What is Depression?

On the 10th of October 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrated World Mental Health Day 2017. Did you know that more than 300 million individuals globally suffer from depression? It is also the leading cause of disability at the workplace. This article aims to raise mental health awareness, and more crucially – dispel certain myths surrounding depression which can lead to misdiagnosis, mistreatment and misinformation.

What is Depression?

Depression by itself, encompasses a variety of Depressive Disorders. These include but are not limited to Major Depressive Disorder, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder,  Persistent Depressive Disorder among others.

What distinguishes one diagnosis from another, is typically a set of criteria laid out by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) which is a peer-reviewed and institutionalised set of guidelines used by Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists around the world.

In this article, we will be focusing on Major Depressive Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder can be defined as a low mood associated with a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than 2 weeks. Typically, a person with depression will have at least 5 of the following 9 symptoms:
  1. Change in sleep
  2. Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities
  3. Guilt or a low sense of worth
  4. Loss of energy
  5. Diminished concentration
  6. Change in level of activity
  7. Low Mood or increased Irritability
  8. Suicidal thoughts or plan
  9. Significant weight gain/loss (5% of body weight) or change in appetite

What causes Depression?
The most accepted theory is that depression is caused by a deficiency in certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters like serotonin can be thought of as chemical postmen, which enable messages to be transmitted within and from the brain. Decreased serotonin levels and its by-products are found in depressed individuals. It is also accepted that psychological and social factors also play a part in the cause of depression.

Who is at risk for Depression?
The lifetime prevalence of depression is about 16%. The average age of onset is usually at about 40 years old, and is twice as prevalent in women as men during their reproductive years. The prevalence is much higher in the elderly.

Individuals who abuse substances such as drugs, alcohol and certain medications are at a higher risk of depression. Certain medical illnesses (e.g. thyroid Diseases) can cause depression. Depression is also seen in conjunction with other mental disorders such as bipolar Disease or schizophrenia.
What is the difference between feeling Sadness and feeling Depressed?
Like happiness, surprise and shock, sadness exists on the normal spectrum of human emotions. It is typically precipitated by trying times or hurtful situations.

Depression on the other hand, is an abnormal emotional state. It is not an emotion per se. It is a mental illness that can incapacitate an individual’s cognitive and emotional capacity.

Is Depression treatable?
Absolutely! In our next article in this series, we will explore the various ways in which depression can be treated.

Dr. Joel Arun

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