Author: Luke Sholl
Affecting over 250 million people worldwide, depression is a severe mental disorder that can make even the simplest daily tasks feel impossible. To find out what causes depression, common symptoms, and how to treat it, keep reading.
Medical professionals describe a general case of depression as prolonged feelings of loss, anger or sadness. While it isn't unusual to experience these feelings from time to time, when a low mood begins to impact everyday tasks or feelings persist for more than two weeks, it could be the beginning of depression.
The mood disorder affects millions of people (children included), with depression more common amongst women than men. Symptoms also vary, with no two cases of depression exactly the same. You may experience symptoms acutely or suffer from the condition for several years.
The positive news is there are several ways to manage depression. However, to find the most effective treatment, first, you need to understand the different types of depression, their causes, and their symptoms.
DEFINITION:Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.
Depression's symptoms vary from one person to the next—no two cases are the same. There are also differences between symptoms in men, women and children, but across all people affected, most instances of depression fall under the following types:
Major depression is intense feelings of worry, distress, a lack of energy, loss of motivation, or thoughts of suicide (usually lasting for two weeks or longer). Major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression and won't go away without treatment or therapy.
Symptoms of persistent depressive disorder (PDD) appear milder, but the difference to major depression is their chronic nature. While other types of depression may vary in intensity, PDD is persistent feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem and a lack of motivation. Most cases are only diagnosed after at least two years of symptoms.
With seasonal affective disorder, it's the seasons that influence feelings of worry, anger, and sadness. While SAD usually goes away in the summer months, it's during winter—the short days and lack of sunlight—that symptoms get worse.
Bipolar disorder or manic depression is a significant swing in moods from high to low. Most treatment of bipolar disorder involves medication, with the hopes of evening out the mood swings. While it is possible to feel great during an up phase, it's during the down stages of bipolar disorder that symptoms similar to major depression appear.
As is the case with any condition impacting our psychological well-being, depression can manifest from various causes. Factors that can increase the chance of depression include the following:
• Genes: Researchers believe that a family history of depression can increase the risk rate, although they haven't identified a specific gene mutation yet.
• Life events: Death or loss of a loved one often leads to intense feelings of sadness that may develop into depression.
• Gender: Although the reason remains unclear, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. It may be the result of different hormone levels and life experiences.
• Medication: Certain prescription medications (corticosteroids) can trigger instances of depression.
• Age: Depression is more likely the older you are, probably due to differences in living circumstances (lack of company or physical inability).
• Trauma or abuse: It's common for depression to occur after cases of trauma or abuse. Depressive symptoms don't always appear immediately after the event and can take years to manifest fully.
• Substance abuse: Depression as a result of substance abuse is widespread. As many as 30% of all drug or alcohol addicts suffer from major depression.
Although the range, severity, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the type of depression, there are several common symptoms. These include:
• Lack of motivation
• Persistent worry or sadness
• Increased irritability
• Thoughts of suicide
• Restless and insomnia
• Reduced sexual desire
• Impaired cognitive ability
• Unexplained mood swings
In most diagnoses of depression, patients exhibit several symptoms rather than one or two. And, in severe cases, depression can start to affect the body physically, not just mentally, causing:
• Low pain tolerance
• Aching muscles
• Problems with vision.
There may be a crossover between symptoms of depression and anxiety, but the two are distinctly different conditions, each with its own causes and treatments.
The simplest explanation is that depression is a single illness with a range of symptoms. On the other hand, anxiety is more nuanced and often used to describe a state of mind or several anxiety disorders. However, it's estimated that up to half of people with depression also have anxiety and vice versa.
Both depression and anxiety can severely impact quality of life if left untreated, so it's vital you speak to a medical professional if you're experiencing symptoms of either condition. Although feelings are overwhelming at times, there are dozens of coping techniques and treatment programmes to try.
Serotonin is a prominent neurochemical that underpins dozens of biological processes, including acting as a mood stabiliser. Keeping serotonin levels balanced via diet and a healthy lifestyle can help you feel happy, calm, and focused, while low levels have the opposite effect. But, you also don't want too much serotonin, as a build-up can lead to serotonin syndrome.
However, despite serotonin's role in mood, we don't know much about the neurochemical's influence on depression or how manipulating serotonin levels could treat or manage different mood disorders. Some animal studies suggest greater serotonin levels could reduce or treat depression, but more research is needed.
Dealing with depression is a daily battle, but the good news is dozens of coping techniques exist. Of course, the most effective choice will vary according to your circumstances, but it's essential to try a variety until you find what works for you.
It may sound cliché, but a problem shared is a problem halved, especially for mood disorders like depression. Building a network of people you can talk to helps keep feelings of worry and loneliness at bay. It doesn't have to be a trained professional either, so don't be afraid to reach out to friends, family or other people living with depression for support.
Depression makes even the smallest daily tasks seem overwhelming. However, rather than shy away, one of the most effective strategies is facing these tasks head-on. Making lists, putting key dates in a calendar, completing tasks in bite size chunks—all these techniques can help reduce the impact of depression.
