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Depression: Signs and Symptoms, Treatments, Causes, Risks, & Prevention

Affecting over 15 million within the United States annually, depression is a mental health condition that also happens to be the leading cause of disability within Americans aged 15 to 45. It occurs more in females than males, and the onset of this disorder typically occurs at 32 years of age. When depression symptoms worsen over time, suicidal thoughts can enter the spectrum, and approximately one out of 10 who suffer from this disorder (without treatment) end up taking their own lives.

While depression is a treatable mental health condition, sadly, about 80% of individuals don’t reach out for treatment. On top of that issue, the root of depression and the confusion around this disorder is that symptoms heavily vary from person to person; so, at times, people don’t seek help, because they simply feel the signs they have don’t represent the illness.

While we all feel lonely, sad, or even depressed at times due to life struggles, a reaction to a loss, or a hit to the self-esteem, when these feelings become to hard to manage, physical depression symptoms can kick in and extend for long periods of time; prohibiting an individual from leading a health, active, and normal life. This is when it is vital for people with the disorder to reach out for help.

Still, recognizing the signs and symptoms is the first start when it comes to depression; the next proactive step is reaching out to your family doctor to address the illness and get a proper diagnosis so that you both can figure out treatment options.

Below are some key signs and symptoms of depression.

Signs & Symptoms

Depression presents itself in a variety of ways, and each person may react differently to the mental health condition; therefore, showing different signs and symptoms.

  • Some signs and symptoms of depression include:
  • Trouble with making decisions, concentrating, or remembering details
  • Feelings around worthlessness, helplessness, and guilt
  • Fatigue
  • Pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia sets in with early-morning wakeups or sleeping too much during the day
  • Restlessness
  • Losing interest in hobbies and things that were once enjoyable
  • Low sex drive
  • Appetite loss or overeating
  • Digestive issues that don’t go away, even with treatment
  • Constant headaches, cramps, aches, and pains
  • Feeling sad, empty, or anxious
  • Suicidal thoughts

While there is no ‘depression test’ a doctor will make you undergo, your family physician will most likely start with a standard examination, look at your health history, and also ask a variety of questions that may include:

  • When did you notice these symptoms emerge?
  • How long have they been prevalent?
  • How severe are they?
  • Does mental illness or depression appear within your family?
  • Do you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse?
  • Have you seen these symptoms before? If so, how were they treated?

Once a diagnosis around depression is determined, you and your doctor can move forward with working on a treatment plan that best suits your condition and lifestyle.

Treatment

As mentioned above, many of those who suffer with depression battle the condition without any treatment. Sadly, symptoms can worsen and leave an individual feeling overwhelmed by even the simplest daily routines.

Some turn to alcohol, others might dive into drug abuse; other long-term effects of untreated massive depression include relationship conflicts, anxiety, as well as social isolation.

However, for those who do reach out and seek treatment, there are three options to choose from:

Medication: Prescribed by your doctor, antidepressants assist one’s mood by naturally affecting the brain’s chemicals. Doctor’s often start a patient off with a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and if these don’t help with signs and symptoms, they may move on to other medications.

SSRIs focus on serotonin, a chemical within the brain that provides signals (neurotransmitter), and one that research has revealed to be a key component of depression. Medications classified under SSRIs include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Citalopram (Celexa)

***Some side effects can be felt with these antidepressants, which includes digestive issues, insomnia, headaches, changes in sex drive, and nervousness; however, the good news is that these side effects tend to be temporary.

Should SSRIs not be effective in battling one’s depression symptoms, a doctor will move on to other medication options. Other antidepressant categories include:

  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

It takes up to two to four weeks for any of these depression medications to work. As per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), sleep and concentration issues tend to improve first, before a person’s mood changes.

Medication for depression can be taken on its own, or sometimes works best along with psychotherapy. It really depends on the individual and the level of depression they have.

Psychotherapy: Often referred to as counseling or ‘talk’ therapy, psychotherapy has proven to help some with their depression. Past research reveals that the best way to treat this mental health condition is with both antidepressants and psychotherapy, especially for individuals dealing with severe depression. Different types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – This type of psychotherapy assists an individual in altering negative thought patterns to replace them with healthy ones.
  • Interpersonal Therapy – As per the NINH, this helps an individual to work through and understand hard relationships.
  • Problem-Solving Therapy – This type of psychotherapy helps those suffering with depression to develop realistic solutions when it comes to dealing with situations that are stressful.

TMS: A far less common treatment, this option is for those who suffer with severe depression, where both medication and psychotherapy haven’t helped. Referred to as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), patients receive brief magnetic pulses to their scalp, which helps stimulate the brain’s nerve cells where depression and mood regulation exist.

 

Causes

While the root cause of depression has yet to be nailed down, researchers believe it is linked to an imbalance of signaling chemicals within the brain. Still, there are a variety of theories around what this imbalance could be and the signaling chemicals associated.

Depression can also be triggered by differing life situations, including:

  • Early childhood trauma
  • Death in the family or of a loved one
  • Job loss
  • Divorce
  • Financial issues

Medical conditions have also been linked to depression, including cancer, chronic pain, thyroid gland, and heart disease. Depression can also surface after childbirth, or during menopause, thanks to hormones.

Certain sedatives can cause depression, like high blood pressure medications, and sleeping pills.

However, according to the NIMH, depression is likely caused due to a combination of biological, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.

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