Depression involves much more than just feeling “down” or sad. Depression can affect every aspect of someone’s life, from quality of sleep to relationships to job responsibilities. It can be hard for people to deal with this mental illness on their own; but with the right knowledge and treatment, recovery is possible for anyone who is struggling.

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Causes of Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, but many people want to know what causes it. Unlike physical ailments, mental disorders are often caused by a complex combination of reasons. However, researchers believe that there are 4 main factors that may lead to an increased risk of depression:

Biological differences

People with depression often have physical changes in their brains. Currently, researchers aren’t sure how significant these changes are, but we may be able to find out more in the future.

Brain chemistry

Neurotransmitters, which are naturally occurring brain chemicals, likely play a role in depression. When neurotransmitters don’t function properly, it can lead to a decrease in mood stability. Research also shows that those who have depression show less activity in the frontal lobe of their brain.2

Hormones

Hormone changes in the body may also trigger depression. Major hormone changes occurring from pregnancy, thyroid problems, menopause, and other conditions can affect a person’s mental health.

Inherited traits

Depression is more common in people whose relatives also have depression. Researchers are still searching for the specific genes that might be involved in causing depression.1

Risk Factors

Along with the factors listed above, major life events or personal beliefs can also trigger depression. These areas can include:

  • Specific personality traits, like pessimism and low self-esteem.

  • Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems.

  • Blood relatives with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or suicide.

  • Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in an unsupportive situation.

  • History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.2

  • Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs.

  • Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease.

  • Certain medications may list depression as a side effect.1

Common Treatments

The first step in treating depression is to speak with your doctor. They can give you an accurate diagnosis and then refer you to plenty of helpful resources. Depression is best treated with a combination of treatments, but you and your doctor can decide what’s right for you. Here are some aspects you may want to include in your treatment plan:

Medication

The first type of antidepressant most doctors prescribe is known as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). SSRIs include medications like Prozac and Zoloft, and they don’t usually cause any unpleasant side effects. Other types of medications that may help with depression include mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

Therapy

There are several choices you can consider for psychotherapy treatments, such as individual talk therapy, family therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are also outpatient treatment centers at some hospitals where you can be involved in group therapy, learn how to manage your symptoms, and find support.

Focus on physical health

It’s hard to find motivation to do certain things when you’re depressed. You might not feel like cooking healthy meals or exercising or even getting out of bed. However, doing small things to encourage healthy habits can quickly add up. For example, instead of pushing yourself to go to the gym, just take a walk around the neighborhood. If you can’t find the energy to get dressed, just brush your teeth.

Hospital treatment

Sometimes, depression can be so severe that people may need to be hospitalized for a period of time. A psychiatric unit will help you stay safe and make sure you take care of yourself. There will be several resources available for you, including various group sessions, relaxation exercises, and self-care activities. If you feel like you might harm yourself or others, going to the hospital is crucial.

Brain stimulation therapies

If other treatments haven’t helped, brain stimulation through electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can be effective.

One important thing to remember throughout your treatment process is to be patient. There are dozens of medications, treatments, and therapies available for depression, but it might take time to find what works best for you. You may not feel the effects of an anti-depressant for over a week, or you might not like the first therapist you see. And that’s OK! Know that there are plenty of other options available and that you deserve to feel better.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit our Depression Counseling page or call 919-647-4600.

References:

  1. Depression Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic.

  2. Depression Overview. National Alliance on Mental Illness.

  3. Depression Treatment. National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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