The term "depression" is often misused to describe temporary feelings of sadness, demoralization and melancholy. We all, at one point or another, talk about feeling depressed, but there is a distinct difference to be made between "feeling blue", "down" or sad and depression.

In addition to being an illness that affects one's way of thinking and behaving, depression causes a wide range of emotional and physical problems. The symptoms of depression can affect daily tasks. Even the simplest tasks can appear daunting and impossible to carry out. However, with the proper diagnosis and treatment, depression can be overcome.

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. These numbers however, may not be altogether representative since women are more prone to seeking help which could, in part, explain the disparity.

Causes

Depression is caused by a combination of biochemical, genetic and environmental factors. It is in no way a sign of weakness.

Depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain involving neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for behaviour, thought and emotion. This type of imbalance can lead to distorted thinking and a skewed view of reality akin to wearing blacked-out glasses that cannot be removed.

Those with a family history of depression are more likely to suffer from depression. Unhealthy lifestyle habits or life events can trigger factors that may lead to depression. Alcohol and drug abuse can also predispose one to depression.

Symptoms

The symptoms of depression can vary from person to person and are not necessarily easy to identify.

  • anxiety
  • persistent self-defeating attitude
  • difficulty concentrating, making decisions
  • fatigue, weakness
  • irritability
  • withdrawal
  • headache
  • change in appetite or weight
  • suicidal thoughts
  • loss of interest in daily activities
  • loss of sexual desire
  • crying easily, for no reason
  • disturbed sleep patterns (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • sadness, hopelessness, despair

If you experience a marked change in mood or a noticeable loss of interest or enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities or if you have had a few of these symptoms for more than two weeks, we strongly encourage you to speak to your doctor, to a health care professional (pharmacist, nurse) or to a loved one. Talking to someone is the first step to getting help. The longer you wait before being diagnosed, the longer treatment will take. It is therefore recommended that you seek professional help as soon as possible.

Treatment

The most effective treatment for depression is a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Antidepressants, which are prescribed by your physician, will correct the chemical imbalance in your brain. It usually takes about one week before the medication begins to take effect and may take up to a few weeks before its full effect is felt. Not all antidepressants are made the same and some may not have any effect on you. Nevertheless, there are numerous treatment options and your physician will find the drug that is best suited to your needs. Treatment can last anywhere from 6 months to over a year, depending on the severity of the depression. In an effort to prevent a relapse, it is strongly recommended that you speak to your doctor before stopping treatment. Antidepressants should be gradually discontinued according to a plan devised by your physician.

For its part, psychotherapy is used to identify the event or habits at the source of the depression. You can then modify habits and resolve underlying problems in order to start afresh.

Depression and suicide

If you suffer from depression, you may have suicidal thoughts. When left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. Over the last 50 years, suicide rates among those aged 15 to 24 years have increased dramatically. In most cases, there was a connection between depression and suicide. It is extremely important that you speak to someone if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

For more information or support:

Canadian Mental Health Association
www.cmha.ca

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