Guest Author - Maria Hester, M.D.
Depression is a major public health concern in America and abroad. While once thought by many to be a simple mood issue that people could just "snap out of," more recent evidence shows that while there are times when a person is melancholy about life's events, in many cases the root of their mood goes much deeper.
Millions of people suffer from depression. Economically speaking, the consequences of depression have been estimated at over 11 billion euros in the UK and 83 billion dollars in America each year.
Put in these terms, it is easy to see how extensive and potentially disabling this condition can be. The toll depression takes on those who suffer from it can be nothing short of overwhelming.
Most episodes of depression resolve completely, either spontaneously or with the assistance of medication. Episodes typically last somewhere between a few months and a year. However, in some cases, the depression lasts even longer.
There are a variety of issues one should consider when it comes to things that sustain depression. This article will look at a few of them.
1. Life circumstances can change from one end of the spectrum to the other. Naturally, a person who feels depressed solely on the basis of a transient life event, such as the loss of the job, should experience a significant improvement in mood once a new and rewarding job is found.
2. On the other hand, scientific studies have shown that in some individuals, there is a genetic basis for their depression. Genetic factors are more significant in women than in men. While these individuals can still be treated, in some cases the treatment is more difficult.
3. Scientists in the field of neurobiology have found that the brains of some people with depression are functionally and structurally different from the brains of those who do not suffer from depression.
a. Many have focused their attention on the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine since perturbations in these neurotransmitter pathways are believed to be a significant contributor to depression in some individuals.
b. Some with depression have an altered hormonal pathway in an important feedback loop called the HPA-axis.
c. Brain imaging has shown a different volume of brain tissue in some with depression, though this test is not sensitive enough to be of significant diagnostic value.
d. Altered circacian rhythms have also been associated with depression.
While the above examples are the basis of much scientific research, having a predisposing genetic background or altered neurobiology does not mean one cannot be successfully treated for depression. Depression is often multifactorial and sometimes refractory to treatment, yet in the vast majority of cases, treatment for depression can restore a once healthy, vibrant life back to its baseline.