Depression is common: Almost 16 million Americans, almost 7% of the population deal with it every year.
Depression is more than just feeling sad. It's a serious mental health condition that requires understanding, treatment and a good recovery plan. With early detection, diagnosis and a treatment plan and lifestyle choices, many people get better. But left untreated, depression can be devastating, both for the people who have it and for their families.
People of all ages and all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience depression, but it does affect some groups of people more than others. Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression, and young adults aged 18–25 are 60% more likely to have depression than people aged 50 or older.
Just like with any mental health condition, people with depression or who are going through a depressive episode experience symptoms differently. But for most people, depression changes how they function day-to-day. The major symptoms might include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain, which do not respond to routine treatment
Depression does not have a single cause. It can be triggered, or it may occur spontaneously without being associated with a life crisis, physical illness or other risk. Several factors might contribute to cause depression:
- Trauma - When people experience trauma at an early age, it can cause long-term changes in how their brains respond to fear and stress. These brain changes may explain why people who have a history of childhood trauma are more likely to experience depression.
- Life circumstances. Marital status, financial standing and where a person lives have an effect on whether a person develops depression.
- Certain medications. Some drugs, such as isotretinoin (used to treat acne), the antiviral drug interferon-alpha, and chantix, can increase your risk of depression.
- Genetics - Mood disorders and risk of suicide tend to run in families, but genetic inheritance is only one factor.
- Serious illnesses - Sometimes depression co-exists with a major illness or may be triggered by another medical condition.
- Drug and alcohol abuse - Approximately 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have depression.
A growing number of people are seeking alternatives to antidepressant medications. Acupuncture become a promising option. Studies and clinical practice found acupuncture to be as effective as antidepressants, and a different study found that acupuncture may help treat the medications' side effects as well.
In acupuncture, a practitioner inserts needles into the skin at points of the body thought to correspond with specific organs. Western research suggests the needles may activate natural painkillers in the brain; in traditional Chinese medicine, the process is believed to improve functioning by correcting energy blocks or imbalances in the organs.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that electroacupuncture, in which a mild electric current is transmitted through the needles, was just as effective as fluoxetine (the generic name of Prozac) in reducing symptoms of depression. For six weeks, patients underwent either electroacupuncture five times weekly or a standard daily dose of fluoxetine. The researchers, the majority of whom specialize in traditional Chinese medicine, assessed participants' symptoms every two weeks and tracked their levels of glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), a neuroprotective protein. Previous studies have found lower amounts of GDNF among patients with major depressive disorder, and in other research levels of the protein rose after treatment with antidepressant medication.
A study at Havard Medical School shows 45% mentioned side effects of conventional medicines, and 43% said conventional medicines were ineffective. Seventeen percent said they could not afford conventional treatment. Sixty-five percent preferred a natural approach, 59% said that use of alternative remedies was consistent with their beliefs.
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