Depression. A lot of us hear about it every day, and we likely have some relative or at least an acquaintance of ours that suffers or has suffered from it.
Depression is, today, one of the most terrifying mental health issues that we, as a species, face. The World Health Organization estimates that around 350 million people of all ages around the globe suffer from it to some degree. As such, depression isn't something to be taken lightly, especially since, at its worse, it can lead to suicide.
Depression is classified as a mental disorder. A mental disorder is, in short, a condition of the mind that affects or significantly alters the normal state of mind or a mental function.
In specific, depression is a mood altering condition that puts a person in a state of constant negative thoughts, such as anxiety, feeling of emptiness or lack of purpose, helplessness, feeling of being guilty, being worthless, and consequent feelings of anger and irritability. Depression is specially bad because it also makes a person avoid positive feelings that would aid said person in getting out of depression, such as happiness, feelings of friendship, or being loved, etc.
In general terms, depression destroys a person's sense of well-being. If hell exists, then depression offers us a pretty decent idea of what it must be like.
Depression is recognized as a disorder by itself, but it can also result or be a symptom of other mental conditions, such as bipolar disorder and other psychiatric syndromes. This makes it especially hard to treat, as people often try to deal with depression by itself, but don't tackle the issues that are causing it, and so it eventually returns.
Depression also manifests differently depending on the person's gender. Women are more often affected by depression than men, although there's no conclusive research that can point out why yet.
Before trying to compile a list of possible causes of depression, it’s important to note that depression IS NOT a illness in the general acceptance of the term. An illness has very definitive symptoms, can be identified through a series of lab tests and usually have very clear causes. Depression, however, is a disorder, meaning it has no specific cause or tests that can actually identify it in every single occurrence.
Depression is a disorder that can be triggered by multiple different social, environmental, chemical and even genetic factors. As such I've compiled a small list of the most common causes for depression, but this list is by no means complete, so do not assume that depression is only caused by the things listed here.
- Substance abuse: drug use is commonly known as one of the main causes of depression worldwide. Cocaine and crack addiction is known as a cause for depression as the brain reacts to the constant influx of stimulants by blocking a large part of it from going through the neural receptors. However, that blockage is not normalized once substance abuse ends, and so it ends up blocking the brain's natural stimulants such as serotonin, which causes feelings of well being and pleasure. Constant use of other stimulants is also known to cause this effect. Other medications can also cause temporary depression as a collateral effect, such as some kind of pain killers and sleep inducing medication. Even some anti-acne drugs such as Accutane can cause it when normally used, and some anti-viral medications such as interferon-alpha;
- Traumatic experiences: past traumatic experiences can trigger chronic cases of depression. Events such as the loss of a loved one, an accident, going through a very stressful transition such as divorce, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, etc. These things can all trigger depression, especially in people who are biologically predisposed to it;
- Stress: work related stress is known as a big cause for depression, though it is usually not triggered by this unless the person has a predisposition to it. Constant pressure towards achieving goals and competition can trigger bouts of depression, which can become chronic cases if not deal with;
- Interpersonal problems: social isolation or being cast out of your family or social group can trigger depression in some people. Isolation in particular is known as both a cause and a symptom of depression. Human beings are naturally gregarious, so isolation will naturally cause a degradation of a person's mental state unless said person is accustomed to it. This is why depression patients are encouraged to seek social interaction;
- Illness: while depression isn't an illness by itself, in the general sense of the word, it can be caused by illnesses and even other disorders. Bipolar disorder is commonly accompanied by depressive episodes. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is known to commonly cause bouts of depression and even chronic depression;
- Genetics: studies have shown that there is such a thing as a depression gene. This explains why depression usually runs in families, and why parents with a history of depression will usually give birth to depressive children. The gene responsible for regulating the flow of serotonin in the brain has two variations in humans, a short and a long one. People with one or two short variations are likely to suffer from depression at one point of their lives, while people with the long variation are unlikely to suffer from depression in situations that would certainly trigger depression for people with the short gene;
- Hormones: hormone variation in the body has been linked to depression. This is speculated to be why women are likely to suffer from depression than men, since women experience far more hormonal variation during their lifetime than men. Women may also develop post-partum depression, a recognized medical condition that can affect women right after they give birth. Post partum depression is known as one of the main causes for infanticide around the globe. It is also speculated that this is the reason to why patients undergoing hormonal treatments often develop depression, such as gender reassignment related hormonal treatment patients;
Just like there's a large number of general causes of depression, there are many things we can consider warning signs of its onset. However, as previously mentioned, depression has no specific symptoms, and as such, its effects vary from person to person.
