Understanding Depression

Light at the End of the Tunnel


Depression is a common but serious disorder that affects not just your mood, but also how you sleep, eat, and socialize. A person affected by depression may experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, tiredness or decreased energy, or have a lack of interest in hobbies or activities. These feelings may permeate all aspects of their life. They may feel indecisive, like their memory is affected, or like they can’t concentrate. Changes in weight or appetite, or feeling like they are moving more slowly are also signs of depression. It is not necessary to experience all of these symptoms to have depression; a depressed mood plus a few consistent symptoms are enough for a diagnosis. Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the United States, and there are a number of factors that put individuals at risk for developing depression. There are also different types of depression, and understanding the differences is important in identifying why someone might be experiencing these feelings and how to resolve them.

Depression can lead to migraines and other health ailments.
Depression can lead to migraines and other health ailments.

While genetics can put a person at risk for depression, there are other outside factors that can contribute to a person developing depression. These include major life changes, like moving or starting a new job, experiencing a trauma, or stress. Big decisions like getting married or starting a family can create enough stress to overwhelm a person. Even day-to-day burdens like finances and work can affect a person’s emotional wellbeing. It is important to understand that experiencing depression is not a choice. Physical illness, including injury, can lead to a person experiencing depression. This is especially common later in life. Most cases of depression are seen in adults, although it is sometimes recognized in children and teens. A history of high anxiety in the childhood or teenage years has been linked to a person experiencing adult depression later on.

There are a variety of treatments available for a person suffering from depression. An important first step is not to isolate yourself, and to be open to talking to a doctor or therapist.

There are a few different types of depression that are differentiated by specific characteristics. Seasonal affected disorder (SAD), for example, is a type of a major depression. It is when a person experiences normal mental health usually, except for experiencing depressed mood at the same time, year after year. For many people this is in the winter, although it can occur during any season. Summer SAD is typically associated with heightened anxiety. Symptoms of SAD can still be severe, but usually resolve as the season changes. Perinatal or post-natal depression is when a woman experiences severe depression during pregnancy and after giving birth. While mild depressed symptoms are common during the post-natal period, this type of depression is more serious, as it can affect the ability of a parent to care for themselves and their child. It can be difficult to diagnose, because often feelings of tiredness, anxiety and high emotions are also associated with pregnancy and parenthood. Isolation is also common for new mothers, and can lead to further feelings of helplessness.


There are a variety of treatments available for a person suffering from depression. An important first step is not to isolate yourself, and to be open to talking to a doctor or therapist. Depression can be effectively treated, and common medical treatments include talk therapy, medication, or both. Psychologists are trained therapists; different psychologists typically have different specialties or techniques. Sometimes it is necessary to try more than one therapist before you find a style that works for you. Psychiatrists are medical doctors trained in therapy. They are also able to prescribe medication.

Anti-depressants are prescription drugs used to treat depression. These drugs alter the chemistry of the brain in a way that improves depressive symptoms and mood. SSRIs are a widely prescribed class of anti-depressant medication that affects the levels of serotonin in the brain. Commonly known drugs such as Paxil, Prozac or Zoloft fall into this category. Anti-depressants in general have evolved over the years to be more effective with fewer side effects and drug interactions, but these disadvantages still exist. Common side effects of SSRIs include headaches, weight gain, and insomnia. It can also be difficult to stop taking anti-depressants, and there may be other long-term effects. It is important for people with existing health conditions, like high blood pressure, to discuss their health with their doctor before beginning an anti-depressant medication.

While depression is unfortunately a very common disorder experienced by many Americans, it is treatable.

There are also a number of alternative therapies that do not involve medication, but have been shown to help with symptoms of depression. St. John’s Wort, an herbal supplement, or Omega 3 oils, for example, are considered dietary supplements that may have an effect on symptoms of depression. Be cautious and do your research, however, because these can interact with other medications. Most medical professionals believe further research is needed, but seeing a holistic practitioner might be a good way to learn more about dietary supplements and their effect on mood. Other alternative therapies include acupuncture or reflexology, which are based in Eastern medicine.

Regular exercise has been shown to have a very positive effect on the brain, and is recognized as an effective non-drug method of addressing depression symptoms. Exercise has been proven to help reduce anxiety and improve mood, and can be very beneficial for individuals suffering from depression. Cardiovascular exercise releases positive chemicals in the brain that can counteract symptoms like lethargy and low mood. Stress-reducing activities such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation, can also help to treat symptoms. Any of these could also be seen as complementary to conventional treatment, such as therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

While depression is unfortunately a very common disorder experienced by many Americans, it is treatable. Even severe depression can be treated. If you know someone experiencing depression, offer to listen about how they are feeling. Let them know that these feelings are not their fault, and often have a root cause. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, educating yourself about the condition is the first step. Try not to isolate yourself, and seek help through a friend or doctor.

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