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Conditions and symptoms of depression

Depression: Main Image

About This Condition

Depression is a condition characterized by unhappy, hopeless feelings. It can be a response to stressful events, hormonal imbalances, biochemical abnormalities, or other causes.

Mild depression that passes quickly may not require any diagnosis or treatment. However, when depression becomes recurrent, constant, or severe, it should be diagnosed by a licensed counselor, psychologist, social worker, or doctor. Diagnosis may be crucial for determining appropriate treatment. For example, depression caused by low thyroid function can be successfully treated with prescription thyroid medication. Suicidal depression often requires prescription antidepressants. Persistent mild to moderate depression triggered by stressful events is often best treated with counseling and not necessarily with medications.

When depression is not a function of external events, it is called endogenous. Endogenous depression can be due to biochemical abnormalities. Lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and herbs may be used with people whose depression results from a variety of causes, but these natural interventions are usually best geared to endogenous depression.

Symptoms

A diagnosis of depression requires at least five of the following symptoms.

  • Depressed mood.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities, most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss or gain when not dieting (e.g., more than 5% of body weight in a month).
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping nearly every day.
  • Agitation or depression in voluntary muscle movements nearly every day.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive and inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness nearly every day.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of death), recurrent suicidal ideation without a plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan to commit suicide.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Exercise increases the body’s production of endorphins—chemical substances that can relieve depression. Scientific research shows that routine exercise can positively affect mood and help with depression. As little as three hours per week of aerobic exercise can profoundly reduce the level of depression. One trial compared the effects of an exercise training program with those of a prescription antidepressant drug in people over 50 years of age. The researchers found the two approaches to be equally effective after 16 weeks of treatment.

Holistic Options

Acupuncture may improve depression by affecting the synthesis of neurotransmitters that control mood. Controlled trials have found electro-acupuncture (acupuncture accompanied by electrical currents) equally effective as antidepressant drug therapy without causing side effects. However, a controlled trial found that both real and fake acupuncture improved depression equally well compared to no treatment. It is well known that placebo effects are common in the treatment of depression, so more controlled trials are needed before accepting the usefulness of acupuncture for depression.

Many people who are depressed seek counseling with a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, or other form of counselor. An analysis of four properly conducted trials of severely depressed patients comparing the effects of one form of counseling intervention, cognitive behavior therapy, with the effects of antidepressant drugs was published in 1999. In that report, cognitive behavior therapy was at least as effective as drug therapy. While the outcome of counseling may be more variable than outcomes from drug or natural substance interventions, many healthcare professionals consider counseling an important part of recovery for depression not due to identifiable biochemical causes.

A rhythmic breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) may be an effective alternative to antidepressant drugs as an initial treatment for people with clinical depression. In a controlled trial, daily 45-minute SKY sessions six days per week produced a 67% remission rate among people with a diagnosis of depression. This effect compared favorably with the effects of electro-shock therapy and the antidepressant drug imipramine; however, no placebo was used in this study. SKY technique is taught by the Art of Living Foundation.

In a controlled trial, magnetic stimulation to the front of the skull and underlying brain produced modest reductions of depressive symptoms in depressed people who had not responded adequately to standard treatment. The procedure was performed by psychiatrists using sophisticated electromagnetic medical equipment, not a simple magnet.



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