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Depression is a pervasive and commonplace mental illness affecting as many as 5% of all people during their lifetime. That’s 350 million people who currently suffer from depression.
Depression isn’t a feeling of sadness, fear or grief. Those are normal emotions usually connected to an outside factor that has affected them. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job; it’s understandable and normal to feel down about those things.
Clinical depression, on the other hand, is more irrational. It is an extended period of usually unshakable sadness, depressed mood and a change in the modes of thinking. This can be triggered by an event but doesn’t necessarily need any outside factor to manifest itself.
A depressed person can experience a wide range of symptoms. Some of the more common ones include:
Check out our guide on how to spot the symptoms of depression here.
Each period of depression is different for every sufferer, but most people will experience a combination of the above symptoms. Luckily, effective treatment is available.
A period of depression can last anywhere between weeks and months, even years in some cases. For some, normal tasks can become impossible, and they might put their life at risk. For others, it might just be a slight downturn in mood and a different mode of thinking.
Characterized as a “disorder”, depression is a medically recognized condition that has a range of causes and treatments. Current theory points to a mis-wiring of the brain, causing some thoughts and feelings to become dominant, differences in the concentrations of neurotransmitters, like serotonin or dopamine, or an immune response causing inflammation in the brain.
Psychometric tests can be used to diagnose a patient with depression. These scary-sounding tests are just a series of questions that a person can answer to give the questioner an indication of whether they fit into one category or another. When diagnosing types of depression, the lifestyle and health of the patient is also taken into consideration.
Psychologist will take the following into consideration:
Depression is unique to every person who experiences it but there are broad, general categories that it can be put into to aid with diagnosis, understanding and treatment. Here are 6 of the most common:
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
When a period of depression lasts more than 2 years, it is known as a persistent depressive disorder. A person suffering from this would typically have little interest in daily life and feel inadequate, find normal tasks difficult, feel a sense of hopelessness, have low self-esteem and be upset by things that wouldn’t necessarily upset others. They may also experience suicidal ideations.
As this form of depression lasts so long, it can have very severe consequences on the relationships a person has, the amount of work they can do, their studies and how well they can take care of themselves and their home. The persistent nature of the depression makes it increasingly hard to see a way out, so treatment is often needed to stop self-harm and suicide. The severity of PDD can vary, some people might just appear gloomy, others almost paralysed by the effects.
A mental health specialist can help with cognitive-behavioural therapy, lifestyle changes and/or medication, all of which can have a great deal of success in different types of depression.
Manic-Depression or Bipolar I Disorder
Characterized by swings between mania and depression, bipolar is a common and debilitating form of depression. While there are known genetic factors involved, the causes of bipolar disorder are largely unknown and while treatment exists, there is no known cure. It is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 24 and can persist for a lifetime.
Swings between manic and depressive states can happen over days or weeks, and usually don’t occur more than 3 or 4 times a year. However, some sufferers can experience swings several times a week, and can therefore find normal functioning very difficult or impossible.
In a manic state, a person might feel a swell of energy and motivation. Often, they can’t focus on tasks for a great deal of time, sometimes to the detriment of their health. Other people can talk incessantly without control. Obsessive behaviour, irrational beliefs, dangerous and pleasure-seeking behaviour, excessive spending, hallucinations and delusions are all typical.
Depressive states can have all the characteristics of depression, including insomnia, reduced appetite, lack of interest in things etc.
These states can last hours, days or weeks and can lead to suicide or incarceration.
A milder form of bipolar I hypomania, as it is also known, has periods of depression and elation but usually over a longer period and not as intense. These can be usually effectively treated and are considered a part of someone’s life, as opposed to a debilitating condition, though many people do find it very difficult to deal with.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Thought to be caused by the brain’s hormone balance, seasonal affective disorder is directly affected by the amount of sunlight a person is exposed to. Common in countries within the northern hemisphere, it is a form of depression that only manifests itself during the winter months and can be treated with sunlamps or lighting that mimics the sun. Usually mild, SAD can cause severe depression, but treatment is usually effective.
This is a severe form of depression where a patient develops psychosis, or they lose contact with external reality. Delusions, hallucinations, mania and suicidal ideation can all manifest themselves making it a very dangerous condition for the patient and possibly for others. Often antipsychotic drugs can help but some people need to be admitted to a psychiatric institution for a time until the psychosis passes. Treatment can be successful but has varied degrees of effectiveness.
Thought to be caused by the hormonal changes that happen around birth, postpartum depression, or the “baby blues” as it is sometime known, affects more than 1 in 10 women after giving birth. The extreme end of postnatal depression has led to some mothers murdering their babies, but for most people it is a period of depressive symptoms that can make life very difficult, especially with a new baby in the house.
It can be treated with CBD but some medications, while having some success, can affect a baby’s development through the breast milk, so might be avoided.
If you think you are suffering from depression, talk to your doctor, they can and will help you.
If you are thinking of harming yourself or others, talk to the emergency services immediately, they will help you.