What is depression? Common myths, effective treatment options, resources, symptoms and more…


major depression

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities. According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and it affects an estimated 280 million people worldwide. [1]

Common myths and false beliefs about depression

Depression is a serious condition that affects a large number of individuals, yet it is often misunderstood and associated with a number of misconceptions or myths. Some of the most prevalent myths and false statements about depression include:

  • Depression is a sign of weakness or a personal failing
  • People with depression can simply “snap out of it” if they try hard enough
  • Antidepressants are a “quick fix” and can cure depression permanently
  • Depression only affects people with serious problems or who have had traumatic experiences
  • Depression is a temporary condition that will eventually go away on its own
  • Only certain people, such as women or the elderly, are at risk for depression
  • People with depression will never fully recover
  • Only talk therapy or counselling is effective in treating depression
  • People with depression should avoid medication

Important: depression is a serious mental health disorder. Please seek advice immediately from a mental health professional if you experience any of the symptoms listed below.

Symptoms of depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition that is characterized by a number of different symptoms. The primary symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • Significant changes in appetite and weight
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Agitation or slowing of movements
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

The review also notes that symptoms of depression can vary from person to person and may also change over time. It’s also worth mentioning that the individual may also suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain, or stomach problems.

Treatment options: 8 evidence-based interventions and strategies to combat clinical depression

Combining different treatment options, such as medication and psychotherapy, has been found to be more effective in treating depression than using one treatment independently. Here are 9 treatment interventions that have been shown to effectively treat depression according to medical research.

1. Medication

One of the most common treatments for depression is medication. Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), are used to treat depression by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, in the brain. These medications can help to reduce symptoms of depression, such as sadness, anxiety, and loss of interest in activities, and can be taken on a long-term basis.

2. Psychotherapy

Another common treatment for depression is psychotherapy, which involves talking to a trained therapist about your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Different types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), can be used to treat depression. These therapies help people to change negative thought patterns and behaviors, and improve communication and relationships, which can lead to improved mood and functioning. [3] [4]

3. Exercise

Exercise has been found to be an effective treatment for depression, particularly for mild to moderate symptoms. Regular physical activity can help to improve mood, reduce stress, and improve overall physical and mental health. [5]

4. Nutrition and dietary changes

A healthy diet is important for overall physical and mental health. Some studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, and low in sugar and processed foods, may help to reduce symptoms of depression. [6]

5. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It is an FDA-approved treatment for treatment-resistant depression and is currently being studied for other subtypes of depression. [7]

6. Light therapy for the winter

Light therapy is a treatment that involves exposure to bright light, and it can be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and non-seasonal depression. [8]

7. Social Support

Social support is an important aspect of recovery from depression. People who have a good social support system tend to recover more quickly from depression. Joining a support group or talking to a therapist about relationship issues or stressful life events can be beneficial.

8. Electroconvulsive therapy

ECT is a medical treatment that uses a small electric current to treat severe depression. It is typically used for individuals who have not responded to other treatments, such as medications and psychotherapy. [9]

Key Takeaway for treating depression

Medication combined with psychotherapy is often the first line of defence for treating the underlying cause of depression. On the other hand, depression can be caused by a range of different factors. Therefore a multifaceted approach and a combination of different treatment options may be needed to effectively treat this mental health condition.

Causes of depression

Factors and risk factors involved in depression, include the following:

  • Changes in the brain’s neurochemical and neuroendocrine systems
  • Genetic factors – particularly variations in certain genes that regulate neurochemical activity
  • Environmental stressors such as traumatic life events, chronic stress, and social isolation
  • Medical conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, or heart disease
  • Other mental health conditions such as OCD or PTSD
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs
  • Hormonal imbalances, particularly during pregnancy and menopause
  • Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, and negative cognitive patterns
  • Social and economic factors such as poverty, low socioeconomic status, and lack of social support
  • Cognitive and personality factors such as rumination and neuroticism

How can I support someone who is dealing with depression?

