We all feel a little down or sad from time to time. But if these feelings persist and significantly affect your life, you may have depression. Depression is common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 8.1 percent of Americans aged 20 and over have recently suffered from it (x). It’s a serious medical disorder, and it can worsen without the right treatment.
Each of us experience depression differently. It can interfere with everyday work, lowering productivity. It can also affect relationships and worsen certain chronic disorders. There are various types, including major depression, unipolar depression, persistent depressive disorder and postpartum depression. If you suspect you have depression, talk to your doctor right away.
It’s normal to feel lonely and sad sometimes in response to life’s struggles. While depression has varied and complex features, it has common symptoms that help doctors make diagnoses.
Insomnia is a common sign of depression. In fact, clinical research has shown that about 75 percent of individuals with depression have it. In addition, excessive sleepiness (hypersomnia) affects 10 percent of older depressed patients and 40 percent of younger ones. Insomnia can cause great distress, which can hugely affect life quality — it’s also a leading contributing factor to suicide (x).
Individuals with depression often feel fatigued and unable to do mental or physical work. In fact, a clinical study comprising 2,000 depressed individuals found that 73 percent of them admitted they regularly felt exhausted (x).
Feelings of Hopelessness or Worthlessness
Research shows that susceptibility to depression often results from excessive self-blaming, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and decreased self-worth. A clinical study examining 132 individuals with severe depressive disorder found that feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy and depressed mood were the most common symptoms in over 90 percent of study participants (x).
Irritability or Restlessness
Clinical research on kids and teens with depression has shown that irritability is the most common symptom among them. Young, female and unemployed individuals with low qualities of life and income and suicidal tendencies are more likely to be irritable. Outbursts of anger and irritability are common in more than one-third of people suffering with major depressive disorder (x).
Loss of Interest in Activities or Hobbies
Individuals with depression usually no longer value hobbies and activities that once gave them pleasure. Moreover, they may have little to no desire for sexual activities or eating and may forgo social activities with their families, at work or in the community, preventing them from cultivating meaningful social connections (x).
Concentration is an arduous task in individuals with depression. Even simple things such as watching TV or reading newspapers may be difficult. And decision-making may seem impossible due to difficulty concentrating on decision choices.
Changes in Appetite
Individuals with depression may not feel hungry. It may also cause patients to overeat, often resulting in significant weight loss or gain.
Aches and Pains
Cramps, headaches, digestive problems and stomach upsets are commonplace symptoms in individuals with depression. Research suggests that, generally, the more severe the aches and pains a depressed individual has, the worse their depression is. Individuals living with chronic pain are also more likely to develop suicidal thoughts (x).
Research shows that depression and emotional stress may influence the onset of gastrointestinal disorders. A recent clinical study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility showed that depression and stress were likely to cause functional dyspepsia (pain in the abdomen and chest), reflux esophagitis and irritable bowel syndrome. The study also found that stomach ulcers, benign tumors and even stomach and colon cancers may have epidemiological connections to depression (x).
Studies indicate that 9 out of 10 individuals with depression have anxiety symptoms and that about half also show signs of anxiety disorders (x).
This is often an overlooked symptom of depression. Research has determined that low sex drives may contribute to worsening marital-interpersonal relationships, further worsening the condition. Individuals with depression most frequently report decreased libido. Delayed or absent orgasms and issues with arousal, which often lead to erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness, are also common.
In addition, research has shown that sexual dysfunction is a common side effect of taking antidepressants, contributing to untimely drug discontinuation (x).
Individuals who experience depression and anxiety at the same time are at a higher risk of having suicidal thoughts. Also, research shows that being male, losing a loved one, experiencing unpleasant life events and physical disease are risk factors, too (x).
There are several circumstantial and biological causes of depression:
Certain medical conditions contribute to the onset of depression. These include chronic illnesses, chronic pain, insomnia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
You’re at a greater risk of developing depression if it or other mood disorders run in your family.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse
You have a higher risk of depression if you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), around 30 percent of people with drug addictions also have depression (x).
