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Depression, Major Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder "SAD"

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Major Depression

  • “The blues just keep chasing me., no matter what I do.” When feelings of sadness won’t leave within a couple of days, and when sadness, hopelessness, and despair interfere with your daily life and causes pain for both you and the people who care about you, we call it depression. The impact on lives is staggering. The impact on relationships is staggering. And the statistics are staggering. One out of four women and one out of five men are suffering from depression and treating it with pharmaceutical drugs. (Drugs that were shown in reviews of the research in 2008 to be no more effective than placebos to try to treat depression.) 1 in 4 are made worse by their anti-depressants, according to Irving Kirsh, author of a 2008 meta-analysis in PLoS Medicine  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2253608/?tool=pubmed) Another significant number of people—an estimated additional 25%-- are suffering in silence, or trying to cope without medical intervention by using physical exercise and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy.

Depression is sometimes called the “common cold” of mental health, but unlike the common cold, it can be lethal, as the risk of suicide for those suffering is real. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),

About 10% of the population suffers a depressive illness in any given year.

It’s the leading cause of disability in both the US and the WHO, costing billions of dollars a year.

Brain-imaging technologies such as MRI, have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those without it, but those images do not reveal the cause. Depression can occur in people without family histories of depression; while some types tend to run in families. Trauma, such as loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, job, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. And some depressive episodes occur without an obvious trigger.

Nutritional imbalances have been shown to cause psychiatric disturbances. Pellagra, for instance, is a disorder caused by a niacin (Vitamin B-3) deficiency that results in a skin rash as well as mental symptoms like irrational anger, feelings of persecution, mania, and dementia---all of which disappear when the patient receives enough vitamin B-3. Research begun in the 1950’s shows that high dose niacin supplementation reversed 80% of 3,000 schizophrenia cases.

Symptoms of Major Depression

  • Despair and hopelessness
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Low motivation, hard to complete simple tasks
  • Low self esteem and self-confidence
  • Aches or pains; headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease, even with treatment
  • Feeling tired and run down, low energy levels
  • Insomnia, early –morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Loss of appetite or it’s opposite—feeling insatiable
  • Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, including sex
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide
  • Symptoms last longer than two months
  • Depression in Women
  • Women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression., treated or untreated. Fluctuating hormone levels impact women’s moods. Women’s bodies (and therefore brains) have extra nutritional burdens as minerals are lost during monthly menstrual cycles, months of pregnancy and years of breastfeeding. Women are particularly vulnerable to depression following childbirth, a condition called postpartum depression.
    Women who suffer from major depression have a higher risk of attempting suicide then men.
  • Depression in Men
  • Men are less likely to seek treatment for depression than women and are more likely to use alcohol, drugs, and pornography to self-medicate, alter their state or mask and avoid painful feelings by burying themselves in tasks. While men are less likely than women to attempt suicide, men are more successful, and the suicide rate among men increases with age, peaking at age 85.
  • While women are more apt to withdraw and weep, depression in men is usually manifested in the form of irritability, anger outbursts, and sinking feelings of discouragement and low self-worth. Some resort to risk taking activities to try to escape depression, giving rise to the “midlife crisis” that is associated more with men than women.
  • Depression at any Age and the Role of Trauma
  • Depression can strike at any age. It can be difficult to detect in children, as it can manifest differently in young people than in adults. Children are being increasingly diagnosed.
  • The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reporting that about 5% of adolescents are suffering enough persistent depression to interfere with their ability to function. These figures come from monitoring children who are brought in to see a medical doctor, yet 30% of teens themselves report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. It is vital to address depression in teens because depressed teens have higher rates of other problems such as anxiety, drug use, aggressive behavior, sexual promiscuity, and suicidal behavior. Rates of serious chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, are higher among individuals with symptoms of depression.
  • Children under stress, who experience loss, are especially vulnerable. Children of divorce, children with a chronic illness, and children who experience trauma or abuse are especially at risk. In addition to the symptoms listed above under “Depression” in adults, warning signs in a child may include:
  • Persistent boredom, low energy
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Trouble causing behavior at home or school
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Poor concentration
  • Things that once were fun now bring little joy
  • A child who used to play often with friends now spends most of the time alone
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Low self esteem and guilt
  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying, and hopelessness
  • A major change in eating and or sleeping patterns
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide, or self destructive behavior
  • The onset has historically been in the early twenties to the mid-forties, but puberty is a vulnerable time for children as the brain begins a secondary “rewiring” then and adolescents are engulfed in cascades of hormones.
  • One fourth of the 7th grade boys in California were reported as suffering from depression.
  • A NIMH funded study showed that almost half (40%) of those who experienced a traumatic, terrifying event or ordeal that resulted in PTSD also had depression four months later.
  • Anxiety disorders, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder often accompany depression

Serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, Parkinson’s, and HIV co-exist with depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “SAD”

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a distinct form of depression triggered by the reduced level of sunlight during winter months. As it’s name implies, depression is experienced seasonally when the light levels diminish, and it clears up with the onset of spring. The higher the elevation and latitude, the greater the prevalence. SAD is rare within 30 degrees of the equator.

Women are diagnosed with SAD three to four times more frequently as men. The disorder can occur at any age but is most commonly seen in young adults and less commonly seen in the elderly. Among the elderly when it occurs it affects both men and women equally.