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Understanding Depression

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/16/2011

Most people are familiar with the sad, down feelings that accompany depression. In fact most people will suffer from depression at some stage of life. It may be fleeting or it may develop into a major problem. Read on for answers to the question of ‘what is depression?’

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    What Causes Depression

    Depression has a number of causes, and circumstances that do not affect one person may cause major depression in another. Here are some of the more common triggers:

    • The death of a loved one can cause an extended period of depression. This may stretch into years as the person learns to adapt to life without their spouse, child or close friend.
    • Job loss is connected to self worth and the ability to survive and can cause depression. This may be exacerbated by failed attempts to find a new job.
    • The end of a relationship can cause depression. This applies in romantic situations, marriage and may also affect parents when a child moves out or gets married.
    • Ongoing social problems such as rejection and bullying can result in a period of depression. While these problems are typically associated with school-age children, they are also found in adults and in the work place.
    • Most people have times in life where they undergo a test of their ability or worth. If they are found lacking, this can cause a period of depression.
    • Health problems and physical conditions such as the diagnosis of a terminal disease can cause depression.
    • Biological differences in some people’s make up can predispose them to depression. There is also evidence that it may run in families. Hormonal imbalances can result in depression and so can problems with neurotransmitters in the brain that are linked to mood.
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    What are the Symptoms of Depression

    The core symptoms of depression are persistent feelings of sadness and unhappiness and a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. At least one of these must be present for a diagnosis to be made. According to how severe the depression is, several other symptoms will also be present. The number and intensity of these will point to whether the depression is mild or severe. The symptoms include the following:

    • Change in eating habits – eating more or less than usual
    • Change in sleeping patterns – either sleeping more than usual or suffering from insomnia
    • Loss of interest in sex
    • Avoiding contact with other people
    • Less efficient and capable at performing routine tasks
    • Tiredness and fatigue that make small tasks seem insurmountable
    • Low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness and guilt
    • Problems with concentration
    • Difficulty in making decisions
    • Crying spells
    • Suicidal thoughts
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    How Does Depression Affect a Person’s Life

    Depression can have an overwhelming affect on a person’s life. Because it changes the way they feel and their ability to function, it can lead to a number of other problems that include the following:

    • There may be a tendency to turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better. These will only make the situation worse.
    • If the depression is not treated, problems may arise at school and work as the person becomes unmotivated and struggles to concentrate. Grades and performance levels may slump to below acceptable standards.
    • A depressed person is not pleasant company and may become isolated if they refuse to socialize with others.
    • Relational problems often arise between husband and wife or parents and children if one of them is depressed.
    • A depressed person may reach the place where they attempt suicide. This can be devastating for loved ones and also for the person if they fail. In this case, medical help needs to be sought immediately.

    When asking ‘what is depression’, it is important to understand the causes and effects as this can help with finding the best treatment in each situation. Recognizing the symptoms is an important step towards recovery and in some cases, family members may need to insist their loved one seeks professional help.

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    References

    Taming the Black Dog, Bev Aisbett, HarperCollins Publishers, 2000

    Mayo Clinic - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175/DSECTION=symptoms