Depression – An overview

What is depression?

Depression is a common and serious mental illness that causes physical, emotional and psychological problems. Depression affects mood, thoughts and behaviour and is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and dejection. Depressive feelings can have a severe impact on a person’s ability to cope with everyday life.

Did you know?
• 5 million people in the UK suffer with depression
• 1 in 6 people who have suffered with depression commit suicide
• Depression costs the country an estimated £8 billion per year
• Depression affects 2 in 5 elderly people in care homes
• By 2020 major depression will be the second most debilitating condition next to heart disease

Causes and symptoms of depression

Causes Of Depression
Depression has many causes and contributory factors and these are generally divided into three groups: psychological, social and physical/chemical. Psychological depression is caused by a reaction to a stressful or traumatic event that triggers low mood, low self-esteem, withdrawal and feelings of hopelessness about the future. Social depression results from a lack of activity or interests. Physical/chemical depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals and hormones in the brain.

People with a family history of depression are more likely to suffer with depression themselves (known as genetic predisposition) as inherited genes can cause an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters send messages around the brain and lower levels of certain types such as serotonin and dopamine can result in, or be the cause of, depression.

Other causes of depression include excessive consumption of alcohol or recreational drugs and certain prescription medicines can occasionally lead to depression. Women who have just given birth can develop post-natal depression due to hormonal changes, lack of sleep, emotional pressure and loss of independence. Depression can also be caused by changes in the seasons through lack of sunlight (known as seasonal affective disorder).

Symptoms of depressioon
Depression has a massive impact on a person’s ability to cope with day-to-day life and affects relationships both personal and professional. As with the causes of depression, the symptoms of depression can be divided into psychological, physical and social.

Psychological symptoms of depression include persistent low mood and self-esteem, hopelessness, guilt and irritability. Psychological symptoms can also be anxiety, indecision, suicidal thoughts and a lack of motivation or sex drive.

The physical symptoms of depression can be lethargy, weight loss/gain, digestive complaints (indigestion, diarrhoea), muscle aches and menstrual cycle disruption (in women). Social symptoms of depression can result in poor performance at work, withdrawal from socialising with friends, relationship problems with family and reduced participation in interests or hobbies.

Diagnosing depression

Depression has no clinical test to diagnose the condition but an initial visit to a GP can rule out other problems that have similar symptoms to depression. Blood and urine tests can identify if a person is suffering with lupus, thyroid problems or fibromyalgia (a rheumatic disorder that causes pain in the muscles, tendons and ligaments).

The diagnosis of depression is carried out by questionnaires and two classification systems are used – the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ and the ‘International Classification of Diseases’. Both classification systems are based on known recorded symptoms associated with diseases and mental conditions. From the answers to specific questions, a GP can determine what the condition is.

Some types of depression include: major depression, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, post-partum disorder and seasonal affective disorder.

Depression – Related terms

  • Depressive illness
  • Clinical depression
  • Psychiatric
  • Sadness
  • Tearful
  • Helplessness
  • Intolerant
  • Self-harm
  • Worry
  • 5-HTT gene
  • Antidepressants
  • Prozac

Article Submitted By
Daniel Alexander, GoToSee Journalist

Date Published
24/05/08

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