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Dr. Thomas
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Depression: How to Recognize and How to Help

 

In this day and age, mental health disorders seem to be affecting more and more people. You probably know someone with depression, as it is the number one mental health disorder in the United States. Children to elderly adults can suffer from different forms of depression, including Major Depressive Disorder, Postpartum Depression (mothers who have depression after the birth of a baby), Seasonal Affective Depression, and many others. Whether you are concerned for a loved one or for your own mental health, it is important to be aware of this mental illness that affects so many around us. 

What is Clinical Depression?

Clinical Depression is a mental disorder that causes intense feelings of sadness, helplessness, worthlessness or similar moods that affect the functionality of everyday life.

Although no one is sure what causes depression, there are many factors that may cause the illness, such as brain chemicals, genes, and life events.

  • Experts have found that most people who have suffered with depression have a smaller hippocampus, a part of the brain that is related to memories. The hippocampus contains serotonin receptors, which help communicate emotions in the brain.
  • Although not the case in every diagnosis, genes usually play a big part in those who suffer from depression. People who have a parent, grandparent, or sibling who has suffered from depression are more prone to go through the illness at some point in their lives. This does not necessarily mean that there is a specific “depression gene” that runs in families, but more likely multiple genes that play a part.
  • Sexual, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse may all be causes of depression. The mental trauma involved in such memories often damages one’s mental health, greatly increasing the risk of depression.
  • Life events such as a death, divorce, job loss, moving, or other stressful experiences can increase the risk of depression. Although these are usually somewhat “normal” life events, responding with clinical depression is neither a healthy nor normal reaction, and medical attention is needed.

Symptoms of Depression: 

Some types of depression are easier to recognize than others, and everyone may express symptoms differently. It is a complicated illness, that not only is miserable to live with, but without treatment, can lead to serious danger, such as: cutting, substance abuse, and in severe cases, thoughts or attempts of suicide.  

  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and helplessness
  • Fatigue, excessive loss of energy
  • Insomnia, loss of sleep, excessive sleep
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Aches and pains such as: headaches, back pain, cramps, digestive issues or pain
  • Loss of interest in hobbies that previously were enjoyable
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts; attempts

How to beat it: 

  • The first step to beating depression is to acknowledge and accept the fact that you are depressed to yourself. Although this seems simple to some, people often have a hard time acknowledging that they are mentally unhealthy, and need to get help. You must accept that you are sick, and that it will likely get worse if left untreated.
  • A good start is to talk to someone you know. Whether this is your doctor, parent, minister, pastor, friend, or therapist, being transparent about your feelings of depression can not only be a comfortable start to treatment, it can also be a vital part later on as you’re going through the process of treatment.
  • Professional medical attention is highly advised, no matter how severe the case of depression. Your doctor may prescribe medications, refer you to a specialist, or recommend lifestyle modifications, such as exercise or diet changes.

Clinical Depression is not a choice, or a normal response to life experiences. It is a complex illness that is hard for people to understand, especially those not directly effected by it. Depression is just like any other illness; if it continues to go untreated, it can lead to far more serious symptoms, and eventually death. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may suffer from any type of depression, see your physician or other medical professional. If suicidal thoughts or attempts are involved, go to the ER, call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), or seek medical attention immediately.