What is depression?

Depression is a medical condition, which includes continued feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness and loss of interest in daily life. It is a serious illness that can affect the body’s functions, behavior, physical health and ones thoughts and feelings. There are three different types of depression major depression, clinical depression and major depressive disorder. This chronic illness requires proper treatment in order to recover fully from its effects on the body and mind. Each year nearly 25 million Americans will suffer from depression. It typically occurs 70% more in women than that of men; mostly likely because women are more willing to seek treatment for the condition.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

While it isn’t known exactly why depression occurs, there are many factors into the development of this illness. For some patients, it is caused by changes within the brain or neurotransmitters that researchers suggest are a direct link to depression. Hormones can also trigger depression because of the body’s imbalance. For others, certain life events may trigger depression in their life as well as trauma such as death or abuse.

Some common risk factors for developing depression include:

  1. Being a woman;
  2. Experiencing trauma as a child;
  3. Having family history of depression;
  4. Stress;
  5. Being introverted;
  6. Recently having a child;
  7. Having a chronic or serious illness such as cancer;
  8. Addicted to drugs or alcohol;
  9. Low self-esteem;
  10. Taking certain medications

Untreated depression can lead to dangerous consequences. Some complications include: alcohol or substance abuse, anxiety, conflict, suicide, self-mutilation or premature death. Researchers suggest that nearly one-half of all people who die by suicide were depressed.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

For outsiders, its hard to detect from the outside as most of the symptoms are fighting internally. This contributes to ones feeling of being alone. Depression symptoms are not the same for every person inflicted, but can include:

  1. Changes in sleep habits (difficulty falling asleep, waking up at weird hours or sleeping longer than normal);
  2. Inability to concentrate;
  3. No energy;
  4. Hopelessness;
  5. Moodiness;
  6. Low self-esteem;
  7. Lack of interest in normal activities;
  8. Weight gain or loss;
  9. Loss of appetite.

Its extremely important to be treated for depression when symptoms are experienced. Not only because it is unhealthy to live in such a state of hopelessness, but also because other medical conditions mimic the same symptoms of depression. Some of these diseases include: anemia, neurological disorders, hypothyroidism and infectious diseases.

During a typical doctors visit concerning depression, a physician may ask questions about ones thoughts and mood. A physical exam will be administered where vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate are measured. A CBC or complete blood count may also be administered in order to test if the body is functioning properly. A thyroid test may also occur to make sure that the symptoms felt are not because of an under-active thyroid. A psychological evaluation may also occur where behaviors, feelings and thoughts will be explored. This is where any self-harm or suicidal thoughts will be discussed.

Typically, in order to diagnose someone with major depression, a patient must meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A patient must have five or more symptoms (including loss of interest in life) in a two-week period. A doctor will explore other options that may be causing these symptoms including bipolar disorder, adjustment disorder, dysthymia, post-partum depression and seasonal affective disorder, to name a few.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

A patient will be treated in regards to their specific case or type of depression. There are many different types of treatment that can include medication and psychotherapy. For mild cases, a doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant that can lesson symptoms. However, for many counseling allows one to talk about these feelings, work through them and learn how to change them and understand them properly. Experts believe the best treatment is a combination of both. Some antidepressants prescribed include: Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or antipsychotics.

In terms of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is typically the most commonly-used therapy for depression patients. This therapy helps patient to understand and identify negative thoughts and behaviors and learn how to replace them.

For extreme cases of depression, electrocution therapy may be used where the neurotransmitters in the brain are affected in order to provide immediate relief to severe depression sufferers. Typically this treatment is used in patients who do not receive any changes from medications or who are at a high risk for committing suicide. Others may be hospitalized and offered psychiatric treatment.



Tammoima Gichana PharmD, MBA, MB(ASCP),RPh.