Depression is a complex notion we commonly use to describe either a persistent bad mood or negative feeling, a personality predisposition, a mental disorder or illness (clinical or major depression) or, some may argue, even a human condition (in a philosophical sense). Either way, it stands for a negative state of mind and feeling that can seriously affect a person’s behavior to the point where it can have a severe impact on their work, relations, future, therefore their entire life.
Usually, a depressive person has a lot of negative thoughts and no longer enjoys the same things that typically would bring them pleasure and happiness. When depressed, one often experiences severe boredom but, at the same time, shows very little interest in social life; other depressive manifestations include low self-esteem, anxiety, inability to focus on work or daily activities, insomnia, solitude and the lack of what is called Joie de Vivre. In its most severe forms, depression can make a person see life in very dark shades – purposeless and meaningless, not worth living and, as a consequence of this view – suicidal thoughts and self-destructive behaviors are also entertained.
Statistics about Depression
World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that worldwide around 350 million of people of all ages suffer from depression; in 2004 it was rated as the third cause of disability at a global level, with the prospect of becoming the first in 2020. Here are some worrisome (if not disturbing!) facts about depression:
- 15% of us will develop depression at some point in our life
- Women are more vulnerable to the risk of developing depression at a rate of 2 or 3 times higher than men (almost 1 in 5 women in the US is likely to have one or more episodes of major depression): “Some say the discrepancy can be attributed to all the mood-altering hormonal effects of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, childbirth, infertility, and/or contraceptives” 
- The average age of depression onset is 40, but depression is continually rising among young people under 20
- Only 25% of the affected persons are properly diagnosed and undergo an efficient treatment while a great number of the people showing symptoms of depression do not seek professional help (they cannot afford it or do not have access to health care services, they are afraid of social stigma, they do not receive the correct diagnostic, etc.)
- 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression (with higher rates among certain ethnicities)
- 1 in 10 women experience depression before and after giving birth
- Between 60 and 80% of all depression-affected patients can be successfully cured with short-term psychotherapy and the right medication
- The number of people diagnosed with depression goes up by 20% per year
- People in Nordic areas are at a higher risk of depression because they are less exposed to sunlight and have a lower Vitamin D synthesis
Before modern medicine and psychology, depression has been documented since ancient times in literature, philosophy, and art. Historically, depression has been known under the name of melancholia (derived from the Ancient Greek terms melas which mean “black” and kholé, meaning “bile”) and was considered a disorder with specific mental and physical symptoms but in a much broader sense than depression is today. In ancient Greek and Roman medicine, any disease was equivalent with a disequilibrium in our body. It was believed that there were four bodily fluids, in correspondence with the four main natural elements – earth, fire, water and air (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood). These could be found in balanced amounts in healthy organisms, while all diseases and disabilities, including melancholia, were caused by the excess or deficit of these “humors”. Sufferers of melancholy were described as having similar symptoms to those experiencing depression nowadays: dullness, sadness, dejection, anxiety and sometimes fear and obsessive thoughts.
What Causes Depression?
Giving its complex nature, depression can have multiple causes, and its onset is triggered by many factors. The primary cause of depression is of a biological and genetical nature: studies and medical records show that the low level of certain substances in cerebral activity also known as neurotransmitters or monoamines (noradrenaline, serotonin, dopamine, etc.) is responsible for depression symptoms. Depression can also be genetically inherited, and studies prove, for example, that people whose immediate family members have suffered from depression are a higher risk of becoming affected themselves.
People living in areas with limited sunlight are vitamin D deficient and tend to be more depressive. There seems to be a link between this vitamin and depression: our brain contains receptors for vitamin D which are located in the same areas responsible for depression development. Vitamin D may increase the number of monoamines in our brain, but its exact action is yet unknown. However, chances are that vitamin D supplements might help significantly in treating depression.
There is also a form of depression called “secondary depression” that is either associated with other diseases (bipolar disorder, cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc.) or merely a side effect of certain medication used in the treatment of other or disorders. With prescribed medication, it is best to check if it is on the list of medicines that can cause depression and check with a health professional if your prescription is causing or negatively contributing to your mood swings. Medicines in the category of oral contraceptives, high blood pressure drugs or those fighting high levels of cholesterol are likely to produce this side effect.
Besides strictly medical facts, other significant risk factors increase the chances of becoming depressive. For instance, in the US, statistics confirm that the states with higher rates of depression also have higher rates of some diseases like obesity, heart diseases, sleep disorders; they also have higher rates of social issues like less access to medical insurance and a lower level of education. Thus, there is a strong possibility that links developing depression to health or socio-economical issues.
