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Depression – What is it and How Can it Be Treated?
Depression is a common mental health problem that affects about 21 million Americans. It is often thought of as a “chemical imbalance” that can be treated with antidepressants or therapy. While that may be true in some cases, the condition is more complex than that.
Major depressive disorder is a serious medical illness that affects your mood, thinking and behavior. It causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness, decreased interest in activities and a poorer quality of life.
The best way to find out if you or someone you care about is suffering from depression is to talk with your doctor. They can assess your symptoms, rule out other conditions and help you develop a treatment plan.
Understanding what happens inside your brain and what triggers your depression can help you and your doctor figure out the best way to treat it.
There is a strong link between depression and several chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS. Many of these conditions cause changes in the brain and hormones that affect mood and lead to depression.
Stress, especially in late life, is also linked to depression. Seniors tend to deal with a lot of changes, such as the loss of loved ones or major health problems, and can feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. They can have trouble sleeping, feeling irritable or having trouble making decisions.
Your age, gender and family history can also increase your risk of developing depression. Depression is more common in people who have blood relatives with the condition, such as those with a parent or sibling who had depression. Inherited traits, such as low self-esteem and a tendency to be impulsive, may also put you at higher risk for depression.
Symptoms of depression vary by individual, but common ones include sadness or irritability, fatigue or a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, weight gain or loss, and changes in appetite. It can also lead to thoughts of hurting yourself, or thoughts that you’re worthless or are a burden to others.
Treatment is available for depression, and most people with the condition get better with medications, counseling and lifestyle changes. However, about 30% of people do not respond to treatment or suffer poor outcomes.
Group therapy is another important component of the treatment process. This involves talking with a therapist and peers who are going through similar issues, which can provide support and encouragement.
Other treatments may be used along with drugs or counseling, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). These therapies use a coil to send pulses through your head that stimulate nerve cells in the area of your brain responsible for regulating your mood.
Medications to treat depression typically work by increasing the production of neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that control emotions. The medications may also improve the exchange of information between nerve circuits in your brain, a process called neurogenesis.
When these medications fail, you may be given other types of medicine, such as antidepressants and MAOIs, to try to boost your mood. You may need to take them for a long time before they start to work, so you’ll need to see your doctor regularly.