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Depression – What Causes It and How to Treat It
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects your thoughts, feelings and actions. It is not a weakness or character flaw and it can be treated.
Almost everyone with depression gets better with treatment. In fact, it is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. If you’re depressed, get help as soon as possible.
Many different things can cause depression. They include a chemical imbalance in the brain, certain diseases, stress and other problems. Depression can also run in families. People with a family history of depression are three times more likely to develop the illness themselves. The condition can be triggered by major life events such as the death of a loved one, stressful work situations or a relationship breakup. Depression can also be triggered by medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic pain and some medications including the hormone estrogen and birth control pills.
Scientists don’t know what causes depression for sure. But they think that something goes wrong with the way your brain regulates moods and that this happens to all people to some extent. Researchers believe that the problem lies in areas of the brain that help regulate emotions, and they are studying genes and nerve cell connections to find out what causes these changes.
Most often, depression is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are what send messages from one nerve to another. When the levels of these chemicals become unbalanced, you may start to feel down and unable to enjoy your life. Depression can also be a result of certain medicines, such as anti-seizure drugs used to treat seizures and some blood pressure medications. It can also be a side effect of some cancer treatments and some heart medications.
Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can be a good treatment for depression. It helps you learn coping skills to manage your symptoms and prevent them from coming back. It can be done in groups, with a family member or a friend, or on your own. Three types of psychotherapy are available: cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy.
Antidepressants can help up to 70 per cent of people with depression. These are drugs that act on neurotransmitters, and they are usually started at a low dose to minimize side effects. If you don’t get relief with one type of medication, your doctor may suggest trying a second. People with depression can sometimes have a severe reaction to these drugs, called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms can include twitching, involuntary contractions, spasms and rigidity of muscles. These symptoms are usually not life-threatening, but you need immediate medical help if you have them.
Other treatment options include ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), which is a treatment for severe, life-threatening depression that doesn’t respond to other treatments. During ECT, a mild electrical current passes through your brain to trigger a brief seizure. It’s usually done in a hospital or clinic and is done under a general anesthetic.