Depression is a mood disorder that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, feels and thinks. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from a depressive disorder.
Depressive disorders come in different forms, just as is the case with other illnesses such as heart disease. Three common types of depressive disorders are discussed below. However, as with any illness, there are variations in the number and type of symptoms, their severity, and persistence.
- Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms (see symptom list below) that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. Such a disabling episode of depression may occur only once but more commonly occurs several times in a lifetime.
- Dysthymia is a less severe type of depression, which involves long-term, chronic symptoms that are not disabling, but keep a person from functioning well or feeling good. Many people with dysthymia also experience major depressive episodes at some time in their lives.
- Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depression, is another form of depressive disorder. It is not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes with severe highs (mania) and lows (depression). When in the depressed cycle, an individual can have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder. When in the manic cycle, the individual may be overactive, overtalkative, and have a great deal of energy. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment.
- At least 8 percent of adults in the United States experience serious depression at some point during their lives, and estimates range as high as 17 percent.
- It affects all people, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic standing.
- Women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from it.
There are numerous theories about its causes. The cause may not be the same in every person. Various theories are:
- It runs in families. There is a strong genetic influence in depression--vulnerability to depression and bipolar disorder can be inherited.
- Genes may influence depression by causing abnormal activity in the brain. Certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters play an important role in regulating moods and emotions. Neurotransmitters involved in depression include norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.
- An imbalance of hormones may also play a role.
- Many depressed people have higher than normal levels of cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress.
- An underactive or overactive thyroid gland can lead to depression.
- Nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid can cause depression.
- Degenerative neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease; strokes in the frontal part of the brain; and certain viral infections, such as hepatitis and mononucleosis can cause a depressive disorder.
- Certain medications, such as steroids, may also cause it.
- Depression may be a response to loss—either real loss, such as the death of a spouse, or symbolic loss, such as the failure to achieve an important goal.
- Prior episodes of depression
- Family history of depressive disorder
- Lack of social support
- Being female
- Following the birth of a baby (post-partum)
- Chronic medical illness, including chronic pain
- Stressful life events
- Current substance abuse
For major depression diagnosis, 5 of the first 9 must be present for at least two weeks:
- Depressed mood most of the day, every day, including mood swings and irritability
- Poor concentration (indecisiveness)
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Loss of pleasure or interest in most things (anhedonia)
- Weight change (increase or decrease)
- Sleep changes (increase or decrease)
- Fatigue/Loss of energy
- Slowness of mind or body
- Other symptoms may include:
- Appetite change (increase or decrease)
- Decreased libido
- Social withdrawal
- Self medication to try to blunt feelings (drugs or alcohol)
- Clinical symptoms
- Testing tools such as Beck Depression Inventory or Hamilton Rating Scale For Depression
- Laboratory testing for underlying deficiencies or organic causes of depression
- B12 and folic acid levels
- Thyroid testing
- Cortisol levels (often high in the evening in people with depression)
- DHEA-sulfate levels
- Serum Zinc level
- Vitamin D level
- Magnesium level
- Essential fatty acid levels
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are experienced in how to treat depression holistically.
If you would like to learn more about natural medicine approaches to depression, contact one of our clinics for a free consultation or an appointment.