Depression – Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

(Major depressive affective disorder, unipolar disorder, unipolar mood disorder)

What is Depression

Depression is a mental illness marked by feelings of deep sadness and lack of interest in activities. Depression is not the same as sadness. It is a persistently depressing mood that affects the ability to function and appreciate the aspects of life. It can cause a wide variety of symptoms, both physical and emotional. It can last for weeks, months or years. People with depression rarely recover without treatment.

Causes of Depression

While the exact cause is unknown, factors that can play a role in depression include:

  1. Have a family history of depression (genetic link).
  2. Have a certain type of brain chemistry.
  3. Experiencing stressful or traumatic events (eg, death in the family, divorce, loss of work).

Risk factors of Depression

There are a variety of factors that can increase the risk of depression. Examples include:

  • Sex: female
  • Previous episodes of depression
  • Hormonal changes
  • Chronic conditions (eg, hypothyroidism, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, chronic pain, stroke, Parkinson's disease)
  • Other conditions related to mental health (eg, anxiety, drug abuse, insomnia, personality disorder)

Emotional or social factors, such as:

  • Little social support or lack of this
  • A pattern of negative thoughts and beliefs
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of personal control over the circumstances
  • Feeling of impotence

Symptoms of Depression

Depression can vary from one person to another. Some people have only a few symptoms, while others have many.

Symptoms can change over time and include:

  • Constant feelings of sadness, anxiety or emptiness
  • Despair
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and incapacity
  • Lack of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Fatigue
  • Problems concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Problems sleeping, getting up early or sleeping too much
  • Eat more or less than usual
  • Weight loss or overweight
  • Think about death or suicide (may include suicide attempts)
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Physical symptoms that challenge conventional diagnoses and do not respond to clinical treatments

Diagnosis of Depression

There are no blood tests or diagnostic tests for the detection of depression. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and will pay special attention to:

Specific mental health exams can be performed. This will help you get detailed information about speech, thoughts, memory and mood. A physical exam and other tests that can help rule out other causes.

Treatment of Depression

Treatment may include the use of medication or psychotherapy.

Severe depression may require hospital care, especially if you are at risk of hurting others or yourself.

Antidepressant medications

They can be more effective in people with severe depression. These medications can take two to six weeks to achieve maximum effectiveness. There are many different types of medications to treat depression. You will work with the doctor to find the medicine that benefits you the most and has the least side effects.

Therapy for Depression

Psychotherapy for depression consists of various types of counseling. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy or a combination of these. The therapy is intended to help you deal with difficulties in relationships, to change negative thinking and behavior patterns, and to resolve difficult feelings.

Diet and physical exercise for Depression

Changes in diet

Research studies suggest that diets high in tryptophan, certain B vitamins may be beneficial. There is also mixed evidence related to the possibility that omega 3 fatty acids reduce symptoms.

If you want to take supplements or change your diet, contact your doctor first.

Food supplements and herbal treatment

St. John's Wort can be an effective alternative to standard medications with fewer side effects. However, St. John's wort may reduce the effectiveness of many drugs, such as antidepressants, birth control pills, blood thinners and other medications. It is important that you talk to your doctor before trying any herb.

There is also some evidence that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone available as a dietary supplement, may help some people.


It was shown that a regular exercise program alleviates some of the symptoms. It plays an important role in the general treatment of depression.


Electroconvulsive therapy (TEC)

ECT is the use of an electrical stimulus to produce a generalized seizure. It can be used in patients with severe or life-threatening depression. ECT is also used in people who can not take or who do not respond to medications. It is considered a safe and effective procedure.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)

VNS is used as a treatment for depression when multiple drug tests have been performed and do not work. A device similar to a pacemaker stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (EMT)

EMT involves the application of low frequency magnetic pulses in the brain. The change in the electric field stimulates the nerves. There are a number of studies that show the benefits of EMT for the treatment of depression. It can be used if it has not improved with medications and psychotherapy.

Other treatment options 


Your doctor may recommend therapy with bright light. This treatment is done by exposure to high levels of light coming from a special “light box” that has a screen.

Meditation for Depression

Meditation can help improve the symptoms of depression.

Prevention of Depression

The strategies to reduce the chances of becoming depressed are:

  1. Be aware of your personal risks.
  2. Submit to a psychiatric evaluation and go to psychotherapy if required
  3. Receive social support
  4. Learn techniques for stress management
  5. Exercise regularly
  6. Do not abuse alcohol or drugs
  7. Sleep, rest and have fun
  8. Eat healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

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