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How Happy People Can Still Get Depression

How Happy People Can Still Get Depression

The Mayo Clinic defines depression as a mood disorder that is characterized by persistent sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Also known as clinical depression, this disorder can lead to changes in how a person thinks, feels and acts and can also cause physical problems. Clinical depression can be brought on by hormonal changes, trauma, dramatic changes in life circumstances, or even by genetics. Depression is one of the leading causes of drug and alcohol addiction, although it is sometimes difficult to know whether the depression caused the addiction or vice versa. Even the happiest of people can suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression can help you or a loved one get the right kind of treatment.

The Science Behind Depression

For many years, the cause of depression has been generalized as an imbalance of brain chemicals. While that may be partly true, there are so many brain chemicals at work all the time, finding the ones that are imbalanced and changing them can be challenging. Brain chemicals and their levels vary greatly from person to person, so treatment that works well for one person may not for another. New research suggests that depression may have more to do with the functioning of nerve cells in the brain than an actual imbalance of certain brain chemicals. The Harvard Medical School suggests that examining nerve connections, nerve cell growth and nerve circuit functions in the brain may actually be a better determiner of depression than other methods of diagnosis.

New diagnostic tools make looking at the brain and how it functions easier than ever before. PET scans and SPECT scans can map brain activity by measuring the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. MRI scans can track changes in how the brain responds during different tasks. The Harvard Medical School goes on to say that this technology has helped the medical community better understand how different areas of the brain and brain functions, such as the memory, are affected by depression. These diagnostic tools make it easier for doctors to diagnose and treat depression in appropriate ways.

Signs of Clinical Depression

Even happy people sometimes become depressed. Because the signs of clinical depression can vary from person to person, knowing the difference between occasional sadness and true depression is important. There are, however, some general characteristics that can let you know if someone you love needs help. The National Institutes of Health lists the following as signs of clinical depression:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once found pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness in the United States. Almost 7 percent of adults suffer from some form of depression each year. Women are at a 70 percent greater risk of developing depression than men. The average age of a first episode of depression is 32 years. However, depression is on the rise in young people ages 12 to 18.

Treatment for Depression

Treatment for depression, as for other forms of mental illness, begins with an appropriate diagnosis. Scheduling a visit to your primary care physician is a good place to begin. Your doctor can rule out any physical problems that may be causing or contributing to your symptoms. He or she may even prescribe a mild antidepressant to help you during the diagnosing process. Your doctor can then refer you to the right mental health specialist for further testing. Once a diagnosis is reached, your mental health specialist may prescribe newer types of antidepressants that work primarily to balance brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Your mental health specialist may also recommend psychotherapy to help you deal with your symptoms in healthy ways. Depression is a leading cause of drug and alcohol addiction, so learning to cope with depression and understanding the importance of taking your medication is vital to treatment success.

Treatment for depression can be completed on an outpatient basis for many people. For others whose symptoms are more severe, or for those who are at risk of suicide, inpatient treatment is the best choice.

Finding Help for Depression and Addiction

Undiagnosed and untreated depression can lead to addiction. Getting the right help at the right time can save your life. If you or a loved one struggles with depression, we are here to help you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.