A Guide To Depression

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What Is Depression?

Depression is a fairly common mood disorder; you have probably met someone suffering from depression at some point in your life, or you might have even suffered from it yourself. But what is depression?

Many people use the term “depressed” lightly; but depression isn’t simply being sad or moody. In order to be diagnosed with depression, a person must display certain psychological and/or physical symptoms every day for a period of at least two weeks.

Some of these symptoms are:

  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration, impaired memory
  • Sleeping less or more than usual
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Thoughts about death or suicide; suicide attempts

Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe, with an array of clinical research trials being conducted to further understand the disease. It can also be related to medical disorders, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, cancer, or to other mental health conditions, such as anxiety. It can happen at any age, but usually starts in patients in their teen years, or early 20s and 30s.

What Causes Depression?

Scientists haven’t discovered what exactly causes depression. There are, however, many factors that play a role in its development. Some of them are:

  • Genetics
    Although depression isn’t a hereditary disease, the risk of suffering from it increases if there is a family history for the condition.
  • Biochemistry
    The disease might be caused or worsened by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain.
  • Comorbidities
    Suffering from other illnesses can trigger depression. Having another medical or psychiatric condition increases the possibility of suffering from depression.
  • Hormonal Changes
    For women, depression can be related to hormonal changes, especially after childbirth or during menopause.
  • Environment
    Being exposed to stressful situations, violence, major life events, amongst others, can trigger depression.

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How is Depression Diagnosed?

There isn’t a specific test meant to diagnose depression. Instead, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms to determine whether you are suffering from depression.

It is possible that your doctor will perform a physical examination and/or order laboratory tests, in order to rule out any other disease or condition which might cause depressive symptoms.

The evaluation must determine which depressive symptoms are present, when they started, a thorough personal and family history, along with any other factors which could contribute to the patient’s condition.

How is Depression Treated?

Patients with depression usually have a positive response to treatment. However, it is important to remember that not all patients react in the same way to the same treatments. Therefore, it is possible that you will need to try different alternatives before finding a treatment that works for you. Depression is usually treated with a combination of medications and therapy.

Antidepressants are meant to regulate the brain chemistry in order to relieve depression. Although some improvement might be seen after a couple of weeks into the treatment, their full effect isn’t usually apparent until 1-3 months taking the medication, and they are usually prescribed for at least 6 months.

Antidepressants include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, vortioxetine (approved in 2013) amongst others.
  • Serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): venlafaxine, duloxetine, levomilnacipran, levomilnacipram (approved in 2013), amongst others.
  • Serotonin-Dopamine Activity Modulators (SDAMs): brexpiprazole, aripiprazole.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): amitriptyline, clomipramine, doxepin, nortriptyline, amongst others.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): isocarboxazid, phenelzine, tranylcypromine, and selegiline amongst others.
  • Atypical antidepressants: mirtazapine, bupropion, trazodone, amongst others.

Use of Psychotherapy in Depression Treatment

Different types of psychotherapy, such as behavioral activation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, mindfulness based cognitive therapy, and problem solving therapy are used in conjunction with antidepressants to improve the efficacy of the treatment. It might be used alone to treat mild cases of depression. Therapy can be individual, or it can involve the patient’s partner, family, or other individuals.

Electroconvulsive therapy is another form of therapy, but it is usually reserved for severe depression where other therapies have failed, and the patient has a high risk of suicide. It has been shown to be very effective in these cases, and it produces improvement faster than other forms of treatment.

What Natural Treatments Exist for Depression?

Many depression sufferers have found benefits in using natural treatments. However, you should always discuss your intent to use them with your doctor before starting any treatment on your depression.

The following are some of the natural depression treatments:

  1. Exercise – regular exercise is one of the most effective depression treatments. Exercise can increase levels of endorphins and it helps improve depression symptoms such as decreased energy and interest, lethargy, impaired sleep patterns, appetite gain or loss, along with others. It is important that you start slowly when exercising and keep a regular schedule for at least 30 minutes per day (3-5 times per week). Depending on how you feel during this time frame, you might decide to increase the number of sessions throughout the week.
  2. Diet – studies have shown patients who follow depression diet plans have significantly fewer depression symptoms and they show more improvement in overall depression levels than those who do not follow diet plans. Clinical studies also show depression sufferers who eat foods higher in Omega-3 fatty acids have lower depression levels. Other healthy foods that are good depression diet options include: leafy green vegetables, berries, walnuts, and dark chocolate.
  3. Tryptophan – depression sufferers tend to have a reduced amount of this amino acid in the brain. Tryptophan is an important depression treatment as it carries essential building blocks for serotonin (the happy molecule). One depression treatment option includes eating more tryptophan-rich foods such as chicken and bananas. Supplements can also be taken under doctor supervision to help with depression relief.
  4. Certain Herbs – St John’s wort has long been used as a natural depression treatment as it is able to affect chemicals in the brain similar to antidepressants do. The University of Michigan depression study mentioned earlier, showed depression patients who used St John’s wort were less likely to relapse into depression after their depression treatment. Valerian root is another herb that is often used and studies have found it helps reduce depression symptoms in some depression sufferers.
  5. Thyroid Hormone – if you have a thyroid disorder, your doctor may prescribe you synthetic thyroid hormone for depression treatments. Some studies suggest patients with low levels of natural thyroid hormone are more prone to depression than those who do not have a deficiency. Clinical trials show some depression sufferers taking these supplements experienced major improvement in their depression symptoms as well as other systems throughout the body such as anxiety and sleep issues (Note: you should discuss with your doctor about depression treatments involving thyroid hormones as your depression symptoms can worsen if levels are not properly regulated).

What Research Currently Exists Around Depression?

There have been many depression clinical trials throughout the years and one of the most famous depression studies was conducted in 1964. It was known as the ‘Stanford depression experiment’, which showed some depression treatment options were more effective than others for depression relief.

Over the last 15 years, research into depression clinical trials and depression research has increased dramatically. Some researchers believe depression can be treated with depression prevention research while others believe depression can only be treated by depression treatment programs.

Depression prevention research focuses on depression symptoms and depression triggers to improve depression treatment. One depression study shows depression triggers may be more difficult for depression sufferers to avoid because of the low levels of serotonin (the happy molecule) in their brain. Depression prevention research involves depression testing which looks at genetics, imaging, cognitive tests and other factors that are believed to affect depression symptoms.

Why Are Further Depression Clinical Trials Important?

Depression clinical trials and depression research is necessary to determine depression treatment options. Depression clinical trials are important because depression is a common mental disorder that affects people of all ages.

Many depression sufferers will avoid depression treatment due to social stigma surrounding depression, which may lead to further depression symptoms and more serious depression complications in the future.

What Can I Expect from a Depression Clinical Trial?

Some depression clinical trials may require depression patients to meet depression screening criteria. Depression screening is a depression test that determines the likelihood of depression symptoms being present.

Depression clinical trials can be extremely beneficial for depression sufferers as they involve a combination of different depression treatments in one depression study, which may increase the possibility of finding an effective depression treatment. Depression clinical trials will also include some form of depression testing which depression researchers will use to monitor depression symptoms and depression triggers throughout the depression study.

Current Depression Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are a great way to help further research regarding depression, and also to get access to care from experts in the field.

Depression clinical trials are mostly carried out to determine the safety and efficacy of new medications and procedures, and they are led by a research team. A patient can obtain life-changing treatments through a clinical trial; however, it is important to note that if the patient wishes to leave the trial for any reason, they may do so at any point during the research.

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