Depression Causes, Risks, and What Not To Say To Someone Living With It

Causes and Risk Factors For Depression

  • Loneliness
  • Lack of social support
  • Recent stressful life experiences
  • Family history of depression
  • Marital or relationship problems
  • Financial strain
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Unemployment or underemployment
  • Health problems or chronic pain

Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are not always easy to make, but they can have a big impact on depression. Lifestyle changes that can be very effective include:

  • Cultivating supportive relationships
  • Getting regular exercise and sleep
  • Eating healthfully to naturally boost mood
  • Finding an enjoyable hobby
  • Managing stress
  • Practicing relaxation techniques
  • Challenging negative thought patterns

What are the types of depression?

Depression comes in many shapes and forms. The different types of depression have unique symptoms, causes, and effects. Knowing what type of depression you have can help you manage your symptoms and get the most effective treatment.

Major depression

Major depression is characterized by the inability to enjoy life and experience pleasure. The symptoms are constant, ranging from moderate to severe. Left untreated, major depression typically lasts for about six months. Some people experience just a single depressive episode in their lifetime, but more commonly, major depression is a recurring disorder. However, there are many things you can do to support your mood and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Dysthymia (recurrent, mild depression)

Dysthmia is a type of chronic “low-grade” depression. More days than not, you feel mildly or moderately depressed, although you may have brief periods of normal mood. The symptoms of dysthymia are not as strong as the symptoms of major depression, but they last a long time (at least two years). These chronic symptoms make it very difficult to live life to the fullest or to remember better times. Some people also experience major depressive episodes on top of dysthymia, a condition known as “double depression.” If you suffer from dysthymia, you may feel like you’ve always been depressed. Or you may think that your continuous low mood is “just the way you are.” However, dysthymia can be treated, even if your symptoms have gone unrecognized or untreated for years.

Bipolar Disorder: When Depression is Just One Side of the Coin

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is characterized by cycling mood changes. Episodes of depression alternate with manic episodes, which can include impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, rapid speech, and little to no sleep. Typically, the switch from one mood extreme to the other is gradual, with each manic or depressive episode lasting for at least several weeks. When depressed, a person with bipolar disorder exhibits the usual symptoms of major depression. However, the treatments for bipolar depression are very different. In fact, antidepressants can make bipolar depression worse.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): When winter brings the blues

While the onset of winter can cause many of us to experience a drop in mood, some people actually develop seasonal depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD can make you feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: hopeless, sad, tense, or stressed, with no interest in friends or activities you normally love. While a less common form of the disorder causes depression during the summer months, SAD usually begins in fall or winter when the days become shorter and remains until the brighter days of spring or early summer.

The cause of your depression helps determine the treatment

Understanding the underlying cause of your depression may help you overcome the problem. For example, if you are depressed because of a dead end job, the best treatment might be finding a more satisfying career, not taking an antidepressant. If you are new to an area and feeling lonely and sad, finding new friends at work or through a hobby will probably give you more of a mood boost than going to therapy. In such cases, the depression is remedied by changing the situation.

Ask for help and support

If even the thought of tackling your depression seems overwhelming, don’t panic. Feeling helpless and hopeless is a symptom of depression—not the reality of your situation. It does not mean that you’re weak or you can’t change! The key to depression recovery is to start small and ask for help. The simple act of talking to someone face to face about how you feel can be an enormous help. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to fix you; he or she just needs to be a good listener.

Having a strong support system will speed your recovery. Isolation fuels depression, so reach out to others, even if you feel like being alone or don’t want to feel like a burden to others. The truth is that most people will be happy that you chose to confide in them; they’ll be flattered that you trust them enough to open up. So, let your family and friends know what you’re going through and how they can support you.

Be concerned if your loved one…

  • Doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore.
  • Is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, critical, or moody.
  • Has lost interest in work, sex, hobbies, and other pleasurable activities.
  • Talks about feeling “helpless” or “hopeless.”
  • Expresses a bleak or negative outlook on life.
  • Frequently complains of aches and pains such as headaches, stomach problems, and back pain.
  • Complains of feeling tired and drained all the time.
  • Has withdrawn from friends, family, and other social activities.
  • Sleeps less than usual or oversleeps.
  • Eats more or less than usual, and has recently gained or lost weight.
  • Has become indecisive, forgetful, disorganized, and “out of it.”
  • Drinks more or abuses drugs, including prescription sleeping pills and painkillers.

If your friend or family member resists getting help for depression:

  • Suggest a general check-up with a physician. Your loved one may be less anxious about seeing a family doctor than a mental health professional. A regular doctor’s visit is actually a great option, since the doctor can rule out medical causes of depression. If the doctor diagnoses depression, he or she can refer your loved one to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Sometimes, this “professional” opinion makes all the difference.
  • Offer to help your depressed loved one find a doctor or therapist and go with them on the first visit. Finding the right treatment provider can be difficult, and is often a trial-and-error process. For a depressed person already low on energy, it is a huge help to have assistance making calls and looking into the options.
  • Encourage the person to make a thorough list of symptoms and ailments to discuss with the doctor. You can even bring up things that you have noticed as an outside observer, such as, “You seem to feel much worse in the mornings,” or “You always get stomach pains before work.”

The risk of suicide is real – What to do in a crisis situation

If you believe your loved one is at an immediate risk for suicide, do NOT leave the person alone.

In the U.S., dial 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

In other countries, call your country’s emergency services number or visit IASP to find a suicide prevention helpline.

It may be hard to believe that the person you know and love would ever consider something as drastic as suicide, but a depressed person may not see any other way out. Depression clouds judgment and distorts thinking, causing a normally rational person to believe that death is the only way to end the pain he or she is feeling.

When someone is depressed, suicide is a very real danger. It’s important to know the warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide, dying, or harming oneself
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or self-hate
  • Acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways
  • Getting affairs in order and saying goodbye
  • Seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects
  • Sudden sense of calm after a depression

If you think a friend or family member might be considering suicide, talk to him or her about your concerns as soon as possible. Many people feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic but it is one of the best things you can do for someone who is thinking about suicide. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a person’s life, so speak up if you’re concerned and seek professional help immediately!

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