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Depression: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Depression is a very dangerous condition. Perhaps, it is quite scary more because people who have it hardly ever realize this have this problem. They may take its symptoms as possible signs of some other 'regular' health issues. This, it may be argued, is the real danger. And when left untreated or unchecked for a long time, it leads to very unpleasant consequences.

What is this condition all about? What signs should you watch out for to serve as possible pointers to its presence? Read on to find answers to these questions and more. Also, learn about the options available for combating the harmful phenomenon.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder. This condition, which is also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), affects a person's overall mood and outlook of life. It is characterized by feeling of loneliness, sadness and loss of interest in activities that one used to love. These feelings are capable of adversely impacting on the quality of a person's life.

Now, the fact that you experience some of the feelings associated to this disorder doesn't necessary mean you have it. Brief spells of sadness or loneliness are 'normal,' so to say. You only need to start suspecting clinical depression when these feelings seem to be present all the time.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the mental disorder is among the most common in the United States. About 16 million adults in the country reported experiencing the symptoms of the condition in 2015. That's almost 7 percent of the adult American population.

Depression can affect persons of all racial backgrounds, ages and socioeconomic classes. And when present, it can come with co-occurrences or co-occurring disorders. The most common of these include:

  • Panic disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

It is easy to see how depression may be present with these other disorders. They also have a connection to your mental health.

Causes of Depression

Medical experts have not been able to detect a single cause of this condition. What research has shown is that it is often the result of the interplay of a variety of factors. Many things can lead to depression. The following are some of the common causes.


Heredity is a common explanation when people are diagnosed with depression. This means that it is an inherited disorder in some cases. So, if there's a family member of yours with the condition, you may be at a higher risk of having same. This only increases the likelihood; it doesn’t mean you will surely have it.

The particular gene that is responsible for depression is not known. This makes some scientists posit that many genes may be at work in the disorder.


The balance of chemicals in your brain is crucial to your mental health. There is bound to be problem when there is an imbalance in the amount of these chemicals, which are called neurotransmitters. You are at a higher risk of suffering from depression especially when dopamine, serotonin or norepinephrine is out of balance.

Besides, it is thought that these chemicals don’t function as well as they should in people with major depressive disorder.


Besides neurotransmitters, changes in the levels of other natural substances in the body can also cause problem. You become more vulnerable when you are experiencing conditions that reduce the production of some key hormones. Examples of these include thyroid disorders, childbirth and menopause. Estrogen and thyroid hormones are among substances whose imbalance can contribute to depression.

Environmental factors

Certain things that are taking place around you or that you are passing through can also give rise to depression. These are environmental factors. By these, we mainly mean life events. An example of such is the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. These factors also include lack of social support and relationship problems.

Some medical experts also say that change in the structures of the brain may make a person likely to suffer depression. The condition has also been observed to be seasonal in some instances.

Other Depression Risk Factors

Heredity, as we have explained, is a major risk factor for depression. If a first-degree relative of yours has it, you may have it. But then, there are still other factors that can make you more likely to develop the condition. They include:

Gender – Evidence suggests that women have a higher likelihood of suffering from depression. Positive diagnosis is more common among women than men. The NIMH says twice as many women have it, compared to men.

Age – Strangely, some estimate suggests young people are more likely to develop depression. Young adults, who are not older than 29, are said to experience it significantly more than those aged 60 years or older. The condition typically starts in the 20s. Healthline puts the average age of onset at 32.

Substance abuse – Persons who abuse controlled substances have been observed to suffer from depression more. The same is also true of those that consume high amount of alcohol.

Some of the other risk factors for depression include:

  • Using sleeping pills or some other medications
  • Living in a country or an area with limited sunlight and long winters
  • Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • Having low self-esteem

Effects of Depression on the Brain

Depression harms the brain. It alters the structures of the organ, thereby affecting its functions. Three parts are believed to be mainly impacted by the condition. These are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.

The hippocampus, a key part of the limbic system, is responsible for the regulation of the stress hormone cortisol. It also helps to store memories. During periods of elevated stress or depression, production of cortisol ramps up. This hampers creation of new brain cells, or neurons, and causes shrinkage of neurons in the hippocampus. Memory problems result when this happens.

People suffering from clinical depression tend to have an amygdala that is larger than usual. This set of neurons in the medial temporal lobe of the brain also experiences higher level of activity. Those changes are not good. The amygdala is the center for emotions, motivation, and emotional responses, most notably fear. The changes to it not only make you more fearful, but can also disrupt your sleep and hormone release in the body.

Found at the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex helps with formation of memories and regulation of emotions. It is crucial to your decision making ability. As is the case with the hippocampus and amygdala, this cerebral cortex experiences undesirable changes from the surge in cortisol levels. This appears to cause it to shrink, thereby limiting its functions.

It is obvious that elevated cortisol levels that are seen in cases of clinical depression are a major concern. While it is normal for cortisol to rise and fall, it is almost always high in people with this condition.

Depression Symptoms

People who suffer from depression don’t always know they have the problem. Therefore, it is important to know some of the pointers that can call your attention to it.

It needs to be stated here that not all symptoms of depression will manifest in every case. The severity of the condition determines what signs will be present. However, some of these can be seen in all cases. The most common of these symptoms, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is profound feeling of sadness and evident lack of interest in daily activities.

Other common symptoms of the mental disorders include:

  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Poor focus and concentration
  • Distractions
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Sense of worthlessness
  • Motivation problem
  •  Lack of sexual desire
  • Poor performance at school or work

The symptoms listed above are not the only ones that depression can produce. But these alone are enough to make your life a nightmare.

