What is it?
It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, especially when there’s a genuine reason. But in depression, the low mood lasts much longer (up to 2 weeks or more) and is usually accompanied by low energy and loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities.
What causes it?
It is not exactly certain why depression occurs, but it is caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. The risk of depression in a first-degree relative of a person suffering from it is about 3 times the risk of the non-affected. Environmental factors such as childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse; divorce and unemployment also predispose one to having a depressive illness.
What are the symptoms?
The three core symptoms of depression are:
- Persistent low mood
- Low energy
- Losing interest in things previously enjoyable.
The minor symptoms are:
- Little appetite or more appetite than usual, which can lead to significant weight loss or gain respectively
- Sleeping difficulty, or sleeping too much
- Agitation or Sluggishness
- Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Difficulty thinking and concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts.
If one is depressed, they will have at least one of these main symptoms, as well as some of the minor ones, at most times of the day and on most days of the week for at least two weeks. It is important to see a doctor once these symptoms are noticed.
What treatments work?
In mild or moderate depression, all that may be needed is a talking-to and reassurance. This may sometimes be combined with an antidepressant drug. The most common psychological treatments include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which aims at changing the way one thinks in order to help them look at things more positively.
Interpersonal therapy which helps one learn better ways of relating to other people around them, and build stronger relationships.
Problem-solving therapy which teaches one how to solve problems in a step-wise manner by finding out what the problem is, working out ideas on how to solve it and actually doing so bit by bit.
These are drugs which interact with some chemicals in the brain responsible for mood. They are quite effective in some people, and come in different types. The doctor usually decides the one most suitable for a particular person.
It may take about two months to feel significantly better while on these drugs, so it is important to be a little patient with them. The doctor will decide how long you need to take it based on his assessment.
Things you can do for yourself
Exercise has been shown to help people with depression feel better. Gentle exercise like taking a walk or swimming may lift the mood. Yoga may also be helpful.
The physiotherapist may be able to help with relaxation therapy, light therapy and acupuncture.