Definition of Depression
Nearly everyone experiences occasional feelings of sadness; depressed feelings are a natural reaction to disappointment, loss, difficulties in life, or low self-esteem. But when periods of intense sadness last for weeks at a time and hamper your ability to function normally, you may be suffering from clinical, or major, depression.
Major depression is diagnosed when you have at least five of the following nine symptoms for at least two weeks:
- Depressed feelings throughout most of the day, especially in the morning;
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt;
- Constant fatigue or lack of energy;
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping;
- Indecisiveness, inability to concentrate;
- Restlessness, inability to remain still and calm;
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed;
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide;
- Significant weight loss or gain within a short period of time.
Depression is a complex disorder which can be caused by many different agents; mental health experts believe that major depression is actually a symptom of one or more underlying health issues, rather than an isolated disease. Understanding why you are experiencing depression can help your mental health care provider direct your treatment appropriately, enabling you to enjoy renewed quality of life.
* Causes of Depression
The health conditions and genetic/environmental factors discussed here are all known to be associated with depression. Determining precisely why you are feeling depressed and addressing the particular issue are critical to solving your depression problem and allowing you to live to your fullest potential.
As with numerous other health disorders, it is clear that heredity plays a role in depression. Not everyone who has depressive symptoms has a family history of emotional issues; nor does having depression in your family guarantee that you will experience depression. However, research has shown that individuals with mental illness in their background have a greater chance of experiencing symptoms of depression themselves.
- Trauma & Stress
Traumatic and stressful life events, such as loss of a loved one, abuse, chronic illness or pain, or a move to an unfamiliar location can trigger depression in certain individuals. These events result in changes in neurotransmitter levels (discussed later in more detail), leading to brain chemistry imbalances that cause depression symptoms.
- Medications & Recreational Drugs
There are a large number of substances which many of us use regularly that can cause depression in some people. Prescription medications, birth control pills, anti-inflammatory drugs (including steroids), antihistamines, cholesterol pills, high blood pressure medications, antidepressants and tranquilizers are all linked to depressive symptoms. Nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and street drugs are all known to lead to depression in certain individuals, as well.
- Neurotransmitter Imbalances & Abnormalities in Brain Physiology
Neurotransmitters are chemical "messengers" in the brain that regulate mood, thought, and memory. When neurotransmitters are not available at sufficient levels, depression can be the result.
Researchers have noted that individuals with depression often have an abnormally small hippocampus, a small structure in the brain that is closely associated with memory. A smaller hippocampus has fewer serotonin receptors; serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is vital in regulating emotions.
- Brain Inflammation
Inflammation, often present with autoimmune disorders such as diabetes, triggers the body's immune system response. Regulatory proteins called cytokines are marshaled into action to fight off possible infection; these peptides create a stress response, altering the levels of certain neurotransmitters, which results in depressive symptoms.
Environmental toxins, such as heavy metals and molds, can trigger an immune reaction which sets off a cytokine response.
- Digestive Disorders
Digestive dysfunction, including bowel disorders, yeast overgrowth, gluten and other food allergies, and impaired digestion of proteins, can also set off an immune system response which can lead to depression.
- Nutritional Imbalances
Many important nutrients, especially the B vitamins, minerals such as zinc and magnesium, and the Omega 3 fatty acids, are building blocks for important neurotransmitters. Insufficient dietary intake of these nutrients can result in neurotransmitter imbalances, a significant cause of depression symptoms.
- Impaired Methylation
Methylation, a metabolic process which takes place in every cell in the body, is important for the manufacture of hormones, the regulation of neurotransmitters, and the synchronization of the neural networks that affect mood and cognition. When this process is impaired, it can disrupt the entire system.
- Hormone Imbalances
When hormones such as insulin, thyroid or adrenal hormone, and sex hormones are not available at proper levels, they can negatively affect the way we think and feel.
Depression is a serious illness which can have a significant negative impact on your life. Fortunately, lab testing is available that can help you to pinpoint the exact cause of your depression, allowing your health care provider to assist you in choosing the best treatment for your depressive symptoms. With proper care, your symptoms should disappear, leaving you to enjoy life to its fullest once again.
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