It may be easier to explain what depression isn't than what it is. Depression is not having a bad day or feeling less than enthusiastic about your life. It isn't the same thing as sadness or grieving. Grief and sorrow are unfortunately experiences every human being goes through at one point or another. However, clinical depression is not universal and is often unrelated to a person's circumstances or daily routines. Instead, depression is the clinical term a long-lasting and often pervasive mental health condition that may have causes related to genetics and brain chemistry. Thankfully, discussion and research are ongoing, and the social stigma around depression is finally beginning to lift.

Situational Versus Chemical Depression

Many people wrongly assume difficult life situations and traumatic events alone trigger depression. In many individuals, biochemical processes that are symptomatic of depression may occur without identifiable situational causes. These biochemical processes control the neurotransmitters that regulate mood, which can malfunction without an apparent reason, leading to depression. Therefore, anyone exhibiting symptoms of depression should seek a medical assessment, regardless of situational triggers. Depression, whether due to biochemical issues or an event, can progress in severity if not addressed.


Causes: Genetic Tendency

There is considerable scientific evidence to support a genetic factor in the development of depression. In other words, if one family member has or had depression, another is at greater risk of developing the condition. In fact, experts have found that up to 40 percent of all people experiencing depression have a genetic link to the disease. Circumstances, health, and other components comprise the other 60 percent. Research shows people with a parent or sibling with depression are up to three times as likely to experience the condition.


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The study of the chemicals and hormones produced by the body and brain is a relatively young science. Psychiatric research discovered antidepressants in the 1950s, and at that point, experts developed a hypothesis about chemical deficiencies causing conditions like depression. Experts believe depression is a complex illness related to many systems within the brain and the maladaptive regulation of the nervous system. Psychiatrists attribute this to chemicals such as norepinephrine. Another hypothesis considers atypical neurotransmitters or monoamine deficiencies to be the primary culprits behind depression.


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Personality Traits

In 2017, a French study published by L'Evolution Psychiatrique stated certain personality traits appear to contribute to depression. Researchers utilized the Big Five Model of Personality Traits to test which of the broad personality components connect with depressed individuals. These components are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. The study asserts that depressed people have higher scores of Neuroticism and tend to be less Extraverted or Conscientious. Other findings suggest that anxiety, vulnerability, and modesty are positively related to depression while individuals who exhibit Openness to experiences, trust, and self-discipline are less likely to experience depression.


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Environmental Components

Perhaps some of the most easily understood causes of conditions such as depression are environmental. Research shows people who experience repeated exposure to violence, neglect, poverty, or abuse are more likely to develop depression within their lifetime. Humans are social animals. We need healthy environments to remain healthy.


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Symptoms of Depression

Many people associate depression with sadness, but there are many symptoms of the condition. People with depression may suffer from other health issues that can both cause and exacerbate the condition, including fatigue, sleep disorders, loss of appetite, and weight gain or loss. Mentally, they may experience low self-esteem, anxiety, restlessness, confusion, and indecisiveness, and some may harbor thoughts of self-harm. An individual who seems in uncharacteristically low spirits for an extended period and exhibits any of these symptoms may be suffering from depression. People also deal with depression in many different ways, but the ability to carry on a semblance of wellness in everyday life does not discount the seriousness of one's condition.


Different Types of Depression

Depression is a varied illness that affects a wide range of people for a myriad of reasons. Many types of depression are present with other mental pathologies, while some are situational. There is no single reason why an individual develops depression. Usually, a network of factors and issues combine with chemical imbalances to create the disease.


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Peripartum Depression

Peripartum depression used to be called postpartum depression. This type of depression usually affects new mothers and develops for various reasons. Research suggests a combination of physical and emotional factors contribute to its development. After the birth of a child, the mother's estrogen and progesterone hormone levels quickly drop and level out. The hormonal swings can adversely affect mood and other functions. Studies do show women who have experienced depression in their lives before having kids are more likely to develop this type of depression. New mothers experiencing grief or other stressful circumstances are prone to peripartum depression, but the condition is not limited to women facing such obvious factors, and new mothers who feel something is wrong should not discount their feelings just because they feel they"should" be happy.


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Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia is a chronic illness that lasts for at least two years. Individuals with dysthymia experience different intensities of their depressive symptoms, but the state generally recurs at least every few months. People with this disease often lose interest in their lives and experience low productivity, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. The disorder can come and go for many years. Individuals with dysthymia may also have a major depressive episode before or during the chronic instances, which is also known as double depression.


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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder was previously called manic depression. The main characterizations of this type of depression are to exhibit mood swings of euphoria and major depressive episodes. During a manic episode, a person exhibits an excess of extreme energy.  Irritability, impulsivity, and psychosis are other possible symptoms. Often, individuals in a manic state feel a reduced need for rest. The depressive episodes are similar to other types of depression, with the person experiencing negative feelings and thoughts, sometimes leading to self-harm. Research shows environmental components play a role in the presence of this disease, and chronic stress may prompt its onset. However, experts believe 85 percent of the risk is genetic.


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Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is an endocrine disorder but can affect the mental health of menstruating women. This severe and painful condition affects three to eight percent of fertile women. Women with PMDD will notice changes to their mental and physical health one to two weeks before menstruation. They often experience feelings of hopelessness, irritability, a sense of being overwhelmed, or even an inclination to self-harm. The physical symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder cause sore, tender, or swollen breasts, aches in the muscles and joints, bloating, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite. Experts believe PMDD may be due to a sensitivity to hormone fluctuations and genetics. There's also an active link between trauma and stress and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.


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A Symptom of Other Disorders

While depression may be a stand-alone disorder for some, it can also exist as a symptom of another condition. Disorders such as bipolarity, cyclothymic disorder, dysthymic disorder, and season affective disorder lead to depression, true, but they also cause other symptoms. As well,  illnesses and chronic conditions not classified as mood disorders can also cause depression.


Tricky Diagnosis

Because of the wide range of symptoms, causal conditions, and ways in which people react, diagnosing depression can be difficult. In most cases, the medical practitioner will asses a client's past and present life circumstances, current health, and their medical and psychological history. Some psychologists and psychiatrists may employ rating scales such as the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, the Beck Depression Inventory, or the Suicide Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised. Although the scores from these tests do not prove a diagnosis, they allow for insight into the individual's mood at the present moment.


Treatment Options

There are many treatments for depression, but a doctor must determine the best course of action based on the nature and intensity of an individual patient's condition. Medications can treat certain symptoms or more severe forms of the illness. In more mild cases, a likely first step is talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Alternative treatments including massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation also help some individuals. In addition to medical care, if necessary, people with chronic depression may treat their symptoms with lifestyle adjustments such as a healthy diet and exercise.


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