What is Depression?Depression is a word often used to describe our feelings. Everyone feels gloomy or fed up from time to time. Such feelings are a normal part of the emotional ups and downs of life. But true depression is something else altogether.
One way to understand the distinction is to think of mood and emotions in terms of the climate and weather. The climate sets the broad framework within which the weather varies but it doesn’t change that much from what you’d expect. In the same way, the mood sets the framework within which emotions operate. A disorder, like depression affects mood, and is similar to radical changes in the climate rather than emotional outbursts, which stem from particular problems and are usually short–lived.
The core symptoms of depression are:
- Lowered mood.
- Loss of energy and interest.
- A feeling of physical illness or of being rundown.
- Poor concentration.
- Altered appetite and sleep.
- A slowing down of physical and mental functions.
But its probably the relentless feeling of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt and anxiety that also accompany which are the most difficult to cope with. One indication of the depths of despair experienced by sufferers is the fact that depression is the most common cause of suicide. Should you experience symptoms like the ones mentioned above, you are advised to discuss this with your doctor.
What causes depression?The exact cause of depression remains unclear. The most probable explanation, and the one on which treatment with antidepressant drugs is based, is that it is an imbalance in certain chemical messengers (also called neurotransmitters) in the brain. The neurotransmitters, of which there are about 30, transfer messages between nerve cells in the brain. Some evidence suggests that depression is caused by a deficiency in two neurotransmitters called noradrenaline and serotonin. But if depression is caused by an imbalance in these neurotransmitters, what triggers it in the first place?
There is growing interest in genetic approaches to understanding a variety of diseases and depression is no exception. Some people certainly seem to be more vulnerable to depression than others and there is growing evidence that some genes could make individuals susceptible to the disease. This would also explain why depression often runs in families. Some studies have shown that people who have relatives with depression have a 1 in 4 chance of developing it themselves, compared with only 1 in 14 for the general population. Recently, scientists at Edinburgh University identified a gene which increases the risk of depression by four times and confers susceptibility to depression in more than 10 percent of people affected. The gene is known to code a protein involved with the transport of serotonin in the brain which ties with the pharmacological explanation of depression. But any complete genetic understanding of this illness is a long way and researchers estimate there may be as many as 30 other depressive genes involved.
However, in most cases, just having these genes is probably not enough to cause depression on its own. Stressful situations can exacerbate this vulnerability. Depression can be triggered by a number of factors such as unemployment, bereavement, social isolation or even a severe physical illness.
But while it is important to recognize the role that these triggers can play in the development of depression, it is also important to acknowledge that in some instances depression strikes completely out of the blue for no obvious reason. While this might seem harder to understand for both the sufferer and those around them, this type of depression is no less difficult to deal with or worthy of help.