Supporting a depressed person can be difficult, but there are several ways to help. Below we’ve included 3 practical tips to support someone with depression.

1. Active listening

Active listening helps depressed people talk about their problems. Active listening requires full attention, empathy, and encouragement.

2. Helping to organise and finance therapy sessions

Helping someone with depression with everyday duties or going to therapy or doctor appointments is another method to help. Individuals with depression who receive practical support with finances or support from family have a better quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression.

3. Encouragement

Encouragement to enjoy activities and take little steps toward goals is also helpful. Examples of small steps that a person with depression can take include yoga, meditation and exercise.

FAQ about depression

How is depression diagnosed?

The diagnosis of depression is based on a combination of clinical assessment and symptom criteria outlined in the Diagn and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). The most common method for diagnosing depression is through clinical interviews conducted by a psychiatrist or a psychologist. This includes:

  • A thorough medical, psychiatric, and social history
  • An assessment of symptoms, including the duration and severity of symptoms
  • A physical examination to rule out any underlying medical causes
  • A cognitive assessment to evaluate cognitive function
  • A review of any current medications and substances the patient is taking

Self-report questionnaires or checklists such as the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), are often used as a screening tool, but should not be used as a sole diagnostic tool, they are helpful as a guide but should be followed by a professional assessment. Additionally, some specialized assessments may be used in certain cases, such as the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) to evaluate treatment response.

It’s important to note that depression can be a complex disorder and that it can occur along with other mental health conditions, which may impact diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation is needed to make an accurate diagnosis and to ensure that the right treatment approach is selected.

What are the different types of depressive disorders?

Depression is a complex and heterogeneous disorder, with multiple subtypes that can be classified based on various factors, such as clinical presentation, etiology, and treatment response. Below is a list of different types of depression:

  1. Major depressive disorder (MDD) – Includes atypical depression and melancholic depression
  2. Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder)
  3. Bipolar disorder (formally called manic depression)
  4. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  5. Psychotic depression
  6. Perinatal depression (depression in mothers after childbirth)

Is depression debilitating? How does it affect a person’s daily life?

Depression can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life and is associated with a range of functional impairments such as reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and disability, and impaired quality of life

People with depression may have difficulty with work, school, and personal relationships, and may also have difficulty completing daily tasks. They may also have difficulty with activities of daily living such as self-care and have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends.

Depression can also have a significant impact on physical health. Depression is associated with an increased risk of premature death due to suicide or other physical causes. Furthermore, depression can lead to the development or worsening of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also lead to an increased risk of substance abuse, lack of physical activity or poor sleep, which can affect physical and mental health.

What does remission mean in terms of depression and mental health?

Remission is a term that describes the state where an individual’s depression symptoms have greatly lessened or eliminated to the extent that they no longer meet the criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD) or other kinds of depression. 

Can antidepressants cure depression permanently?

Whilst antidepressants have been shown to effectively treat depression they may not always result in a permanent cure. People may relapse and its efficacy may diminish over time.

What professions have high rates of depression?

Professions with high depression rates include healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses as well as, social workers and lawyers and childcare workers.

References

  1. World Health Organisation Report: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  2. Sertraline versus other antidepressive agents for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4163971/
  3. Psychological treatment of depression: Results of a series of Meta-analyses,” Nordic Journal of Psychiatry: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21770842/
  4. A meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioural therapy for adult depression, alone and in comparison with other treatments,” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23870719/
  5. The Role of Exercise in Preventing and Treating Depression. Current Sports Medicine Reports: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31389872/
  6. Nutrition and depression are at the forefront of progress. Journal of Medicine and Life: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539842/
  7. Use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Depression. Cureus: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6649915/
  8. Bright Light Therapy as Augmentation of Pharmacotherapy for Treatment of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27835725/
  9. Efficacy of ECT in depression: A meta-analytic review,” The Journal of ECT: https://doi.org/10.1097/00124509-200403000-00004

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