We all feel sad or low, which we frequently label as being depressed, at some time or the other in our lives. Everyone goes through the blues or through a low mood that is of a passing nature. We may also feel down and out when trying to cope with loss or disappointments at our work or at home. However, in such situations after some time has passed things get back to normal and we fall into our daily routines. These situations in themselves don’t warrant the utilization of the services of a professional to help deal with the low moods. By depression, we refer to a mood state that goes well beyond just feeling the blues.
Signs and symptoms
Depression is a condition which involves recurrent and persistent low moods which last for at least two weeks and interfere with the affected individual’s daily life and activities such as work as well as maintaining relationships with friends and family. Symptoms of depression can include loss of interest in activities, not being able to derive pleasure from activities, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness about the future and negative thoughts relating to the self. There can be complaints of tiredness and fatigue along with a withdrawal from social activities as well. It can also interfere with appetite and sleep patterns.
The following are some of the warning signs of depression:
- Sadness of mood
- Social withdrawal
- Sudden increase or decrease in appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Less interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
- Difficulty in attention and concentration
- Difficulty in decision making
- Suicidal ideation
- Frequent and unexplained somatic complaints
Till date, there is no single causative factor that can be implicated in the development of depression, various genetic, biological and psycho-social factors interact to play a role in the etiology of the illness, combining in various ways leading to its precipitation.
An imbalance in the regulation of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain is majorly correlated with depression across all ages. Furthermore, many psychological and social stressors like trauma, loss of a dear one, difficulties in relationships, life-challenges can be a trigger for a depressive episode. Repeated stressful experiences tend to compromise the individual’s ability to cope with the situations as they emerge, which is exacerbated if the individual does not have adequate support mechanisms in the environment. In addition, various environmental and psycho-social factors could be hypothesized to increase our vulnerability towards depression especially in today’s times, including the hectic lifestyles leading to a neglect of time and space for our own self. With a shifting in family structures, and an increasing dependence on the media and technology, most of us tend to lose out on adequate support systems, leading to social isolation and loneliness. However, it is important to note that these factors are hypothesized to increase the vulnerability towards depression, and are in no way direct causes of depression.
Treatment and Seeking Help
Depression is a clearly recognized medical condition, that needs to be taken seriously, and for which professional help is irreplaceable. It is not due to a character weakness or laziness, which can be overcome by will-power, or can pass out over time. Depression requires adequate and timely medical and psychological interventions. Professional help including psychiatric medications and psychological counselling is irreplaceable.
As the biological basis of the illness has been widely established, the role of psychiatric medications is of utmost importance, as they target the regulation of the neurotransmitters in the brain. In addition, psychotherapy, including cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy, which serve as an adjunct to the treatment, and helps them develop more adaptive coping mechanisms. If untreated, depression can last for weeks, months and even years, significantly impacting various spheres of the affected individual’s life.