It’s wise to talk to someone you trust or seek professional help if you experience a period of persistent sadness, loss of interest in favorite activities, inability to carry out daily activities, or effects on your relationships, work or studies. Depression is a mental health disorder. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the most common disease worldwide. They estimate that 300 million people of all ages are affected. Approximately 25% of the European population experience depression in the course of a year.
Signs and symptoms of depression:
→ Depressed mood
→ Fatigue or reduction of energy
→ Reduced interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
→ Insomnia (sleeping is disturbed)
→ Waking up in the morning several hours before normal or excessive sleeping
→ Unintentional weight loss (without dieting) or a change in appetite
→ Loss of libido
→ Psychomotor agitation (restlessness, pacing)
→ Psychomotor retardation (slowed movement and speech)
→ Decreased ability to think, concentrate or make decisions
→ Reduced self-esteem and self-confidence
→ Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness
→ Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide
What can you do if you think you are depressed?
Remember depression is common, can affect anyone, and is not a sign of weakness. The most important thing to know is that you can get better with the right help.
√ Search for someone who can help you; talk to someone.
√ Exercise regularly, even if just a daily short walk outdoors. Movement is beneficial to mood, as is the Vitamin D from the natural light. Some forms of depression may be associated with a Vitamin D deficit.
√ Stay in touch with friends and family. It is easy to become isolated when depressed.
√ Alcohol and illicit drugs can worsen depression. So, try to avoid or restrict alcohol intake or using drugs.
√ Accept that you might have depression and adjust your expectations. You may not be as powerful as other times of your life and may need outside help.
√ If you feel suicidal, contact someone for help immediately. Lifeline Shanghai is a volunteer based non-profit organization that provides emotional support and information to callers. You can reach out to them by dialing 6279 8990 (free hotline).
Causes of Depression
There is not one sole cause of all depression; it is a combination of several interacting factors.
Biological and genetic factors
Some people show an increased genetic risk if a close relative has/had depression. Other factors then play a role in whether a susceptible individual develops depression.
In addition, there could be a chemical imbalance in your brain. Serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are neurotransmitters involved with emotions. In the case of depression, their activity levels in the brain change and you can have too much or too little of the necessary neurotransmitters. There continues to be a lot of research on this complex topic. We have much more to explore about our brains and their chemistry.
Modern antidepressants have an impact on neurotransmitters (serotonin and noradrenalin) that can regulate the transfer of the messages between the brain cells. Effective treatment will stimulate nerve cells and the circuitry regulating your mood, which is important for recovery from most depressive episodes.
Psychological and psychosocial factors
For some people, life events can be an apparent cause for depression. Common examples are prolonged stress at work, living in an abusive or uncaring relationship, separations, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job/long-term unemployment.
Research indicates that continuing difficulties are more likely to cause depression than recent life stressors. Recent stressors may be a trigger for depression if you have had previous struggles or risk factors. For example, people who have been neglected or abused in their childhood are more likely to suffer from depression than other adults.
Other personal factors that might put you at greater risk for depression include a tendency to focus on negative events and negative thoughts, and worrying excessively about yourself, your environment, the world or the future. The stress and coping involved with facing a serious illness (i.e. cancer, chronic pain or conditions) can evolve into depression in some people. Alcohol and drug consumption can both lead to and result from depression, so pay close attention to these behaviors.
Treatments for depression
Evidence-based psychological interventions provide effective solutions. They focus on current issues and symptoms and aim to reduce the likelihood of future depression.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is very helpful in treating depression, to understand the influence of unhelpful thoughts about yourself, others and the future. Depressed people very often have negative thought patterns. CBT aims to identify and modify unhelpful assumptions, beliefs and the behaviors that follow. CBT focuses on developing helpful and balanced thoughts and increasing behaviors that improve mood and the quality of your life.
In the case of severe depression, the person may require medications. Antidepressants are only available with a doctor’s prescription. Along with psychological treatment, these drugs offer a good possibility of regulating your mood.
In addition, physical exercise can help with mild depression. It enhances endorphin levels and stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is connected to mood.
Brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), may be used in certain circumstances. In ECT, repetitive transcranial pulses are sent to the brain. ECT can be effective for major depressive disorder, typically in severe cases that have not responded to drug treatment.
Petra is a German-speaking psychologist who is specialized in treating anxiety disorders and depression. She combines cognitive behavior therapy with elements of positive psychology. Her approach enables her patients to develop strategies and resources to better deal with difficult situations in their daily lives. If you feel depressed, overwhelmed or would like to share you issues with a professional, you can contact Body & Soul.