Depression: the reasons for its emergence and the actions that can be taken to address it

We all go through phases of unhappiness or sadness at various points in our lives. However, when one experiences prolonged and inexplicable sadness, it may be a sign of depression.

Depression involves a disruption in the brain’s metabolic processes, leading to imbalances in neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline, resulting in an emotional imbalance.


Differentiating between burnout and depression

Burnout is often described as depressive moods accompanied by severe exhaustion symptoms. The term “burnout” lacks a precise definition, which can be confusing.

Various psychological symptoms, each requiring different therapeutic approaches, fall under the umbrella of burnout. This term is used to describe a condition resulting from being overwhelmed, avoiding the negative stigma associated with mental health issues. However, attributing depression solely to stress is overly simplistic.

Depression can affect anyone

It is estimated that around five per cent of the global population experiences depressive episodes that necessitate treatment, with many cases likely going unreported.

In severe cases, depression can significantly impact one’s quality of life, rendering individuals unable to work. Both men and women, as well as children and adolescents, can be affected.

Depression symptoms vary, including an inability to experience happiness, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, lack of motivation, panic attacks, and emotional numbness.

While core symptoms are similar among affected individuals, gender-specific differences exist. Men tend to exhibit self-directed anger and suicidal tendencies, while women tend to internalise their feelings with rumination and anxiety. Depression in children often manifests as listlessness, irritability, eating disorders, and self-soothing behaviours like thumb-sucking.

Diagnosing depression

Depression presents with diverse and nonspecific symptoms, making it often diagnosed through a process of exclusion. An accurate diagnosis requires ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as cardiovascular diseases, thyroid disorders, or pancreatic diseases that affect hormonal balance.

In the past, various depression forms were categorised based on their origins. Depression caused by metabolic brain disturbances was termed endogenous or internal depression, while external factors were attributed to neurotic or reactive depression. Specific terms like bipolar disorder, describing mood swings between highs and lows, and conditions like seasonal, age-related, or pregnancy-related depression were also used.

Contemporary understanding suggests that depression arises from a complex interplay of internal and external factors, and diagnostic practices now focus on describing symptoms using standardised criteria and assessing their severity.

Researchers are exploring genetic predispositions to depression through resilience research, which investigates why some individuals are more resistant to highly stressful life events than others. These findings may pave the way for targeted depression therapies.

Neurobiological and sociocultural influences

Neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline play a critical role in nerve signal transmission. Depression disrupts brain metabolism, altering neurotransmitter levels and affecting mood, among other symptoms.

The human psyche is a multifaceted construct influenced by various external factors. Theories suggest that specific fundamental psychological needs, such as social connections, security, and life purpose, must be met for mental well-being. When these needs go unfulfilled for extended periods or suddenly, it can lead to an imbalance in the psyche, potentially triggering depression.

Therapeutic approaches for depression

Depression is typically treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Antidepressants, often serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are commonly prescribed to address hormonal imbalances. Psychotherapy allows tailored approaches to address individual patient needs, ranging from talk therapy to cognitive behavioural therapy.

Natural supplements for mood enhancement

Natural substances like 5-HTP, tryptophan, and omega-3 fatty acids have shown promise in elevating mood by increasing serotonin levels. However, these supplements should only be used in consultation with a healthcare professional and in conjunction with standard therapy.

Preventing depression

While not all external and internal factors contributing to depression are controllable, individuals can take steps to prevent it within their means. Managing stress, maintaining a healthy work-life balance, nurturing relationships, practising a balanced diet, regular exercise, and establishing a consistent sleep schedule can significantly contribute to mental well-being.

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