National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
It’s No Laughing Matter
Depression can range from a temporary case of the blues, to sadness over a specific event, to a persistent feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness that leads you to contemplate suicide. Depression can grab you by the throat and toss you into a black hole of melancholy.
Depression is characterized by a transient or long-term inability to cope with life. A depressed person has low self-esteem, pessimism, and trouble dealing with stress. Some 17 million Americans are affected by depression. Depressions come in different shapes and sizes and have a number of physical causes.
Heredity is one factor in depression. Major depression, also known as clinical depression, is a mental disorder characterized by serious depressive episodes. It affects as much as 20% of the world’s population and tends to run in families. For example, if a twin suffers from depression, there is a 70% chance that the other twin will also be depressed. Dysthymia is a more benign form of depression that also tends to be hereditary.
There is also a strong family history of depression in those with bipolar disorder. Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a two-headed monster: depression combined with mania. Bipolars bounce helplessly between manic moods characterized by sleeplessness, grandiosity, extravagance, and lack of good judgment; and depression, which brings lethargy, worthlessness, a lack of concentration and feelings of guilt. But unlike major depression, manic depression is not sexist; it affects males and females equally.
Another contributor to depression is the environment. A common depressive disorder is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or winter depression. This is likely caused by a chronic deficiency of corticotropin-releasing hormone, stress, and less sunlight, leading to depression and energy loss as well as a tendency to sleep too much and eat too much of the wrong foods. People who suffer from SAD may also have insufficient vitamin D intake, which requires sun exposure to be processed in the body. Research has shown that SAD can be alleviated with light therapy provided through special light boxes, avoidance of simple carbohydrates in favor of complex carbs and proteins, and exercise. A daily supplement containing vitamin D and certain foods may raise the spirits of those who suffer from SAD.
Other suspected environmental factors in depression are allergies, air pollution, heavy metals, and exposure to overcrowding, poverty, violence, physical and mental abuse, and neglect.