Everyone knows what it’s like to have a bad day. After all, we all feel sad and insecure sometimes. However, there are key differences between normal sadness and irritability and clinical depression.
Depression is a medical condition that can be debilitating and life-threatening. When left untreated, it may impact numerous areas of functioning.
As a result, many individuals feel hopeless and alone in their struggles. They may not understand the nature of their condition. Moreover, they may feel frustrated when they can’t just get over the paralyzing symptoms.
Here we will unpack some of the most common questions about depression.
What Causes Depression?
Most experts agree that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, a variety of environmental and genetic causes can affect that imbalance. Such causes include:
- Genetic predisposition and vulnerabilities
- Chronic, stressful life events and trauma
- Medical conditions
Depression often runs in families. This trend supports the theory for genetic predisposition attributing to mental illness. Research shows that people are 2-3x more likely to develop the condition if they have a first-degree relative who has experienced a depressive episode.
Moreover, personality traits may also play a critical role. For example, people with low self-esteem and high levels of perfectionism may be more at risk for developing depression.
Substance use can also correlate with depression. Research continues to highlight a comorbid relationship between substance use disorders and mood disorders. While it is not clear if one condition causes the other, they can both impact each other in negative ways.
How Can I Help Someone with Depression?
First, it is essential that you understand you cannot fix someone’s depression. Depression is not a choice. It is a medical condition. Recovery can take discipline, patience and time.
It can be helpful to express your concerns about your loved one’s condition. Aim to keep the conversation objective with statements like, I’ve noticed that you’ve missed work the past few days or I heard you crying the other day.
Follow-up with statements that indicate support and concern for your loved one’s well-being (i.e., I want you to know that I care about you or It seems like you’ve been going through a rough time).
Remember that depression can be stigmatizing. Many individuals may feel embarrassed or inferior because of their condition. Rather than assume what people need, it’s typically best to ask them how you can best provide support. Make it clear that you are willing to be physically and emotionally present.
When you talk to your loved one, practice listening without giving out advice or judging the situation. Be careful of using cliches like, You just need to think positively, or It’s all in your head. Even if you have good intentions, these cliches may come across as condescending and hurtful.
Remember that people do not want to be depressed! If you shame, criticize or invalidate your loved one’s feelings, he or she may only withdraw from you further.
Finally, don’t make it your job to change their condition. Do not take it upon yourself to take on the role of a therapist or doctor. If your loved one is struggling, you can steer them towards seeking professional help.
Am I Depressed?
Are you wondering if you struggle with depression? It’s not always easy to distinguish a bad mood from a depressed episode.
Consider the following questions:
- Have you felt persistently sad throughout the day over the past few weeks?
- Have you experienced thoughts of taking your life?
- Are you isolating from friends or family?
- Have you lost interest in the activities or people that you typically enjoy?
- Are you feeling more irritable and “short”?
- Has your appetite changed drastically?
- Are you finding it challenging to focus or concentrate?
- Do you have a family history of depression?
Any combination of yes answers could indicate that you’re struggling with depression. You should consult with your physician or mental health professional for a proper diagnosis. After receiving a diagnosis, you will discuss appropriate depression treatment options.
Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Although many people drink to enhance their mood, alcohol is indeed a depressant. Depressants inhibit central nervous system functioning. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it slows down psychological and physical activity. This results in the stereotypical symptoms of intoxication like unsteady movement, slurred speech, disorientation, and inappropriate reaction times.
Depressants do not necessarily “make” people feel depressed. Alcohol can, in fact, have the opposite effect on people. Drinking makes them feel uninhibited and happy.
However, many people self-medicate depression with alcohol. This strategy does not address the underlying issues of depression. It does not eliminate the depression symptoms. It just masks them temporarily, which can lead to even more severe depression.
What Is Bipolar Depression?
Bipolar disorder refers to the presence of severe mood swings. With this condition, the individual experiences emotional ‘highs’ (manic or hypomanic episodes). He or she also experiences emotional ‘lows’ (depressed episodes).
Despite popular misconceptions, these episodes may occur very rarely. However, they can be intensely debilitating. During a manic episode, people can be reckless with their relationships, finances, and employment. Naturally, this recklessness and impulsivity can cause serious consequences.
Some people experience a ‘crash’ after a manic episode. This ‘crash’ refers to the depressed episode. Others also experience a ‘mixed episode.’ This episode includes symptoms of both mania or hypomania and depression.
Those struggling with bipolar depression often do not respond well to traditional antidepressants. In fact, antidepressants may trigger symptoms of mania or hypomania. Instead, they may benefit from mood stabilizers.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Many parents experience ‘baby blues’ after having a baby. After all, childbirth evokes numerous changes that affect sleep, concentration, and symptoms of sadness and anxiety.
However, postpartum depression mimics that of depression and includes serious symptoms of:
- Intense feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities and people you used to enjoy
- Feeling overly sad or hopeless
- Limited to no interest in your baby
- Suicidal thoughts
In severe, rare cases, women may develop postpartum psychosis. This condition includes symptoms of postpartum depression. However, it also entails bizarre behavior and dangerous thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby.