What is depression?

There are several criteria that psychiatrists use to make a diagnosis of depression. The most important are when some has depressed, sad, or low mood for the majority of each day and nearly every day of the week. A person with depression also has difficulty feeling joy. Things that used to bring them joy, for example hobbies, or even the small pleasures of every day life like conversations with friends, having a nice breakfast or lunch, no longer do it for them.

When this persists, and is accompanied by a number of other symptoms, for weeks at a time, and interfere with a person's normal daily functioning, we are likely to make a diagnosis of 'major depressive disorder.'

What needs to be made clear is that depression can be debilitating. It is hard to understand without having experienced it, and this is one of the reasons why people tend to keep it to themselves. Depression affects all realms of one's being, from their work life, social life, family life, and even spiritual life. It drains them, and can get to the point where all one sees is hopelessness. It is common for depression to lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.

What causes depression?

The simple answer is that there are numerous causes. We can break them down into two broad categories: genetic and environmental. Depression, like other psychiatric problems, commonly runs in families, but the majority of cases do not have a strong genetic component. As such, we tend to think of depression as being the consequence of vulnerability factors, like genetic predisposition, and precipitating factors, like stressful life events.

Neuropsychiatry involves the study of brain functioning as it relates to psychiatric disorders. Our view on things is a bit different from the field of psychiatry at large. We tend to see depression as being the consequence of abnormal brain functioning, which has been well documented in scientific studies in which functional brain imaging reveals abnormal brain functioning being alleviated by both biological and psychological therapies.

The question remains, what causes abnormal brain function? A plethora of causes have been found: dysfunctional neural circuitry, hormone imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, traumatic brain injury, stroke, stress response, medication side effect, psychological abnormalities, etc.

How do you treat depression?

Firstly, treatment is only effective if you have a proper evaluation which leads to a diagnosis. As there are numerous causes of depression, there are also numerous treatments. Without a thorough evaluation, depression tends to be reflexively treated with either antidepressants or psychotherapy. Although this can be effective in a large number of cases, it does not help everyone. It is necessary to address all of the factors that are contributing to the depression.