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Identifying and Treating Depression


The brain is the most powerful organ in a human body, yet depression (like many other forms of mental illness) is still a largely stigmatized disorder. Unfortunately, it also happens to be a widespread problem, as an estimated 19 million adults in the United States alone live with it. Symptoms typically manifest in patients between the ages of 20 and 30, and the disorder is often diagnosed through patients self-reporting of symptoms such as changes in self-esteem, appetite, sleep patterns, or enjoyment in everyday activities. Science has yet to fully understand what causes depression, but it is thought to be a mixture of hereditary, sociological, and psychological triggers.

The most common scientific explanation for depression is an imbalance in the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, all of which are chemicals that are naturally present to regulate brain function. When these chemicals become imbalanced, there may be a high level of one and a low level of another, thereby causing an imbalance. Depression also often comes with other issues, typically in the form of anxiety or general pain. Both of these problems have high instances of occurrence in depressed adults. However, they make diagnoses of the problem much easier for medical professionals, as patients can self-report these symptoms.


Currently modern medicine offers several approaches to treating depression. The most common school of thought surrounding the disorder claims that there is a direct relation between levels of stress in an individual and their levels of depression. Treating depression often involves treating anxiety and helping patients cope with stressors in their lives in the form of therapy and counseling. The addition of anti-depressants is often made as well. These drugs help to regulate the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, which can offer immense relief to patients. There are also several theories concerning the brains of depressed people vs a healthy person, which state that there are differences in the shape of several important parts of the brain between the two. Poverty, child abuse, and social isolation are all thought to increase the risk for mental illness in general quite drastically. It is thought that when a highly stressful live event occurs without social support, the risk for depression in that person also tends to rise drastically.  Alcohol and drug use also are known to contribute heavily to depression.


Once diagnosed with depression, patients have several treatments to choose from. The most common is psychotherapy, in the form of group or individual therapy sessions. Antidepressants, while typically ineffective in patients with mild to moderate depression, are often given to those with severe depression. The success rate for antidepressants is thought to be more effective for severe depression because this is usually the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. The final method for treating depression that has not responded to other therapies is called electroconvulsive therapy. This involves stimulating parts of the brain while the patient is sedated, and has shown great success for those suffering heavily.  No matter what level of depression you may be suffering from, there is help available.

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