Early Childhood Trauma
Stressful situations and fears from childhood may have long-lasting effects in adulthood. Childhood traumas can contribute to the onset of depression.
Dysfunctional Brain Activity
Individuals with indolent frontal lobes in their brains have an increased risk of depression.
Dealing with depression is difficult, but finding the correct treatment path can improve life quality. Talk to your doctor to determine the correct treatment path for you.
Your doctor can prescribe antianxiety, antidepressant or antipsychotic medications. However, each comes with both benefits and risks.
Exposure to white light can regulate mood and ease depression symptoms. Doctors commonly use light therapy to treat seasonal affective disorder (major depressive disorder that occurs seasonally).
Talking to a therapist may help you learn to cope with bad feelings. You can also benefit from group or family therapy sessions.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Though they can lift spirits for a little while, drugs and alcohol in the long term are likely to make anxiety and depression worse.
Exercise increases the production of endorphins in the brain, which can improve mood. Aim for a half hour of exercise three to five days per week.
Look After Yourself
You can alleviate depression symptoms looking after yourself. Make sure you get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet, participate in exciting activities and avoid negative people.
Sometimes medication doesn’t treat depression. Your doctor can recommend other treatment options for you if your symptoms don’t improve. Other treatment options include transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy (x).
Learn to Say No
Feeling overwhelmed may worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. To help you feel better, set boundaries between your personal and professional lives.
Spend Time Outdoors
Studies show that upping your vitamin D may alleviate symptoms. In fact, health-care practitioners first established the link between vitamin D deficiency (from lack of sunlight) and depression over 2,000 years ago. Be sure to spend 10 to 20 minutes sunbathing daily.
Get Support and Cultivate Positive Relationships
Since emotional problems are the chief culprit of depression, it can worsen due to lack of purpose, low self-confidence and lack of meaningful relationships. Find a strong circle of pals who encourage and support you, and strengthen your spirituality. Seek professional counseling so you can manage your stress and plan treatment options and objectives.
Supplements for Depression
Conventional depression treatments combine prescription medications and counseling. However, you can also try supplements to alleviate symptoms. Keep in mind that many of the following supplements have few studies behind them evaluating their efficacy as treatment options. Talk to your doctor before adding the following supplements to your treatment plan.
Adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola and ashwagandha help control stress hormone levels and relax the nervous system. Take 450 milligrams of ashwagandha extract one to three times daily, or as your doctor instructs. Rhodiola can also help alleviate depression by lowering cortisol and enhancing brain function.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a natural remedy that can help ease depression symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and loss of appetite. It also treats seasonal affective disorder and moodiness. Take 600 milligrams of St. John’s wort once or twice daily, or as your doctor instructs.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, essential for neurotransmitter function, a key factor for physiological and emotional balance. Take two capsules of fish oil up to three times daily.
B vitamins promote neurotransmitter function. Research has shown that patients with major depression often have low amounts of vitamin B12 and folate in their bodies (x). To increase your dietary intake of vitamin B12, take up to 200 milligrams of vitamin B12 1 percent (cyanocobalamin) powder once daily.
Some studies have shown that mugwort, a plant related to St. John’s wort, may help treat mild anxiety and depression (x).
The Bottom Line
Depression is a condition that affects mood. Feelings of anger, sadness or loss that interfere with day-to-day activities characterize it.
We all experience depression differently, and it can interfere with everyday work, resulting in lost time and decreased productivity. It may also impact relationships and certain long-term health conditions.
Conditions that depression worsens include arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. Doctors and clininal researchers don’t fully know what causes depression, but they do know that a complex mix of genetic, environmental, biological and psychosocial factors contribute to its onset.
Depression is more than simply a spell of the blues. But it’s not a weakness, and one can’t just quickly recover from it — it may require long-term treatment. Don’t get discouraged, though. Most patients can recover with medication, counseling, lifestyle changes and natural remedies.