At a personal level, apparently, the most susceptible populations are the unemployed and recently divorced individuals. Unfortunate or tragic events in one‘s private life constitute a common cause for depression. Losing someone close (by death or break-up), an unhappy childhood, being the victim of a sexual, physical or moral abuse, taking part in traumatic events – e.g war, accidents, violence, poverty, going through stressful situations like losing a job or a home – all these can have severe psychological consequences and could become a recipe for disaster.
Facebook and Depression
Now here’s one of the most interesting and recent theories about depression. Apparently, our modern technology and social networking are indirectly related to depression symptoms. Facebook and other famous social media channels were meant to use the technological progress to bring the human communication to a whole new level, their primary purpose being to facilitate human relations and connections so that they can take place regardless of the limitations given by physical location. Social networking is supposed to help to build virtual networks and communities, based on common interests or common acquaintances so that people can keep in touch with each other. It goes without saying that this way people are supposed to be socially active and to feel a sense of social achievement and personal fulfillment but, ironically, one of the consequences of using Facebook, among other disadvantages, is exactly the opposite.Facebook users, by constantly checking other people’s posts,
Facebook users, by constantly checking other people’s posts, pictures and profiles, more or less conciously experience a phenomenon called “social comparison”, by which they compare the virtual image of other people’s lives with their real situation to the extent where they start to feel inferior and experience lower self esteem. People who spend too much time on Facebook will soon develop this comparison habit and will become prone to depression; they naively think their Facebook friends have shown their perfect life on the social network, with their attractive looks, their perfect relationships, their incredible travel pictures, their super interesting activities, their cute little baby, their thousands of “likes” to their posts, and so on.
However, we all have the tendency of selecting what to share on Facebook so that we highlight only what we want others to see – posts and pictures with our best moments, our best looks, our best achievements. And we also expect to receive a reaction to these actions because we need someone to confirm and validate our illusion of happiness. Sometimes it is just a way of playing with our identity and self image, but in most cases it is just a virtual show-off game we play to convince others and ourselves that we have interesting lives. It all seemed harmless in the beginning but researchers have recently connected depression symptoms to Facebook use so we need to become aware of the negative consequences of the social comparison phenomenon. 
How to Deal with Depression
- If a bad mood becomes persistent and affects someone’s everyday life, then professional help should be sought. It may be only a temporary crisis related to a particular age or life event but it is better to have it looked into by a doctor or therapist. They will be able to tell if you suffer from a sever form and prescribe the right medications and treatment.
- Psychoanalysis is a form of psychotherapy by which a trained psychoanalyst explores the unconscious mechanisms and patterns that determine a person’s behaviour, thoughts and feelings. This method is used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, phobias, obssesive compulsive tendencies, post traumatic stress This method has the following advantages: the patients builds a strong relationship with the therapist, probably much closer than with a regular doctor; the sessions take place in a comfortable setting – usually the patient sits on a couch and talks freely or subtly guided by the psychoanalist; efficient psychoanalysis may determine a depressive person to become more self-aware and gain better control over emotions and actions. A major disadvantage this method has, is the fact that this method requires a lot of time investment (psychoanalysis sessions take place three to five times a week and oftentimes cover a few years’ period before the first results). Psychoanalysis is still considered a controversial therapy by other health experts because of its unconventional and non-scientific methods (free association, interpretation, transference etc.). Moreover, it can be quite expensive and unavailable in less wealthy countries.
- If you have been diagnosed with depression and you want to avoid antidepressant medication (especially due to its side effects) you can consider alternative therapy. Many traditional health practices classified as non-standard by the official medical practice fall under this category and are often referred to as “complementary” or “integrative” therapy: diet and exercising, bioenergy treatment, hypnosis, aromatherapy, massage, herbal remedies, spiritual practices, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, reflexotherapy and many others. Some of them have proven effective in curing depression symptoms and are worth trying for their overall benefits on mental and physical health.
- Keep busy. A good way to avoid depressive thoughts is to keep yourself busy with meaningful activities and leave little time to think about what does not work. If depression knocks at your door, make sure your mind is too busy to answer. On the contrary, if you are way too busy and unhappy because of this, then you have to invest more time in your hobbies, travel more and work less. It sounds a little bit crazy, but many people nowadays are quitting their stressful jobs, are selling their homes and start travelling the world, living a nomadic life style or simply moving elsewhere.
- Self-discipline. Regardless of the type and severity of depression, the most important thing remains the self control. During depression episodes, one becomes so fragile that they litterally feel the ground sliding from under their feet. However hard, it is not imposible to achieve better control of your state of mind by practicing and building a mental self discipline. Psychologists suggest that it is possible to change our mindset and even “force” ourselves into positive thinking. A good start is to copy happy people’s habits (like smiling all the time) and make them your own. You may feel it is artificial in the beggining but with practice, they will become naturally yours.
|⇧1||Therese J. Borchard, blogger for Everyday Health http://www.everydayhealth.com|