We’re all guilty of saying “I’m depressed” when we feel miserable, but feeling down for weeks or months on end means depression has turned into an illness. Depression causes a host of psychological and physical symptoms that can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
Depression Affects the Body and Mind
Depression causes physical symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, insomnia, loss of sex drive, and aching all over.
Mental illness caused by depression includes cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, low self-esteem, irritability, and anxiety.
These symptoms can range from mild to so severe that you feel hopeless. If you’re feeling that way, it’s important to speak to your doctor.
Our Brain and Memory Functions Are Damaged by Depression
Depression has a significant effect on your brain and memory. These effects are collectively called “cognitive dysfunction.”
Cognitive dysfunction means your brain is not working as well as it could. People living with cognitive dysfunction say it feels like they’re lost in the fog; they forget things frequently and feel confused.
How Does Depression Cause Memory Loss?
Scientists think there’s a link between depression and memory loss because several studies have found that people with depression are less able to take in new information.
For example, studies on people with depression indicate that depressed individuals struggle to match objects on a screen with ones they had previously seen.
Scientists think this is happening because the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with emotions and memory, shrinks.
MRI scans show reduced brain activity in the hippocampus, but it’s not known exactly why depression causes this reaction. Researchers suggest that floods of cortisol upset hormone balances, cause biochemical changes, and interrupt neurotransmitters.
And don’t forget that depression often means a lack of quality sleep. Memory loss and the ability to think coherently are made even worse through tiredness.
The Main Causes of Depression
Depression can be caused by a host of reasons, but they don’t show up in a blood sample or x-ray.
Here are some of the reasons depression can take hold.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress is part of life, but overwhelming stress is harmful because it raises cortisol levels. Cortisol manages our fight-or-flight adrenaline response, and when it’s consistently raised, you’ll feel anxious and worried all the time.
Disruption of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine can change our appetites, motivation, and our moods, which can lead to depression.
Long-term illness can lead to changes in brain chemistry.
Feeling down, anxious, or in pain for a long period of time is associated with depression. Stroke survivors and patients with cancer, arthritis, or thyroid problems are some of the groups more likely to develop depression as a result of their illnesses.
People with a neurological illness like Parkinson’s disease or MS are more likely to be depressed, too.
Poor Lifestyle Habits
People who don’t get enough sleep, eat a poor diet, and consume too much alcohol are associated with a raised risk of depression. Depression also causes these lifestyle habits, so it’s a vicious cycle.
Past History of Trauma
Experiencing traumatic events can lead to depression—trauma can be anything from bereavement to a car crash. Any event that affects your mental health can lead to depression.
If a close family member experiences depression, it’s more likely you will too. That’s because to a certain extent, genes determine your hormone levels.
Bipolar disorder creates alternating bouts of depression and manic moods.
During a manic phase, people may carry out unsafe activities such as gambling or speeding, but in the depression phase, they feel unable to leave the house.
After giving birth, some women are at risk of developing postnatal depression, also known as the baby blues.
This often comes down to fluctuating hormones, but for some women, the feelings don’t subside.
How To Fight Depression
Unfortunately, clinical depression can be dismissed as a trivial illness, with friends and relatives telling sufferers to “get out more” or to “pull themselves together.”
This attitude doesn’t help and can cause more problems.
Depression is treated according to its severity in three different ways.
1. Natural Methods
These include getting regular exercise to boost endorphins—or mindfulness, which involves concentrating on the present moment to alleviate stress and anxiety.
St. John’s Wort is an herbal remedy that may help lift depression, but be careful if you take the contraceptive pill, as St. John’s Wort can prevent it from working properly.
L-theanine, found in green tea, may also have anti-depression benefits. Researchers believe it helps blocks the neurotransmitters that stimulate stress.
Others find that essential oils help them relax and reduce the stress that contributes to depression.
2. Talking Therapies
Talking therapies are often called psychotherapy. They aim to uncover reasons for depression and understand why people feel as they do.
Here are the three main psychotherapies used to treat depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – which attempts to change behavior patterns.
Psychodynamic Therapy – which is carried out by a psychologist. Psychologists listen to whatever is on your mind to find out why you are depressed and how behavior is contributing to it.
Counseling – which aims to help you think about your problems and find solutions.
3. Medication for Depression
Medication is used to treat moderate to severe depression usually when natural methods and talking therapies haven’t worked out.
Antidepressant medication changes brain chemicals by boosting “feel-good” serotonin to improve your outlook. These drugs can have side effects but aren’t addictive.
Medication is usually prescribed alongside natural methods and talking therapies to get the best results.
Depression Is A Serious Illness
Depression can have an extreme effect on physical and mental health—and a downward spiral of psychological problems can be difficult to stop, particularly if you’re already experiencing cognitive dysfunction and memory problems.
If you’re feeling depressed, there are lots of treatments that can help. Speak to your doctor to begin getting your life back on track.