They can adversely affect your ability to live an enjoyable life. What’s there to enjoy when you keep apart from your loved ones or lose pleasure in your favorite activities? You may even find yourself having a torrid time at work when you are not able to put enough effort anymore.

The eventual culmination of depression that is left untreated can be highly disastrous. The patient may start giving room for suicidal thoughts due to the harmful effect of the disorder on the brain.

How is Depression Treated?

To effectively combat depression, it is best to address both the physical and psychological changes that are present. Your doctor will usually design your treatment plan according to the causes and extent of the condition. The common approach involves the use of medications or psychotherapy, or both.


There is a wide variety of drugs that are used for the treatment or management of depression. These are typically known as antidepressants and they come in different classes. The aim with these is to improve your mood by working on the natural chemicals in your brain.

You usually need a prescription from your doctor to get these medications. Some common ones include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – These target the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is believed to have a connection to depression. Examples include fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft).

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – These drugs aim to improve MDD symptoms by regulating serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Duloxetine (Cymbalta), Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), and (Effexor XR) are examples of SNRIs.

 Other classes of drugs include norepinephrine dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Doctors also use atypical antidepressants, such as tranquilizers and mood stabilizers, for treatment in some cases.


There is some evidence that patients may improve with sessions of psychotherapy. Also known as counseling or talk therapy, this approach may be especially helpful when there is no known medical cause. Therapy helps to equip patients with skills and techniques that can be useful in getting over the blues. It provides assistance in overcoming or dealing with negative thinking.

There are diverse types of psychotherapy. One of the more popular is cognitive behavioral therapy, while helps patients on how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Another is interpersonal therapy – this is more useful to patients with relationship problems. It is not unusual for different types of therapy to be combined for treatment.

Research has shown that individuals with severe cases of the condition benefit the most from combination of both drugs and psychotherapy.

Other Depression Treatment Options

There are numerous other options available for dealing with depression. Your doctor or therapist will likely suggest some of these as part of your treatment for more impressive results.

Social support

Strong relationships are helpful for overcoming some of the symptoms of depression. These protect against isolation and provide social support.

Work on strengthening existing relationships or start new ones, if need be. Do not be reluctant to share a problem with someone – that at least unburdens your mind to an extent. Joining a local depression support group may be beneficial in this regard.


Working out can take your minds off those troubling thoughts, if only for a while. And it's not just about providing helpful distraction. It gives a boost of feel-good substances, such as endorphins and serotonins. Exercise also produces similar effects as drugs in making new neurons and connections in the brain.

When we talk about exercise, some people may think of something stressful and very uncomfortable. That's not necessarily so. You can still reap benefits by going on a daily walk lasting about 30 minutes. It can be that simple. Regular aerobic exercise is highly beneficial.


What you eat matters a great deal not only for your physical health, but also your mental health. You don't want to engage in careless eating when trying to keep depression at bay.

You should endeavor to maintain a balanced, healthy diet. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid sugar and sugary foods as much as possible.


You may not think of supplements as cure for depression. But they can assist in overcoming some of its symptoms. Having them as part of your overall treatment plan can make noticeable difference.

Some of the supplements that may interest you in this regard include:

BrainPill – The name says it all, one may say. This supplement by Leading Edge Health, a reputable name in the market, may help to improve your overall brain health. Its maker says it reduces stress, improves decision making, enhances working memory, and boosts mood. Multiple Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings testifies to Brain Pill efficacy for boosting brain power.

CBD Pure – This product features a compound known as cannabidiol, more popularly CBD. This natural constituent of the industrial hemp plant is fast garnering support as a great means of improving brain health. Clinical data suggests this offers great promise for depression, anxiety, mood disorders.

CBD Pure offers enormous potential for the functioning of the endocannabinoid signaling system (ECS), which is central to many brain processes.

GenF20 Plus – Here is a human growth hormone (HGH) supplement. It makes you wonder what this has to do with fighting depression. The usefulness lies in the quality of natural ingredients it contains. GenF20 Plus boasts several constituents that may enhance your mental health and protect against depression.

For instance, L-Tyrosine helps with the production of a thyroid hormone that reduces the risk of depression. Phosphatidyl choline seems to help prevent the disorder as well, among other benefits. L-Glycine calms your brain while L-Glutamine helps to deal with stressful situations and improve mental alertness.


You may have heard it said again and again that you should avoid skimping on sleep. One of the ways getting enough and quality sleep helps is by improving mental health. It is a great way to de-stress. As you know, elevated stress is connected with depression.

Your chances of having a good day after reduce when you sleep for less than seven hours every night. This makes you feel less refreshed and that is not a good thing for someone with depression issue. It worsens moodiness, irritability, sadness and feeling of being tired.

There are still some other interventions for depression that are less popular but that may be suggested. These include transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Stress is a key factor in the occurrence of depression. Don’t dwell too long on the troubles in your life. Doing that is less likely to make them go away. Maintain healthy lifestyle choices. Eat healthy food and exercise regularly.

Among the changes that can help are staying away from excessive alcohol intake and curbing smoking. Such habits can kill off cells in the brain, leaving you at the mercy of the mental disorder.

These measures will do a great deal in helping you avoid issues of depression. They reduce the likelihood of you putting an end to your life. But if you aren’t making much progress trying to deal with depression on your own, you should move fast and get professional help. You will be glad you did.



Depression: Effects, Causes, Symptoms, Signs & Statistics - The Refuge (

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