In order to properly identify possible cases of depression, there are a few general signs you can observe, but nothing beats actually personally knowing the possible depression patient. Knowing how they normally behave is very helpful in detecting depression, as it causes marked differences in a person's behavior.
I'll be listing some general changes in behavior that may be signs of certain degrees of depression, however, just like the previous list, this list shouldn't be considered definitive, and you should always seek a psychiatrist when in doubt.
- Excessive mental fatigue or decreased energy: while there may be other causes for fatigue, depression can cause a person to experience a kind of mental fatigue, that is, an unwillingness to partake in activities that require a good deal of thinking effort, such as studying, going to school, working, and a general lack of initiative to do things that were once normal;
- Lack of concentration: a constant difficulty in concentrating and inability to make decisions is a commonly known warning sign, because its a result of the feeling of disconnection and overall lack of interest caused by depression;
- Pessimism: constant pessimism and feelings of hopelessness and inability to affect the outcome of events are a pretty big signs of depression. Of course, pessimism by itself doesn't mean a person is depressive, but when a person that was usually positive or neutral about most things suddenly becomes pessimist, you know there's something wrong going on;
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping: as conflicting as it may seem, depression can cause both insomnia and excessive sleep in different people, and even in the same person, but on different episodes. Depression can also be caused by Insomnia, and vice-versa. Insomnia by itself is a very serious condition and you should seek professional help as soon as possible. Additionally, excessive sleeping can be caused by depression as sleeping is seen as one's escape from the problems of life;
- Overeating and loss of appetite: again, conflicting symptoms which can have the same cause, but rarely happen on the same person. People who view food as a source of pleasure tend to overeat when afflicted with depression, while people who generally eat less (or have body image issues) tend to avoid eating during depressive episodes. Both symptoms are dangerous by themselves and require the attention of professionals;
- Sudden loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable: it doesn't take a genius to notice that something is wrong with someone once they start abstaining from activities they once enjoyed. A person who suddenly loses interest in sex, games, social interaction with people they like, and other such things may be going through a depressive episode;
- Persistent body pain, headache, cramps and digestive problems that seemingly can't be treated: yes, depression can cause some kinds of chronic pain and even digestive problems that seem to be incurable, at first. This is a rather foggy example since depression can also be caused by these sort of conditions. This doesn't necessarily mean that someone who suffers from chronic pain or stomach issues is or will suffer from depression, but if said person exhibits other depressive symptoms, its something to watch out for;
- Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts: people who have been suffering from depression for a while without noticing often end up having suicidal thoughts, and even go as far as attempt to suicide. Anyone that has reached this stage need professional help immediately;
Suicide is the most dreaded and unfortunately not uncommon result of depression, if it is left untreated. This is exactly the reason as to why depression must be treated seriously and requires the attention of professionals. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, seek the help of a psychologist or a psychiatrist immediately.
But what is the threshold in depression that, when crossed, makes a person start to have suicide thoughts? Nobody knows, as depression manifest differently for each person, and some people may even experience suicidal thoughts while not being depressed.
There are many signs that can indicate that a depressive person is seriously considering suicide, and they are too many to discuss just on this article. However, there is one specific sign that can be observed on most people: the depressive person suddenly becomes very calm.
If a depression patient who usually slept, cried, argued, etc; suddenly becomes very calm and even receptive of conversation, it may be because he or she is now seriously considering suicide. Suicide is viewed as the ultimate means of escape for depressive people, so it induces a sense of calmness and certainty. If you observe this behavior, do not hesitate to seek help. Its better to place a loved one on suicide watch in a hospital than to lose them forever because of a mental disorder.