Stress is a known contributor to symptoms of depression because of the impact it has on cortisol production. In the short term, cortisol can help your body deal with the psychological impact of stress, but over time, a build-up can eventually lead to depression.
Reducing stress levels is paramount to both the prevention and management of depression, so make sure you take time to find stress reduction techniques that work for you.
Sleep is fundamental to physical and mental recovery, giving our body time it needs to process the day's events. Therefore, the focus should be on restful sleep, making sure you turn off electrical devices, use dim lighting, and make the bedroom a work-free zone. Once you've gotten into good habits, you can increase or decrease the amount of sleep accordingly.
Food is fuel for our biological engine, but your engine won't last very long if you consume artificial or processed foods. A balanced, healthy diet gives your body the resources it needs to deal with depression's mental and physical symptoms. It won't be enough to tackle the condition on its own, but it will significantly improve your ability to cope.
Coping mechanisms alone may not treat depression, so it's essential you use the methods listed above alongside medically approved treatment programmes.
The standard treatment for depression is antidepressants. The most effective type of medication varies on a case-by-case basis, but it's important to remember that antidepressants alone may not alleviate symptoms.
Light therapy is most effective for people living with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Periods of white light can help keep symptoms at bay during the winter months when natural light is lacking.
A frequent option for depression is therapy, usually in conjunction with other treatment options. Because depression can occur from emotional trauma, having a trained professional to talk to helps patients work through the source of their worry and sadness. A therapist may use several techniques to address depression as every case is unique.
Often, treating depression comes down to minor changes in lifestyle. To begin with, doctors may recommend adjustments to daily life, including; drinking less alcohol, getting regular exercise, practising mindfulness, supplementation, and learning to balance work and social life.
Treating depression can involve supplements, to help add missing elements to the body. This could be vitamins and minerals lacking in your habitual diet, but it could also include natural supplements such as St. John's wort, omega-3 fatty acids, and CBD.
CBD, or as it's technically known, cannabidiol, comes from industrial hemp. After careful extraction, manufacturers add the compound to various oils, capsules, edibles, vape juices and cosmetics. But, what makes CBD interesting, especially for someone living with depression, is its potential impact on the mind and body.
The organic substance can influence receptors spread all over the human body. Researchers don't know the full extent of this interaction yet, but early studies suggest CBD could impact parts of the brain linked to mood and our pleasure response.
Research into the impact of CBD on depression is still in preclinical or animal testing phases. Still, early indications suggest that the compound could prove impactful for depression because it may help modulate the body's serotonin response. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the potential use cases for CBD and depression.
A clinical study found CBD may affect "anxiety-like behaviour" because of its modulation of serotonin receptors. Evidence suggests that low serotonin may contribute to the onset of depression, so managing this internal process is an avenue researchers are keen to explore. The exact mechanism of action remains under investigation, but in an animal model, regular administration of CBD helped balance serotonin levels, reducing anxiety associated with chronic pain.
There's also a handful of human studies which appear to support the potential of CBD. An experiment mimicking anxiety induced by public speaking found that, again, regular CBD consumption affected symptoms in patients. While both this study and the one highlighted above focus on anxiety and not depression per se, the underlying biological responses are very similar. Given the overlap in symptoms, it's likely CBD could apply to both anxiety and depression, but more research is needed.
One of the most significant benefits of CBD for depression is not its mood balancing influence, but its lack of noticeable side effects. While antidepressants remain one of the most popular treatment methods, they are not without a wide range of unwanted side effects. On the other hand, CBD won't get you high, appears to have minor side effects (if at all), and according to the World Health Organisation, "is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile".
The most important side effect of CBD to be aware of is its drug-drug interaction. Some evidence suggests CBD can upset the balance of prescription medications like antidepressants. So, if you're currently taking or plan to take any medication for depression, it's highly recommended you consult with a doctor or physician to understand the implications.
When it comes to taking CBD for depression, there isn't a right or wrong approach. CBD comes in various formats, and it's up to you to decide how to fit the compound into your daily routine.
CBD oil provides lasting relief if consumed orally, while CBD capsules are convenient for taking at work or while socialising. You could even try a combination of the two to provide a lasting effect. In fact, the only application of CBD to avoid would be topical. This is because CBD absorbed through the skin won't influence internal systems as it doesn't enter the bloodstream.
Once you've figured out how to add CBD to your daily routine, the next consideration is dose. Again, there isn't a definitive dose for depression because everyone's symptoms and circumstances are different. In most cases, it's best to start low and slow, taking a few drops of CBD oil 1-2 times a day.
After several weeks of the same dose, you can try higher concentrations or increase the frequency accordingly. It's important you learn how CBD makes you feel before trying stronger products. Still, if you need advice on where to start, the Cibdol Dosage Calculator provides a starting dose and a suitable product based on a few key lifestyle questions.
Regardless of how you choose to address depression, know that you aren't alone. Millions live with the condition every day, which means no shortage of people who can help you process feelings and understand what you're going through. And, if you do decide to try CBD, it could prove a valuable support alongside the various coping and treatment methods available.