Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Major Depression

Depression is a serious, but treatable, mental illness. Depression is a medical condition, not a personal weakness. It is also very common. Major depression affects about 7% of the U.S. population over age 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some estimate that major depression may be as high as 15%. Everybody at one point or another will feel sadness as a reaction to loss, grief, or injured self-esteem, but clinical depression, called "major depressive disorder" or "major depression" by doctors, is a serious medical illness that needs professional diagnosis and treatment.

Children are subject to the same factors that cause depression in adults. Depression in children is different from the "normal" blues and everyday emotions that are typical in children of various ages. Children who are depressed experience changes in their behavior that are persistent and disruptive to their normal lifestyle, usually interfering with relationships with friends, schoolwork, special interests, and family life. It may also occur at the same time as (or be hidden by)attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or conduct disorder (CD).

Common Triggers:

Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. Lack of sleep resulting from another medical illness or the presence of personal problems can intensify depression. Chronic inability to sleep is also an important clue that someone may be depressed. Other common triggers include:

• Family history of depression
• Grief over the loss of a loved one through death, divorce, or separation
• Interpersonal disputes, maybe diet (as some studies claim a link with trans fats and depression)
• Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
• Major life events such as moving, graduating or retiring, etc.
• Serious illness. Major, chronic, and terminal illnesses often contribute to depression. These include cancer, heart disease, stroke, HIV, Parkinson's disease, and others
• Substance abuse. Many people with substance abuse problems also have major depression
• Being socially isolated or excluded from family, friends, or other social groups

Is an illness causing depression or depression is causing an illness?

Illnesses that can lead to depression are usually major, chronic, and/or terminal. When an illness is causing depression, there is often long-term pain present or there is a sudden change in lifestyle.

Depression causes illness in a different way. Like psychological stress, it can weaken the immune system (cells involved in fighting disease and keeping you healthy) allowing a person to get more colds or the flu. There is often a notable presence of "aches and pains" with no particular cause. Having depression may also cause the symptoms of an illness to last longer and intensify its symptoms, but the true relationship of depression-induced illness, in terms of major disease, has not been thoroughly defined.

Women more likely to get depression:

Women develop depression twice as often as men. One reason may be the various changes in hormone levels that women experience. For example, depression is common during pregnancy and menopause, as well as after giving birth, suffering a miscarriage, or having a hysterectomy -- these are all times when women experience huge fluctuations in hormones. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), an extreme form of PMS, may also cause depression. Environmentally speaking, women are prone to "stuff" their emotions especially anger, they have also been in the past less athletic than men - these "might" contribute to their propensity to be effected by depression more than men.

Depression and suicide:

Most people who suffer from depression do not attempt suicide, but according to the National Mental Health Association, 30-70% of suicide victims have suffered from some form of depression. This figure demonstrates the importance of seeking professional treatment for yourself or someone you love if you suspect depression.

The recurrences of depression:

Having experienced an episode of major depression does put a person at greater risk for future episodes, but not everyone who has recovered from depression will experience it again. Sometimes depression is triggered by a major life event, illness, or a combination of factors particular to a certain place and time. Getting the proper treatment for the correct amount of time is crucial to recovery and in helping prevent or identify any future depression. The cause of depression will determine the recurrence rate; if the depressive episode is brought on by a stressor(s) in one's life, then avoiding these will most likely repulse future depressive episodes. If the source of depression is organic and due to a chemical imbalance, than future episodes are likely to occur.

If left untreated, various types of depressive disorders can last from 6 months to years. A major depressive episode is characterized by a set of symptoms that last for more than two weeks and may last for months. Seasonal depression, or SAD, usually extends throughout the winter months and continues to improve during spring and summer. Bipolar disorder is characterized as "ups" (periods of mania) and "downs" (periods of extreme depression). Though these phases may change rapidly or slowly, bipolar depression may last until an effective treatment is found. Dysthymia is mild and more difficult to identify and may last for years if left untreated. It is also important to treat the depression with medication to prevent damage to the protective sheathing of the nerves. Success rates among the anti-depressants are quite high. Read more on anti-depressants.

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This article is for informational purposes only and not to be used in diagnosing or treating any illness