Depression is one of the most misunderstood concepts in society. So, to give a baseline, what is depression? To those who have not experienced it, depression might seem like the feelings from a bad situation like getting a bad grade, a breakup with a girlfriend, a bad day at work or even a gloomy sky that negatively alters the mood; nevertheless, these may indicate feeling depressed, but not being depressed. According to clinicians, depression is being in a “bad mood” for at least 2 weeks. In addition, a depressive mood interferes with the day-to-day activities of a person including doing work, having fun, sleeping, and giving care and love.
Depression is a leading cause of disability in the world. According to the DSM-V diagnostic criteria, an individual is diagnosed as depressed if they are experiencing persistent sadness, feelings of irritability, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, eating too much or too little resulting in extreme weight changes, sleeping too much or too little, feeling tired a lot, feeling guilty, trouble thinking or paying attention, and suicidal thoughts or behavior over consecutive days for two weeks. Psychiatric guidelines tell us that having at least five of these symptoms is said to be a clinical manifestation of depression.
In addition to the behavioral changes mentioned, psychological and physiological alterations can also be caused by depression. One such major change occurs in the brain, specifically in the hippocampus, which controls emotion and memory. Professor Ian Anderson from the University of Manchester led a research study to find changes in the hippocampus of depressed people and found out that it shrinks in depressed people, much like how a muscle shrinks if you don’t use it. The research also concluded that the “grey matter” in the hippocampus of the brain on depressed people is 25% less than in healthy people, which shows that depression highly affects the brain activity responsible for muscle control and many other operations like speech, memory, hearing and so on . But what causes depression? Neuroscientists still don’t have a complete picture on the exact reasons for depression, but they do believe that it is a result of combined effects of genetics and environment, with the latter having the dominant role in causing it.
Seattle is a city known to embrace and respect its citizens, but sadly also known for its high rates of depression. Seattle has some social problems that lead to depression, one being homelessness. Having a home is an unequivocal necessity anywhere and an indirect shield from abysmal exposures, and the dreary weather in combination makes many individuals targets of this clinical mental illness that prevents people from achieving better lives. Many Seattle residents also suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a seasonal depression brought on by lack of sunlight and vitamin D. Lots of folks take vitamin D-3 supplements or use sunlamps to compensate for this deficiency.
Another “depressing” problem is drug addiction. Depression frequently coexists with substance abuse, the relationship being bidirectional. Drug addiction affects a significant part of Seattle’s diverse community, from teenagers to adults. One drug cardinal to Seattle’s addiction problem is heroin. Seattle’s growing heroin problem got attention in “Chasing Heroin”, a PBS documentary. The film gave examples of death and depression resulting from drug overdose/addiction. People were seen to experience depression after drug effects wear off or as they struggle to cope with how addiction has impacted their life. With substance use disorders and mental illness being bidirectional, most people who abuse drugs are depressed in the first place, and thus they exacerbate their own illness by consuming substances that only serve to increase their depression.
Another issue intertwined with depression is holidays and special occasions, such as birthdays, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, which are not as bright and joyful for some people as they are for others. Treating depression, no matter what the cause, involves techniques like talk therapy and medicine. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, and Behavioral Activation are subsets of talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are common medicines used to treat depression in youth and adults. Other medicines can also be useful. Data reveals that while both therapies are effective, for better results combination therapy has maximum efficacy. According to a report from Seattle Children’s Hospital, in approximately 60% of those successfully treated, combination therapy worked best.
Why is it important to know about depression? Spreading awareness in our community will help “cure” misconceptions about it. We would avoid saying “get over it” or “change your outlook towards life”, because in reality depression is not that easy to get over. Open conversations about mental illness reduce stigma and encourage people to come out and ask for help. Many people who suffer from depression are ashamed about their feelings and symptoms, or are afraid they will be seen as weak or a burden if they open up about their struggles. Depression is a very real clinical condition, and we need to de-stigmatize this illness by being willing to talk about it openly. Asking someone about their situation, such as asking if they have had suicidal thoughts, actually reduces their risk of committing suicide. So the more people come out looking for help, the more scientists learn about depression and the better treatments will get.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or is having suicidal thoughts, you are not alone! Please reach out and ask for help. There are many organizations that can assist you in getting whatever help you need. Try the ones below.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255