Depression is more than "feeling sad" and can often be confused with grief or loss. Unfortunately, isn't uncommon for us to have people in our lives who argue that it "isn't real" or that sufferers should "get over it". Depression is a real medical condition due to symptoms of persistent low mood, diminished pleasure and interest in usual or pleasurable activities, a reduction in activity and energy levels, reduced capacity for concentration, disturbance to usual sleep patterns, diminished appetite, reduced libido, and, possible loss of self-esteem and thoughts of guilt or worthlessness. This is not an exhaustive list though as the experience and symptoms of depression vary from person to person.
It is important to highlight the point of consistency as this is often the main distinguishing feature from generally normal experiences of low mood. Depression is the consistent experience of the above symptoms over a long period of time. The specific length various between diagnostic manuals, but they generally range between 2 weeks and 1 month as a minimum. Many people struggle to comprehend the concept of being unable to experience pleasure from any activity, let alone struggle with this for weeks and, in some cases, years.
So what is the cause of depression?
Depression may develop from several interacting factors, some biological, psychological, social, or circumstantial. There is significant research into the biological effects of depression given that individuals may experience changes in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain (e.g., serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine). Furthermore, the stress hormone cortisol has been evidenced to contribute to depressive symptoms over extended periods. Contrary to popular belief, however, the "chemical imbalance theory" is largely unsubstantiated in modern research. Instead, many of the biological changes are theorised to be in response to psychological and circumstantial issues - highlighting that there is much more that suffers can do to improve their symptoms.
Many people who experience significant issues with depression may end up having other issues with their employment, relationships, families, friendships and/or health. Alternatively, they may be experiencing significant issues with psychological issues such as their sense of self-esteem, identity, purpose, beliefs, or values. These issues often result in a growing sense of powerlessness, inaction, and inability to engage in the activities that make life rich and meaningful. It is often an initial point of counselling to identify the unique contribution that biology, psychology, and circumstance has made to an individual's experience of depression.
Why seek assistance for depression?
It is important to seek assistance, even if you don't feel like it will help or work for you. This is a common experience and it often delays treatment. Delaying is the really nasty part of depression - it is hard to believe that anything will result in a better future. But the research is out there and we know that counselling works, so give it a shot even if you don't believe in it.