- Depression is a common health condition—5-20 percent of people will experience significant depression at some time in their lives.
- True depression or clinical depression is not the same as just feeling down or depressed about something.
- Most people find it hard to determine whether they are just feeling down or depressed about something or if they have true clinical depression. Feeling down or depressed about something is an emotional state thatcomes and goes whereas clinical depression is a disease. As a result, clinical depression stays with us until it is treated.
- Some people like to refer to the depression of feeling down as depression spelled with a “little d” and the depression from true clinical depression as depression spelled with a “big D.”
- The bottom line is “little d” depression is a normal part of life and it usually fixes itself, but “big D” depression is not normal and should be treated like any other disease. You shouldn’t expect to be able to fix “big D” depression by yourself; you will need help.
Causes and Triggers of Clinical Depression
There are many causes or triggers for clinical depression. Some common causes are:
- Life stresses
- Learned behaviors
- Genetics (just runs in your family)
Whatever the cause or trigger is for clinical depression, the end result is the same. In clinical depression, the brain has low levels of certain neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals made by nerves. The most common neurotransmitters that are too low in clinical depression are serotonin (ser-raton-in) and norepinephrine (nor-epi-nef-rin). Nerve cells use neurotransmitters to communicate with each other. Without these neurotransmitters nerve cells cannot communicate and do their job.
Some of the nerve cells in your brain are responsible for keeping your emotions stable and they need normal levels of neurotransmitters to do this. Remember, in clinical depression the neurotransmitter levels are too low. As a result, the nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for keeping emotions stable are not able to do their job.
Therefore, your emotions cannot be kept stable and remain low or depressed. Think about it, it is impossible to truly feel good or normal when your emotions are depressed because your brain cannot do its job.
By looking at the list of the common causes of depression, you will probably notice that only one is totally out of your control. If depression runs in your family, there is nothing you can do about that. But life stresses, losses, and learned behaviors, although all are realities of life, must be dealt with properly before they lead to clinical depression.
It’s important to understand that there are some common diseases that can cause depression as a secondary effect. Here are the most common:
- Hypothyroid (low thyroid) or hyperthyroid (high thyroid) diseases
- Organic brain diseases—like brain damage
- Certain vitamin deficiencies: Vitamin B12, niacin
- Medication side effects
- Alcohol abuse
- Change in appetite—weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep disturbance—either can’t sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much (hypersomnia)
- Fatigue—tiredness that is out of proportion to the amount of energy expended
- Physical or mental agitation—restlessness, irritability, or withdrawal
- Poor self-image
- Poor memory, difficulty in concentrating, unable to make decisions
- Thoughts of suicide
- EEG—only done if other brain diseases are suspected like brain damage
- Brain CAT scan or MRI—only done if other brain diseases are suspected like a brain mass.
- Thyroid blood test [thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)] —to rule out low or high thyroid states
- Vitamin B12 and niacin blood test
- Treatment for depression usually involves taking certain medications that increase the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. If the problem in clinical depression is low levels of these neurotransmitters, then the treatment should be to give a medication that increases their levels.
- Support groups, counseling, and psychotherapy are sometimes used along with medication to treat this disease.
- For some people, prayer is helpful, when included along with other methods of treatment.
According to a National Mental Health Association survey on attitudes and beliefs about depression:
- Approximately 63% of African Americans believe that depression is a “personal weakness.”
- Only 31 % of African Americans said they believed depression is a “health” problem.
- Close to 30% of African Americans said they would “handle it’ (depression) themselves if they were depressed, while close to 20% said they would seek help for depression from friends and family.
- Only 25% African Americans recognize that a change in eating habits and sleeping patterns are as symptoms of depression; only 16% recognize irritability as a sign.
- Only 33% of African Americans said they would take medication for depression, if prescribed by a doctor, compared to 69% of the general population.
- Almost 66% of respondents said they believe prayer and faith alone will successfully treat depression “almost all of the time” or “some of the time.”
For more helpful information on depression, and to take the Mayo Clinic Self-Assessment Quiz click the link below
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