Do you find yourself in a psychological black hole that you can’t seem to get out of? Has your outlook on life faded from vibrant color to black and white? Do you no longer enjoy activities that used to bring you pleasure? You may be suffering from depression.

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by a persistent low mood, lasting longer than two weeks and up to 6 – 8 months. We all experience mood fluctuations, even grieving after the loss of a loved one is not necessarily depression unless it persists for an abnormally long period of time.

For this condition to be diagnosed the person will experience at least five of the following symptoms for a period longer than two weeks:

  • Fatigue or loss of energy, feeling “slowed down”
  • A despondent mood most days, especially in the morning
  • Diminished concentration and indecisiveness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Significantly diminished interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • A sense of restlessness or irritability
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Marked weight gain or loss

Depression affects the way you feel about yourself and how you handle day to day activities. It’s important to remember that this is not a character flaw. It should be recognized as a debilitating mental illness, but one that can be treated successfully.

Types of depression

Major depression

Also known as unipolar or clinical depression. This can happen once or twice in a persons lifetime, or it can recur frequently. An episode of major depression can be debilitating, affecting every area of your life and sapping the joy out of every day. It can happen spontaneously or be triggered by a life altering event, such as bereavement, divorce or job loss.

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)

This condition continues for longer than two years. The symptoms are the same as in the case of major depression, the severity is just lessened.

Bipolar disorder

Previously known as manic depression, this condition is characterized by a cycle of mood shifts. These mood swings range from extreme highs (mania) or mild highs (hypomania) to extreme lows (depression), with short periods of normalcy in between.

Psychotic depression

Some patients display psychotic symptoms along with severe depression, such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. The delusions often have a “depressive” theme like poverty, illness or guilt.

Postpartum depression

Many mothers experience a period of “baby blues” after the birth of their child. This condition, however, lasts longer than two weeks after birth. Depression of this type can affect the way the mother cares for herself and/or her baby, the relationship she builds with her child and the child’s development.

Causes of depression

While it is almost impossible to pinpoint a single cause, it is more likely to be a combination of factors that include:

  • Genetics
  • Biological changes in neurotransmitter levels
  • Psychological and social/psychosocial aspects
  • Environmental influences

In addition, some people are more at risk of developing a depressive disorder. These risk factors include:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Personality – people who tend to worry a lot, suffer from anxiety, are perfectionists and self-critical are more likely to become depressed
  • Family history can also play a role. First degree relations of a depressed patient are more at risk
  • A serious medical condition can also bring on a bout of depression
  • Drug and alcohol abuse can both lead to and result from depression
  • A prior head injury can lead to depression
  • Major life events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or job loss can also trigger a depressive episode

Treatment for depression

There are many anti-depressant medications on the market (natural and pharmaceutical) that can aid in combating the symptoms. An alternative approach is behavioral therapy which is a very effective way of learning to overcome, cope with and avoid future incidents of depression.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) really stands out from other forms of psychotherapy. The patient is encouraged to practice “mindfulness meditation” which instills a focus on the present moment whether it is good or bad, without attempting to change it.

MBCT is helpful in teaching someone who is depressed to recognize the negative thoughts and feelings that may bring on a depressive episode in its initial stages. In this way the patient can get the help needed before the situation becomes unbearable.

Keep in mind that recovery will not be immediate; it takes time to diagnose and then overcome this condition. Surround yourself with people who support you, try to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and set realistic goals for your recovery and future endeavors.