More than a set system of symptoms, depression is a complex illness that can be debilitating and difficult to live with. Cases of depression range from a marked decrease in mood and an inability to feel pleasure or enjoyment, to crippling depressive thoughts that leave individuals unmotivated, making it difficult or even impossible to function on a regular, daily basis.
Despite a rather clear diagnostic definition, the exact causes for depression are not yet properly identified. However, research has given us a more concrete idea of what factors affect a person’s mood over the years. Depression is hereditary to a degree, in the sense that there is some form of genetic predisposition towards a mood disorder if a substantial family history of mental illness exists, particularly other mood disorders.
Stress and circumstances that are likely to affect a person’s stress levels are also a risk factor, including socioeconomic problems, repressed childhood trauma, discrimination at school or at the workplace, physical or emotional violence, and more. However, these factors do not explicitly cause depression. It seems that depressive disorders stem from abnormalities in the way the brain processes neurotransmitters, or from issues stemming in the endocrine system.
The ways in which a case of depression can alter someone’s life are serious and varied. Rather than focusing on a single set of symptoms, we will describe the various ways in which depression can affect the mind by going through them symptom for symptom.
One of the first and potentially more frustrating symptoms surrounding depression is the growing loss of interest in virtually anything. A person with depression will either unhealthily fixate on a single thing as a form of unconscious or intended self-medication, or they withdraw completely from most tasks and find themselves spending prolonged periods of time in bed, or in their rooms. A person with depression is likely to stop indulging in many activities they used to enjoy, while avoiding new activities.
Losing interest is not necessarily the same as no longer perceiving pleasure. Someone with depression may still cheer up at a joke now and again or find it in themselves to appreciate something, but they will struggle to truly get back into hobbies and activities that they used to be passionate about.
One of the most pervasive and damaging aspects of depression is the toxic mindset it breeds. While not completely understood yet, the general understanding is that part of the low mood felt during depression includes intrusive thoughts of excessive and defeating pessimism. Feelings of hopelessness and shame are common among people with depression. Alongside feelings such as “things will never get better” and “today is the worst”, self-criticism is also common, through thoughts like “I’m not actually depressed, I’m just using it as an excuse” and “I am pathetic”.
Negative thinking is very difficult to overcome, because it is not intentional and spawns as a result of what is ultimately a neurological issue. However, excess stress and a negative environment can greatly increase the strength and frequency of negative thoughts. For patients on medication or other treatments to relieve symptoms, combating negative thinking with affirmations, positive thinking, and dissociative exercises through cognitive behavioral therapy is a big part of the treatment process.
Also known as the absence of pleasure, anhedonia is one of the potential symptoms of depression, causing a person to be completely robbed of the ability to feel happy. Anhedonia may be related to problems in the brain’s serotonergic and/or dopaminergic pathways and can sometimes be treated through medication. Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s can also cause anhedonia.
Struggling with Function
Depression is not just an illness beset by symptoms related to a lack of joy and prolonged negativity – it is also a disorder characterized by procrastination, plummeting productivity, cognitive problems, slowed thinking/reflexes, and a series of issues related to performance and intelligence as a result of the damaging effects of a constantly low mood, and the issues related to the potential causes for depression.
For a variety of reasons, a person with a depressive disorder may struggle to function at work or may not be able to work at all during very strong episodes. Even though depression can be treated and managed, many fear that their diagnosis will cost them the chance to build a career, or even graduate school. Indeed, many do struggle to maintain employment or secure a higher position due to the stigma attached to depression. However, with the right support, a person with depression can adapt and be a valuable member of the workforce, in whatever industry they choose to excel in.
Depression Can Be Treated
Our understanding of depression has been expanded upon in recent decades, ever since we first began to form a concrete idea of how depressive disorders distinguish themselves from normal cases of grief or sadness, or issues related to prolonged grief and mental anguish caused directly by a traumatic experience (PTSD).
In general, a depression is a continuously low mood experienced for at least two weeks. But it’s far more complex than that. Depressive disorders can stem from a lack of sunlight and abundant holiday stress, as well as work-related issues such as crunch and extreme overtime. They can also come from physical issues, such as hormone changes during pregnancy and menstruation, as well as endocrinological problems caused by tumors, hypothyroidism, and more. Depression can be chronic or short lived, it can be severe or subtle, and it can cause disability or go almost unnoticed by friends and family for years in the form of functioning depression.
Because of the variety of ways in which depression can manifest, going over every single treatment option here is difficult. However, modern psychiatry is continuously looking into ways to bring relief to patients with depression and give them the toolkit needed to adapt to their diagnosis and lead a fulfilling and happy life. Treatment for depression often centers around reducing immediate depressive symptoms through medication and neuro modulation (such as transcranial magnetic stimulation), and helping patients adapt to their depressive thoughts through talk therapy, as well as a variety of other applicable techniques, including physical therapy, changes in diet, art and music therapy, and more.