Depression is a common yet serious mood disorder. It has a negative effect on the way a person feels and thinks. It causes a persistent feeling of “being low” or loss of interest in activities that once pleased them. It is caused by chemicals inside the brain going haywire because of numerous reasons. Often, depression may be genetic, meaning it may affect many members of the same family. If a person is depressed, they may experience persistent sadness, loss of energy and other nonspecific symptoms such as
- Constant body aches or pains
- Recurrent headaches, cramps or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
- Feeling hopeless, empty and devoid of joy
- Feeling irritable, anxious or worried
- Constant fatigue or exhaustion
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Poor quality sleep, difficulty falling asleep and difficulty waking up
- Binging, overeating and loss of appetite
- Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
What are the four types of depression?
- Major depression: Major depression is a constant and overwhelming feeling of being sad. People lose interest in daily living activities such as grooming, bathing and eating. Even those activities that once pleased them (such as exercising, reading, gardening and being with their partner) now seem worthless and daunting. There may be days when they do not get out of bed. They may have trouble sleeping, crying spells, changes in appetite or weight, loss of energy and feel worthless. In extreme cases, they may have thoughts of death or suicide. Major depression is a serious mental health issue that needs timely treatment and empathy from family and coworkers. It can be successfully treated with psychotherapy and medications. For some people with severe depression, medications do not work. In such cases, electroconvulsive therapy may be effective.
- Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disease): Individuals with this condition have alternate episodes of depression followed by periods of unusually high energy or activity. Manic symptoms look like the opposite of depression symptoms—individuals may have grandiose ideas, unrealistically high self-esteem, decreased need for sleep and an accelerated pursuit of pleasure including pumped-up sex drive, spending sprees and risk-taking behavior such as gambling or overspeeding. The manic stage often leads to self-destructive behavior and is followed by a period of depression. It is managed by psychotherapy and drugs called mood stabilizers.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): This type of depression refers to a low mood that has lasted for at least two years, but it does not reach the intensity of major depression. People with dysthymia are often able to function in day-to-day life, but they feel low or joyless (anhedonic) most of the time. Other depressive symptoms of dysthymia may include appetite and sleep changes, low energy, low self-esteem or hopelessness.
- Seasonal affective disorder: This type of depression has been linked to reduced sunlight exposure. Reduced sunlight exposure affects the biological rhythm and causes an imbalance in the levels of certain chemical messengers in the brain (serotonin and melatonin). Seasonal affective disorder emerges as days get shorter in fall and winter. Symptoms remain the same as seen in other types of depression. Treatment is light therapy, involving daily sessions of sitting close to an especially intense light source for a recommended amount of time.
In addition to these four types, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) has now included disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (diagnosed in children and adolescents) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) as other types of depression.
How to manage your depression
Proper management of depression requires support from a trained mental health professional, cooperation from friends and family members, the right medications and motivation.
Here are a few tips to manage your depression.
- Try to be physically active and exercise daily. Exercise has been known to combat episodes of depression.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Set realistic goals for your career, family life and body.
- Spend quality time with your friends, family and confide in a trusted friend or relative with your problems.
- Join a support group for mental health disorders.
- Engage yourself in hobbies such as gardening, hiking and reading to keep negative thoughts at bay.
- Keep a gratitude journal to note down the things you should be grateful for.
- Postpone important decisions such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs until you feel better.
- Continue to educate yourself about depression.
- Eat healthy. Foods such as bananas, milk, almonds and dark chocolate have mood-elevating properties.
You may have heard about an herbal medicine called St. John's wort as a remedy for mood disorders. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved this medication for depression. Many health professionals have serious concerns about the safety and efficacy of this herb as a standalone treatment or in combination with another prescription antidepressant. Do not use St. John’s wort or any other herbal treatment for depression before talking to your healthcare provider.
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NIMH: "Depression." https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/