What does depression mean?
We often hear people talk about being sad, low, lonely, unhappy and very commonly use the word ‘depressed’ or ‘depression’. Though Depression does carry all of the above feelings, it has a specific criteria and structure to be characterised so. It is way beyond the usually known signs. It is usually described as a dark cloud following a person and there’s no light.
The word depression refers to a downward bend, degrading or lowering sign for something. When it comes to its significance in psychology too, the word depression is interpreted as lowered mood and mental health.
The term was first used as ‘depressive states’ in the 19th century by German psychiatrist Emil Kraeplin in reference to different melancholia due to the low mood that defines it.
The APA (American Psychiatric Association) defines Depression (major depressive disorder) as a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act as it causes feelings of sadness and / or loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
Depression is also described as a mood disorder with an emotional state that is marked by feelings of low self-worth or guilt and a reduced ability to enjoy life.
There is a commonly asked question by people out of confusion whether depression is real, or depression/sadness is just a phase. The causes of depression and their effects make it easier to differentiate between normal sadness and depression. Let’s see how.
What are the causes of depression?
Depression is often and easily related or is said to occur after breakups, heartbreaks, failures or a loss. However, it is important to know and understand about the different sources generating the causes of depression.
- Depression can be biologically explained as it can happen due to certain changes in the levels of chemicals present in the brain. If there is an abnormal activity in the neurotransmitter systems of the limbic system in the brain, it can result in depression. The Limbic system looks after the ‘emotion’ part of the human brain hence the changes evidently affect and are exhibited through the moods, expression and emotional reactions of a person. Decreasing levels of serotonin can be a dominant cause for depressive symptoms, as this specific hormone is responsible for the feeling of happiness, stabilising the mood and general well-being.
- Depression can also have genetic links. The predisposition of depression can be inherited. The process of ageing in humans involves their encounters with various situations in life which can be another reason for developing depression at a particular age or stage of life.
- Stress is the most common cause talked about when it comes to depression. Extreme stressors like failures, separation, insecurities, emotional pressure, incompetency, grief, guilt, fear, etc., might pave the way for depression. Loss of a loved one, conflicts in interpersonal relationships, loss of position or monetary loss can usually lead to depressive episodes.
- Another important cause of depression can be a chronic illness, prolonged treatment or complex physical injury or impairment. If a person is struggling through any of these for a long span of years he/she naturally is at a higher risk of experiencing depression.
- Substance abuse, especially alcohol, smoking, and consumption of non-medicinal drugs can trigger depression. Some medications also might have contributions to depression as they can be addictive and the risk of developing psychological dependency towards them is higher. Some medicinal drugs can be healing the problem that they’re prescribed for, but on the other hand, they also might have side-effects which involve depression.
- Personality can be an unfortunate cause of depression for some as it depends on the personality that how much one will have the vulnerability to get depressed and same goes for the capacity of every individual to deal with problems.
The symptoms act in response to the causes of depression. There is a strong cause effect relationship that is seen. Based on the causes of depression that are elaborated above, following are the common symptoms and signs to identify possible depression in a person.
- Suddenly feeling disinterested in the activities which used to be pleasurable before (anhedonia)
- Lack of emotional expression
- Lack of interest or enthusiasm (apathy)
- Lack of motivation to do tasks that have a goal (avolition)
- Loss of appetite or Unusual appetite leading to sudden weight gain/loss
- Excessive hunger and fatigue
- Feelings of hopelessness, discontent and guilt
- Excessive crying, irritability, restlessness
- Social withdrawal and isolation
Complications in depression
Depression is a disorder that affects the mood directly. Depression has the risk to bring along other mental health conditions as part of itself.
The symptoms of depression might include sudden weight gain or weight loss. If the cause of depression is a lower self image in a person, the risk of developing anorexia nervosa or bulimia or binge eating can occur respectively.
Depression is characterized by the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. If the individual has psychotic symptoms like in schizophrenia or depressive phase of bipolar disorder, the condition puts the individual into the risk of suicidal ideations.
As the causes of depression vary, the factors influencing the state of mind vary too. There is a high risk of harming others if a person with depression is exposed to trauma or an environment relating to their childhood trauma.
Prevention is better than cure!
Although depression sounds like a deep, dark and severe problem it is also possible to prevent the symptoms and mainly the causes of depression. As the famous proverb, ‘prevention is better than the cure’ if we closely focus on the causes of depression we see that a lot of sources causing depression can be paused.
Environmental causes of depression can be easily monitored. Cutting down hostile reactions, fights in the family, bullying or teasing, blaming can help reduce the intensity of emotional damage. If we adopt a structured and more peaceful manner of conveying shortcomings or mistakes & resolving fights, it would surely negate the hurtful feelings.
Conditioning your mind to be mindful and positive will provide you with enough immunity to fight with mental problems during bad patches of life like failures or discomforts.
Motivating yourself and others, supporting each other in weaker times, appreciating and praising the good working & being thankful to each other will generate positive vibes and discard the negations in the thoughts.
Practicing meditation, mindfulness, journaling your feelings, using positive affirmations and manifesting about good health and mood will always reflect in your mental wellbeing.
All the above techniques for prevention focused on the causes of depression, act like fighters especially in the situations in life where a lot of patience and hard-work is required.
Although both causes and symptoms can be different for different people. Even taking into consideration the possibilities of relapses, depression fortunately is curable and can be treated effectively with the help of a mental health professional.
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