Depression is a potentially life-threatening mood disorder that affects 1 in 5 persons in the United States, or approximately 17.6 million Americans each year. Major depression is the No.1 psychological disorder in the western world and is growing in all age groups, especially teens and in virtually every community. Depressed patients are more likely to develop many secondary diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Over the next 20 years, depression is projected to be the 2nd leading cause of disability worldwide and the leading cause of disability in high-income nations, including the United States.
The current economic cost of depressive illness is estimated to be $30-44 billion annually in the United States alone. Real but non-economic, human cost includes pain and suffering that interfere with individual functioning, effects on those who care about the depressed person and the destruction of family relationships or work dynamics.
As many as 2/3rds of people with depression do not realize that they have a treatable illness and do not seek treatment. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65
- Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
- Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Reduced sex drive
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive disorders
- Agitation or restlessness
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration
- Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself when things aren’t going right
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Depression symptoms in children and teens
In younger children, symptoms of depression may include:
Symptoms in adolescents and teens may include:
- Avoidance of social interaction
- Changes in thinking and sleep
Schoolwork may suffer in children of any age who are depressed. In children and teens, depression often occurs along with behavior problems and other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or ADHD.
Depression symptoms in older adults
Depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated within older populations because symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex, may seem to be caused by other illnesses. They may feel dissatisfied with life in general, bored, helpless or worthless. They may always want to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things. Many adults with depression feel reluctant to seek help when they’re feeling down.
Some Research has shown a connection between cardiovascular disease, most specifically, arteriosclerosis, and depression for older adults. Untreated depression can lead to other mental and physical health problems or problems in other areas of your life. Feelings of depression can also lead to suicide. Older adult men are at the highest risk of suicide.
If you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, get help right away.
Contact a family member or friend.
Seek help from your doctor, a mental health provider or other health care professional.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to talk to a trained counselor.
Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
Causes and Factors Involved Vary by Individual
- Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains.
- Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals, linked to mood and thought to play a direct role in depression.
- Hormone imbalance may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result from thyroid problems, menopause or other conditions.
- Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose biological family members also have this condition.
- Life events such as the death or loss of a loved one, financial problems, and high stress, can trigger depression in some people.
- Early childhood trauma such as abuse or loss of a parent may cause permanent changes in the brain that make you more susceptible to depression.
- Nutritional Deficiencies, Poor Diet, Overconsumption of Sugar
- Hyperstimulated Immune System or Thyroid Disorders
- Lack of Exercise
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during winter months where days are shorter and darker
Other factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering depression include:
- Being a woman
- Having family members or friends who have been depressed
- Having few friends or other personal relationships
- Recently having given birth (postpartum depression)
- Having been depressed previously
- Having a serious illness, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or HIV/AIDS
- Having certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem and being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
- Abusing alcohol, nicotine or illicit drugs
- Taking certain high blood pressure medications, sleeping pills or certain other medications
Lifestyle and home remedies
- Stick to your treatment plan. Don’t skip psychotherapy sessions or medications even if you’re feeling well.
- Learn about depression. Education about your condition can empower you and motivate you to stick to your treatment plan.
- Pay attention to warning signs. Learn what might trigger your depression symptoms. Make a plan so that you know what to do if your symptoms get worse. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in symptoms or how you feel. Ask family members or friends to help watch for warning signs.
- Get exercise. Physical activity reduces depression symptoms. Get involved with physical activities you enjoy.
- Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs which generally worsen symptoms and make depression harder to treat.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Herbal remedies and supplements
- 5-HTP, or 5 Hydroxytryptophan, increases serotonin production
- St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is an herb that acts much like MAO (monoamine oxidase). Though not approved by the FDA to treat depression in the United States, it’s a popular treatment in Europe for mild or moderate depression. CAUTION: it can interfere with other depression medicines, as well as some drugs used to treat people with heart disease, seizures, cancer and organ transplant.
- SAMe, a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body, is short for S-adenosylmethionine.
- Essential fatty acids may help ease depression, especially when used in addition to standard depression treatments. These healthy fats are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts and other foods.
- L-Tyrosine boosts adrenaline & dopamine production to reduce stress.
- L-Taurine, an antioxidant for immunological and neurological function.
- B complex, especially folic acid, supports healthy brain and nervous function.
- DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
Coping and support
Simplify your life. Cut back on obligations when possible, and set reasonable goals for yourself. Give yourself permission to do less when you feel down.
Journaling can improve mood by allowing you to express pain, anger, fear or other emotions.
Read reputable self-help books and websites. Your doctor or therapist may be able to recommend books to read.
Join a support group. Connecting with others facing similar challenges can help you cope.
Don’t become isolated. Participate in social activities, and get together with family or friends regularly.
Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
Learn ways to relax and manage your stress. Deep breathe. Pray. Meditate. Stretch. Get a massage. Listen to calming music.
Structure your time. Plan your day and activities. You may find it helpful to make a list of daily tasks, use sticky notes as reminders or use a planner to stay organized.
Don’t make important decisions when you’re down. Avoid decision making when you’re feeling very depressed, since you may not be thinking clearly.
Prevention: There is no sure way to prevent depression, but the following tips may help.
- Control stress.
- Increase your resilience.
- Boost low self-esteem.
- Maintain friendships and social support.
- Seek treatment at the earliest sign of a problem.
- Continue long-term maintenance treatment.
- Get a hair analysis to check for heavy metal intoxication.
- Get tested for food allergies or underactive thyroid.
- Try light therapy using a “Happy Light” box.
Dietary recommendations to consider:
- Consume complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
- Consume turkey and salmon (rich sources of tryptophan and protein).
- Omit wheat products (wheat gluten may be connected to some depressive disorders).
- Avoid Diet sodas, phenylalanine and all forms of aspartame (Nutrasweet) which may possibly block the formation of serotonin and cause other physiological problems.
- Avoid all forms of sugar, which lead to a roller coaster of blood sugar and emotions.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and processed foods.
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis Balch