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Overview of Depression

Depressive mood disorders make it very difficult for people to bounce back from bouts of sadness, blueness, or anxiety. Of course we all feel down sometimes, but for those that suffer from depression, these feelings weigh them down all the time, affecting all their thOughts, their mood, and even their physical health. To someone looking on from the outside, depressing can be puzzling. It may look on the surface like the depressed person should be very happy with their life and be able to just appreciate this and pull it together. Some depressed people have very high-paying jobs, healthy families, and networks of close friends. Depression has nothing to do with an unwillingness to get better. Although it is a disorder that may be sparked by external events, it is influenced by brain chemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors that affect perception.

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of clinical depression vary from person to person, depending on their brain chemistry and the underlying causes of their depression. All of these symptoms can change over time, as well, as the patient's life changes or if they begin adapting to their depression in different ways, for better or worse.

Those that suffer from depression may experience:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or unbridled pessimism.
  • Feelings of extreme guilt, helplessness, or worthlessness.
  • Sadness, anxiety, or emptiness.
  • Difficulties making decisions, focusing, or concentrating.
  • Fatigue, irritability, and restlessness.
  • Difficulties with sleeping patterns, including insomnia, oversleeping, or waking early and being unable to sleep again.
  • Loss of joy for things they used to find pleasure in.
  • Radically increased or decreased appetite, causing weight gain or loss.
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or hurting themselves.
  • Chronic headaches, pain, or digestive problems that never resolve.

Addition to the extreme lows of depression, some people experience radical mood swings, during which they feel elated. These symptoms may indicate a type of depression called bipolar disorder. Symptoms that may indicate mania include:

  • Sudden increase in energy and reduced need for sleep.
  • Excessive happiness and enthusiasm.
  • Formulation of grandiose thoughts or plans.
  • Loss of good judgment and inappropriate social behaviors.
  • Racing thoughts, frequent talking, and increased irritability.
  • Increased libido.

Risk Factors of Depression

If depression goes untreated, the physiological symptoms can potentially worsen.

Causes of Depression

The causes of depressive disorders are not entirely clear, though it is thought to be sparked by a variety of social, psychological, and biological factors. Researchers have found that there appear to be certain genetic variations that may put a person at risk for developing depression. Childhood events that cause trauma or severe emotional distress may also make a person vulnerable to depression in their teenage years and on into adulthood. Depression can be triggered by low self-esteem, stress, medical illness, or radical changes in life pattern.

Biologically speaking, there are numerous areas of the brain that appear to have different signaling patterns in depressed people. Some of the most strongly affected are the raphe nuclei, which are the tissues responsible for serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a signaling molecule that regulates mood, sleep, aggression, sexuality, appetite, and metabolism. Many antidepressants are designed to help supplement serotonin deficiencies in some way. Normal biological rhythms seem to be disrupted in depressed people, as well. Adaptation to light/dark and other circadian rhythms are abnormal in depressed people, causing them to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or remaining in a positive mood even though the light may be dim (as in seasonal depression disorders).

Women are twice as likely to become depressed as men, in part due to natural fluctuations in hormones that occur as part of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause. The combination of physiological and life changes that occur upon giving birth to a child make it a particularly vulnerable time for a women, putting her at risk for post-partum depression.



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