Depression: roots and symptoms
What is depression?
Depression can affect any type of person at any stage of life. You could be introverted or extroverted, young or old, rich or poor. Whatever type of person you may be it is possible to be affected by depression. This means that, although you may sometimes feel alone in your struggle against low mood, you are not on your own. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in every 4 people experiences depression at some time in their life. So remember, low mood is a common experience and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you do.
There can be some confusion over exactly what DEPRESSION means, as it is an everyday word used to describe a number of feelings including sadness, frustration and disappointment. However, in this article we are going to assume that the term DEPRESSION is referring to more than these everyday ‘down’ periods. We will assume that compared to regular low mood your depression is:
Have lasted longer
Have had more of a debilitating effect on day to day functioning.
Roots of Depression
When people experience low mood it is a natural reaction to wonder why this may be happening to them. Some people may think it is something they have done; others will think it is a biological problem and others may believe it is simply bad luck. It is actually fairly unlikely that depression is ever caused by one thing, but is normally a combination of biological and psychological factors, the exact combination, of course, varying from person to person.
There are many factors in play here, but factors that may affect depression include:
Brain Chemicals - Cells in the brain communicate using specific chemical systems. It is thought that during depression there is reduced activity in one or more of these systems resulting in symptoms of depression.
Hormones - Research has shown there are hormonal changes during depression. This can result in the over or under production of certain hormones, which can affect mood.
Genes - Depression often runs in families, suggesting a genetic link.
Once again there are a large number of possible psychological factors that may affect depression. These factors may include:
Loss - Sometimes people experience loss, be that loss of a person, loss of face, loss of an opportunity, loss of relationship. These loss experiences can lead to feelings of depression.
Stress - The accumulation of stressful experiences may contribute to depression. These experiences may include financial worries, difficulty in relationships or physical illness.
Sense of Failure - Many people can stake their happiness on the achievement of a specific goal, such as achieving exam results, earning a certain amount of money, or progressing a certain distance in their career. If for some reason they do not achieve this goal, they may believe they have failed in some way. This sense of failure can increase the likelihood of experiencing depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is made up of a number of different symptoms that can affect our emotions, our behaviour and also our physical state. You may find that you experience all or some of these symptoms. There are many individual differences as to the number and intensity of the symptoms experienced. The next section will give further details on symptoms of depression:
Mood - Depression is considered to principally affect mood. The level of depression determines the extent of the impact on mood. It can range from a feeling of gloom that may be lifted when positive events occur, to a constant low mood that does not seem to be lifted even when pleasant things happen. Low mood may fluctuate during the day depending on where you are, who you are with and what you are doing. It can be useful to start to get an idea of a pattern of your low mood, so you can begin to plan to try and intervene.
Thinking – If we are feeling depressed we tend to find ourselves thinking in certain ways. It is very common that when we feel depressed we may notice we are seeing things in a negative light. We may notice our self-esteem and self-confidence have taken a knock. We may find we are dwelling on how bad things feel, how the world feels like a terrible place, and how gloomy everything is. This style of thinking is a major component of depression and is an area we will be working on as the programme progresses.
Physical – Many people experience depression in a physical as well as emotional way. The physical symptoms can include:
Changing Sleep Patterns: Some people find it hard to get to sleep, others find themselves waking regularly during the night and some find they are sleeping much more than normal.
A Change in Appetite: Some find their appetite decreases and they lose weight, others experience the reverse.
Sexual Interest: People experiencing depression often find that their sexual interest decreases.
Energy Levels: It is quite common to experience a decline in energy and in motivation to do things when experiencing depression.
Interpersonal – The final symptom of depression we will discuss here is the interpersonal aspect. Many people who experience depression find that they are increasingly concerned about their personal relationships. They often feel dissatisfied with their family or others close to them. They may feel anxious when they are with other people, especially in a group. People experiencing depression can also feel lonely and isolated, but unable to reach out to those around them.
As was pointed out at the beginning of this article there is great individual difference in terms of symptoms between those who experience depression. The better we understand our own depression, the less alone we feel, and the more able we become to address it.