Depression - Causes and Treatments

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Depression has long been considered a character flaw indicative of morally weak minded individuals. However, new research clearly shows that depression has distinct biochemical roots that affect the way nerve cells work. It is an illness which can be accurately diagnosed and treated successfully in the vast majority of cases. Through the recognition of causes and knowledge of the treatments, those suffering from depression are able to preserver and overcome their illness.

Depression can be described in terms of a physical imbalance in the brain which may cause, or be caused by various psychological conditions. The physical imbalance refers to an abnormally high or low level of hormones in the brain. These hormones may include, but are not limited to, the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The unusual levels of these chemicals may be inherited, which is part of the reason why depression tends to run in families.

A psychological condition is basically the emotional state of a person which leads them into depression. A few common conditions are guilt, loneliness, anxiety, and sadness. Guilt can be experienced by all age groups, but is especially common among the elderly who have the so-called "survivors guilt" for outliving their loved ones. Loneliness is also a common emotional problem of the elderly, and adults in general. According to Dr. Robert Butler MD, author of Aging and Mental Health 1991, "children tend to fear being left alone in a threatening and uncertain world, while adults fear emotional isolation."

Depressive psychological conditions can also be a result of traumatic emotional loses and low self esteem. Profound trauma in early childhood such as physical or sexual abuse, a bitter divorce, the death of a parent, or other deeply disturbing experiences can set the emotional stage for depression later in life. Low self esteem can arise in childhood and last into adulthood. Usually caused by unpleasant experiences, such as taunting by peers, which gradually lowers the feeling of self worth.

Depression may be treated using a variety of different methods which are divided into two main divisions: antidepressant medications, and non-drug therapies. Antidepressant medications work by rebalancing the offset chemicals in the brain, thus improving emotional well being. As reported in Drug Facts and Comparisons 1999, all antidepressants are equally effective; elevating mood in 60% to 80% of people who use them as directed. (statistics) MAO inhibitors are among the oldest antidepressants currently in use. They work by interfering with the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which helps clear serotonin and dopamine from the spaces between nerve endings in the brain. SSRI's are drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. In addition to treating depression they may also help treat anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bulimia. As stated in the Medical Tribune 1996, SSRI's work by selectively keeping nerve cells from eliminating the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Non-drug therapies offer many alternatives to antidepressant medication. Cognitive therapy - also called cognitive restructuring - teaches people to first identify and then correct depressive thinking. Many people tend to distort and over magnify small mistakes, and cognitive therapy helps them downplay these minor problems. "You can't talk yourself out of depression, but you can stop talking yourself deeper into it." Quote by Dr. Michael Castleman, author of Cognitive Therapy 1979. One of the most common non-drug therapies is exercise. Research indicates that exercise can improve mood, relieve anxiety, improve appetite, and increase self esteem. "Exercise helps normalize the chemical imbalances in the brain linked to depression", says Dr. Steven Zarit in book Mental Disorders in Adults 1998. Another popular treatment is Psychotherapy. Long-term Freudian psychoanalysis has been largely replaced by shorter-term "talk therapies." In the NIMH study, nearly half of those patients with mild to moderate depression reported significant improvement after 16 weeks.

In cases of severe depression where antidepressants prove ineffective, ETC, or Electroconvulsive therapy, is an option. ETC involves the brief application of electric stimulus used to produce a generalized seizure. Despite the controversy over this treatment, it has been shown to improve the condition of 85% of patients with severe depression. Stuart Yudofsky, M.D., says: "When used properly, ECT is safe and effective. Unfortunately, because of fear of electricity, and the inaccurate ways ECT has been portrayed in movies and on television, many people who could benefit from it don't consider it."

People are very complicated physically and emotionally. Whether the conditions which lead to depression involve deep emotional scares from the past or a form of disillusionment in the present, there are treatments that can offer relief and ultimately a cure.

Bradley James is a senior editor at, a website containing many helpful consumer electronics review articles. For more information on depression, please visit our depression causes and treatments webpage.

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