moving, graduating or retiring, and unemployment.
- Loss of a loved one through separation, divorce, or death.
- Abuse of certain substances, such as alcohol and recreational drugs.
- Life stressors such as poverty, conflict, and debt. In the case of children and teenagers, these can include bullying, academic problems, or parental divorce.
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
- Terminal illnesses often contribute to depression. These include cancer, heart disease, stroke, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, and others.
- Social isolation and exclusion from family, friends, and peer groups.
3. How to recognise if someone has depression?
If you observe yourself or someone around you displaying the following symptoms, it may be indicative of depression:
- Intense sadness for a long duration.
- Reduced self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt.
- Anhedonia (loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities).
- Sudden decrease or increase in appetite.
- Insomnia or Hypersomnia.
- Psychomotor agitation (increased motor activity due to restlessness).
- Psychomotor retardation (extreme slowing down of routine activities).
- Constant Physical Fatigue.
- Cognitive difficulties, such as poor concentration and decision-making.
- Suicidal ideation and thoughts of self-harm.
4. What is Dysthymia?
Dysthymic disorder (now known as persistent depressive disorder) is another depressive disorder. It differs from major depressive disorder in intensity of symptoms. The core feature of dysthymia is a mild to moderate depressed mood that is chronic (more than 2 years).
5. What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
As the name suggests, it is a type of depressive disorder that is connected to the seasons. It usually emerges in the winter, and the symptoms are the same as Major Depressive Disorder. Clinicians consider the diagnosis of SAD when a person suffers from symptoms of depression in the same season for at least 2 years. A hypothesis is that it is caused by a lack of sunlight, which is why Light Therapy (prolonged exposure to bright light) helps treat it.
6. How does depression impact physical health?
A person’s mental health and physical health are closely related and the poor state of one has a huge impact on another. Depression can cause changes in the brain. In addition to the physical symptoms already mentioned above, depression can increase the risk of medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and migraine.
7. Can depression affect children?
Yes, just like adults, children can also suffer from depression. The same factors as adults underlie the development of depressive disorder in children, these include: A change in physical health, negative life events, heredity, environmental factors, and chemical imbalance in the brain. It is different from normal sadness and everyday emotions that are typical in children. Children who are depressed experience changes in their behaviour that are persistent. They disrupt their normal life, usually interfering with their relationships with friends, academic work, hobbies, family life, and other domains of functioning. It may occur simultaneously with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or conduct disorder (CD).
8. Why is depression more prevalent in women than men?
Depression is experienced twice as much by women than men. About 20% of women experience at least one episode of depression in their lifetime. Researchers have been trying to determine potential causes for women’s increased risk for depression. Results have pointed to biological and hormonal changes that occur during puberty as possible causes. Psychosocial factors unique to women may also be contributing factors.
Read: Women and mental health
The experience of discrimination and violence can lead to women’s higher depression rates. Another reason may be the various changes in hormone levels that women experience during pregnancy and menopause, as well as after giving birth, suffering a miscarriage, or having a hysterectomy. Two kinds of depression are only experienced by women –Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) in which severe depressive symptoms are experienced before menstruation, and Perinatal Depression (also known as postpartum depression, which women go through after giving birth). Researchers have shown that hormonal changes greatly affect brain chemistry.
9. What are some of the treatments for depression?
The most commonly used treatments for depression are psychotherapy and medications. When depression is mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy is considered the best option. For moderate to severe depression, a combination of medications and psychotherapy is often considered. Antidepressants, such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are prescribed.
Therapy types helpful in mitigating depressive disorder include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and Psychodynamic therapy. When depression is severe and does not respond to any of the above treatments, ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) and TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). Alternative remedies such as meditation and acupuncture might also be helpful. The best-suited treatment plan is tailor-made for each individual by a mental health care professional, after looking at all their specific symptoms.
10. What is self-harm and how is it related to depression?
Known as non-suicidal injury, self-harm refers to the act of purposefully harming your body on your own. It is a way of coping with emotional pain, stress, anxiety, and anger, and a lot of people with depressive symptoms might resort to self-injury. It is usually not meant as a suicide attempt and serves to distract a person from their emotional distress. Common forms of self-harm include cutting, scratching, or stabbing the skin with a sharp object, burning yourself, self-hitting, and banging your head. It is a very commonly seen coping mechanism in depressive adolescents. Treatments for depression, the underlying cause of self-injury, are the best way to
make it end.
11. Are all depressed people having suicidal thoughts?
No. Not all people who suffer from depression have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. However, some studies have shown that a large portion of all suicide victims suffer from some form of depression. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help and surround yourself with your loved ones if you suspect that you are suffering from depression.
12. What should one do in case of suicidal thoughts?
If you feel suicidal, your pain may seem overwhelming, with no end in sight. However, there are several ways to cope with suicidal thoughts and emerge from them. The first step is knowing that you are not alone in your experience. Depression and suicidal thoughts are common and experienced by even the most celebrated and successful people.
Follow these steps if you are feeling suicidal at the moment:
- Promise to not do anything right now; Suicidal thoughts do not have to become a reality. Distance yourself from suicidal thoughts by making a promise to yourself that you won’t do anything drastic, and wait another 24 hours, or a week before taking any action. Wait. You may come out of the current distress and realise you do not want to take a step to end your life at a later time.
- Avoid substances like Drugs and Alcohol; These substances affect cognitive abilities and may make suicidal ideation even stronger. Do not consume any non-prescription drugs.
- Do not keep suicidal feelings to yourself; A lot of people find that it helps cope with suicidal feelings to confide in a loved one. Find a person you trust, and let them know of your thoughts. Their support and acceptance might help you overcome your immediate sadness. Do not let fear, shame, or anger prevent you from seeking help.
- Make your home safe; In case of suicidal thoughts, remove things such as knives, blades, pills, or firearms, which you could use to hurt yourself. It is better to ask someone for help in getting rid of these items.
- Call a suicide helpline; There are various resources available on the internet. Do not shy away from seeking professional help, it might just save your life.
- Lastly, remember to have hope. Remember that your emotions and suicidal feelings are not permanent, and you can overcome the current state. There are things you derive joy from, and you have hopes, ambitions, and desires from life. You can experience happiness, and overcome your current mental state!
Suicide Helpline: 9152987821 (iCALL)
Want to read books that have themes of depression? We have made these book recommendations just for you
- Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened” by Allie Brosh
- “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
- “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini
- “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry” by Jon Ronson