Depression

Depression is more than just the occasional blues. This often-misunderstood disease is very real and affects 1 out of 5 people. Learn how depression affects your daily life and mental and physical health and what to do about it.

What is depression?

Most people feel depressed at one point in their lives. Often, depression is a reaction to a particular life event, such as a death, separation, or job loss. This state is usually temporary, and things generally go back to normal after a while. When a feeling of depression lasts over 2 weeks and detracts from your quality of life, you may have depression. A doctor or psychologist will confirm the diagnosis.

Depression is not a mental weakness. Depression is a real illness caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters as well as by a combination of genetic, psychological and social factors. About 1 out of 5 people will get depression at some point in their lives. This makes it the most widespread mental illness in the world. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.

Depression symptoms

Depression can take different forms, and symptoms may vary from person to person depending on age, sex, personality, cultural context, and other factors. Here are some possible symptoms of depression:

Mood swings

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability, impulsivity
  • Isolation
  • Sadness, frequent crying 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Feelings of guilt or self-criticism
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
  • Preoccupations with death or suicide

Physical symptoms

  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Non-specific problems, such as headaches, nausea, constipation or pain
  • Decreased libido

If you have some of these symptoms for at least 2 weeks, consult your doctor or a psychologist.

Chronic pain and depression

For many people, chronic pain and depression go hand in hand. Pain can be a symptom of depression, and conversely, depression can also increase the perception of pain. This makes it difficult to distinguish between the cause and the effect.

Studies have shown a major correlation between traumatic experiences and pain problems. Using imaging techniques, researchers have discovered that physical pain and psychological pain activate the same areas of the brain. Some antidepressants are also effective at treating certain types of chronic pain, even in people who don’t have any depressive symptoms.

Good habits to help with depression

We all have our tricks for improving a bad mood when things get tough, such as going for a walk, doing a hobby, playing a sport, or visiting friends or family. These positive activities are important and shouldn’t be neglected. Here are some other good habits that will help you prevent or overcome depression:

  • Get regular physical activity. Exercise triggers the brain to produce chemicals (endorphins and serotonin) that have a positive effect on mood and energy levels.
  •  Eat a balanced diet and eat plenty of foods that are rich in omega-3 fats, such as flax seeds, walnuts and fatty fish (e.g., salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel and sardines).
  • Get outside for some fresh air. Sunlight has a positive influence on mood and can reduce the symptoms of seasonal depression.
  • Have an active social life.
  • Avoid abusing alcohol and drugs, which act as depressants for the brain.

Have good sleep habits, and sleep at least 7 to 8 hours a night. A good night’s sleep increases energy levels.

Depression treatment

The two main treatments for depression are psychotherapy and medication. In most cases, a combination of both is very effective and beneficial.

Psychotherapy

While you can choose from many types of psychotherapy, what’s important is finding a therapy that you feel comfortable with and working with a therapist you trust. For mild to moderate depression, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is generally considered the best choice. The goal of CBT is to change how you interact with the world by teaching you new skills or by helping you to rethink how you interpret events and respond to them. If your depression doesn’t respond to CBT, medication may then be added to your treatment.

Depression medication

Depression medications are called antidepressants. They act by restoring the balance between multiple chemicals in the brain. There are many antidepressants, and each one has different properties.

It can take up to a few weeks after you start taking antidepressants to feel an effect. These medications are usually taken for a period of over 6 months, and up to several years in some cases. You need to keep taking the medication even if you feel better, as stopping suddenly can make your depression come back if the treatment period hasn't been long enough. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before making any changes to your drug regimen.

Depression is not a sign of weakness…

…And you aren’t weak because you’re taking antidepressants. Like any other disease, depression must be properly treated. However, antidepressants are not “miracle pills” that solve every problem. Working on yourself through psychotherapy is also an important part of treatment. People with depression also need to understand the cause of their depressive episode, such as work, their personal lives, a major life event, or something else.

Natural health products: Watch out!

Some natural health products can help relieve the symptoms of depression. However, natural products can cause side effects and interact with other medications. You need to be careful before taking a natural health product, and it is highly recommended that you talk to your pharmacist before doing so.

How to help someone with depression

People with depression tend to isolate themselves and become withdrawn. You need to encourage someone with depression to get help, particularly if they have thoughts about suicide. Don’t give up on them. You can be there to listen and refer them to a health care professional. Support from loved ones is essential.

If you have questions or concerns about depression or how to treat it, don’t hesitate to consult your pharmacist or doctor.

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