For a diagnosis of depression, symptoms must persist for two weeks or more and include:

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Insomnia
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempts of suicide
  • Aches and pains
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Sad, empty feelings that persist
  • Digestive problems
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Lack of interest

According to the American Psychiatric Association, one in 6 people (16.6%) will experience depression in his or her lifetime. Depression is not the same as the feeling you get when through a difficult time like the loss of someone you love or the end of a relationship. These are difficult times but they make sense and they usually change over time. With Major Depressive Disorder, there’s often no known reason for the sadness, nor does it usually change without help.

What Causes It?

There are 4 risk factors for depression:

Genetics

If someone in your family suffers from depression the likelihood that you would develop depression is higher.

Environmental

People who are abused, neglected, exposed to violence or live in severe poverty are more prone to developing depression.

Personality

For some people, their personality causes them to experience depression because they have low self-esteem, are pessimistic or get overwhelmed by the stress in life

Biochemistry

An imbalance in the chemical in the brain can cause symptoms of depression.

Treating Depression

Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for Depression.  Some treatments have better results than others but it’s difficult to pinpoint why one person achieves remission with one treatment while another feels no change from it.  Or why one person experiences severe side effects while another feels great.

Depression is a complicated disorder and while we can identify physiological problems in the brain that can cause it, there are other factors such as physical or mental abuse, personality traits such as low self-esteem, a life of poverty, and genetics that can greatly increase a person’s chance of developing Major Depressive Disorder in his or her lifetime.

The good news is that Depression is treatable and most people respond well to some kind of treatment.  There may be a bit of trial and error involved in finding the right one but most people find something that helps relieve their Depression symptoms.

Depression is a medical disorder so it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Some other disorders like thyroid problems, brain tumors, or a deficiency in diet can cause symptoms that look a lot like Depression so it’s important to be properly diagnosed. Your doctor may refer you to a psychotherapist for further treatment.
In cases of mild Depression, psychotherapy alone may be enough to treat it and get things back to normal for the patient. MDD, however, is more severe and usually requires more extensive treatment. For this, psychotherapy is typically used in conjunction with medication. Psychotherapy is an effective tool in the treatment of Depression because it can help the patient change behavior patterns that contributed to the Depression. By examining the past and the present, the therapist can help create a path to the future.
Malfunctions or imbalances in brain chemistry lead to Depression. Medication is used to treat a person’s brain chemistry by changing how neurotransmitters function. Neurotransmitters located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine pass messages between nerve cells. When someone suffers from Depression due to a chemical imbalance, it means signals are getting lost. Antidepressants change the neurotransmitters by forcing them to stick around long after they’re released or block the breakdown of the neurotransmitter allowing a better opportunity for the signals to get through. Because the function of each medication varies as does its effectiveness, several types of antidepressants may need to be tested before finding one that works.
TMS an outpatient procedure that uses electromagnetic coils to direct magnetic fields to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where the neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation are located. Unlike antidepressants, TMS does not change how neurotransmitters work; instead, this non-invasive treatment creates magnetic fields that stimulate them into doing the job they were originally meant to do. TMS is usually used after being unable to find an antidepressant that works. It’s drug-free and non-invasive and after a 4-6 week therapy, the patient can experience a lengthy relief from the symptoms of Depression. It may not work for everyone but TMS has proven to be an effective treatment for Depression with a 50% success rate.

This “shock” therapy uses electricity to stimulate the brain which is believed to jumpstart the neurotransmitters into working. Because this is an invasive therapy that is done under sedation and has side effects that include memory loss, it is usually only used for the most severe cases of Depression that have not responded to other treatments.

Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding depressants like alcohol, and using meditation or relaxation techniques to relieve stress are ways that you can improve the success of your treatment.