Depression is the most prevalent mental disorder worldwide, and yet it is still widely misunderstood. Many people still mistakenly believe that Depression is little more than feeling sad and lacking motivation, but this could not be farther from the truth. Depression is a legitimate disorder that is detrimental to your quality of life, and whose effects can interfere with your hobbies, your work, and your relationships. Anyone who has struggled with the condition knows that it takes much more than a simple change of attitude to recover; treating Depression often requires the help of qualified physicians, medication, and therapy in order to be successful.
Understanding Depression is the first step in preventing and curing it. That being said, here are a few lesser-known facts about Depression that you may not have heard before.
1. Depression is experienced as anxiety at least 50% of the time.
Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand; the same chemical imbalances that cause someone to feel depressed can also trigger a general sense of unease and panic attacks. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), just about one-half of patients diagnosed with Depression are also diagnosed with chronic anxiety or anxious symptoms.
However, while these two conditions often present at the same time, it is important to bear in mind that Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder are two separate disorders. Both require a qualified physician or psychologist in order to make an official diagnosis.
2. Chronic pain can be a symptom of depression.
Many people who have been diagnosed with Depression often complain of unexplained muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches. This could be due to the fact that depressed people have lower levels of serotonin in their brains; serotonin is a feel-good chemical that creates feelings of happiness/ pleasure and blocks the perception of pain. The inability to produce an adequate amount of serotonin, or a decreased ability to absorb it, prevents the mind from blocking much of the everyday aches that we are normally able to ignore or suppress.
3. Though Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, the cause can be either biological or situational.
There is really no one cause for Depression, but there does seem to be a few triggers for it that are more common than others… namely, past abuse; certain pharmaceutical medications; prolonged conflict; death or loss; serious illness; major life changes; and even genetics.
There are some biological conditions that can make depression more likely in certain individuals, like possessing a smaller-than-average hippocampus (which stores the serotonin receptors of the brain) or producing an excess of the stress hormone cortisol.
Situational Depression is generally more common - and more short-lived – than Depression with a purely biological origin. Situational Depression can be triggered by essentially any major life change, whether it is negative (a death, losing a job, poor health, etc.) or a normally positive event (graduation, a new baby, marriage, etc.).
4. Women are more likely to become clinically depressed than men.
Perhaps due to differences in hormones, women are more than twice as likely to develop Depression than men. The ebb and flow of hormones like estrogen and progesterone during a woman’s monthly cycle is thought to interfere with her ability to absorb serotonin; this is one of the main causes of moodiness during PMS, but can evolve into Depression if it becomes severe enough. The hormonal changes that occur during and after pregnancy have also been known to cause severe Depression (this is sometimes referred to as the “Baby Blues.”).
5. You can be genetically predisposed to develop Depression.
Studies show that Depression has a heritability rate of about 40-50%, with the possibility climbing even higher for severe Depression. Scientists have used these statistics to theorize that roughly 50% of the cause for Depression is genetic, with the other half being environmental or situational. Your risk of inheriting a predisposition for Depression increase if your parents or grandparents have a history of recurrent Depression (depressive episodes that fade and return over time).
There is no one defective gene that causes Depression, like there is with Parkinson’s or cystic fibrosis. Rather it is likely a combination of genetic information that makes a person more prone to developing the disorder.
6. Depression can cause hallucinations.
Specifically, the tendency to hallucinate while depressed is referred to as Depressive Psychosis. An estimated 20% or so of people who have severe Depression are also diagnosed with psychotic symptoms.
Generally, a person with Depressive Psychosis will tend to hear, smell, or see things that aren’t really there. This is an especially dangerous form of Depression because it can more easily cause the patient to become suicidal, or to become paranoid and/or dangerous. Depressive Psychosis is a relatively rare condition, and usually requires hospitalization for successful treatment.
7. If you are a woman, having Depression may put you at increased risk for osteoporosis.
Scientists have found a direct, positive correlation between Depression and lowered bone density, especially in women. This may be due to hypercortisolism (the excess production of the stress hormone cortisol). The overabundance of cortisol in the body may cause lowered bone density over time.
8. You’re more likely to get a cold if you have Depression.
Depression has been shown to lower levels of cell immunity in patients, which means that your body becomes more prone to infections like the common cold. Compromised cell immunity is also a contributing factor in inflammation, and can cause increased joint pain, particularly in patients who also suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or similar conditions.
9. Eating seafood could help combat the effects of Depression.
Well, not just seafood specifically. Any food that is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids – seafood, chia seeds, soybeans, walnuts, etc. – can help diminish the negative effects of Depression. Scientists are still studying the specifics, but it is thought that Omega-3 acids help to reduce the inflammatory factors in the body that contribute to depressive symptoms.
10. You’re more likely to be depressed if you’re a creative type, or have a high IQ.
Some of the most famous minds in history have suffered from Depression: Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, and more. While the scientific community remains somewhat divided on the correlation between intelligence and a predisposition towards Depression, there have been studies that suggest that Depression is more frequently found in people with high intelligence- and in particular those with Type-A personalities.
It is clear that Depression is a multifaceted, complex disorder, and we are still a long way from completely understanding why it occurs, or how to prevent it. But no matter what, Depression is never something you should have to go through alone. If you believe you may have Depression or bipolar disorder (Manic-Depressive Disorder), notify your doctor right away so that you can get the help you need to start fighting back.