Depression affects approximately 19 million Americans, or 9.5% of the population in any given one-year period. At some point in their lives, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will likely become clinically depressed. In fact, it affects so many people that it is often referred to as the “common cold” of mental illness. It is estimated that depression exacts an economic cost of over $30 billion each year, but the cost of human suffering cannot be measured. Depression not only causes suffering to those who are depressed, but it also causes great difficulty for their family and friends who often do not know how to help.
A number of herbal remedies and supplements have been used for depression. A few common ones include:
- St. John’s wort. Known scientifically as Hypericum perforatum, this is an herb that’s been used for centuries to treat a variety of ills, including depression. It’s not approved by the FDA to treat depression in the United States. Rather, it’s classified as a dietary supplement. However, it’s a popular treatment in Europe for mild or moderate depression. But, it can interfere with other depression medicines, as well as some drugs used to treat people with heart disease, seizures, cancer and organ transplant.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a diet rich in omega-3s or taking omega-3 supplements may help ease depression, especially when used in addition to standard depression treatments. Vegetarian sources of these healthy fats are found in flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts and some other foods.
- Folate. Low levels of folate, a B vitamin, may cause a slowed response to some antidepressants. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruit, beans, and fortified grains. It’s one of the most common vitamin deficiencies because of poor diet but also because chronic conditions and various medications such as aspirin and birth control pills can also lead to deficiency. Diet and taking folate supplements (folic acid) may be helpful.
- Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is needed to produce the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Although deficiency of vitamin B6 is rare, a borderline deficiency may occur in people taking oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, and drugs for tuberculosis.
- Magnesium. Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets. Good sources of magnesium are legumes, nuts, whole grains and green vegetables. Like vitamin B6, magnesium is needed for serotonin production. Stress depletes magnesium.
- Relaxation Techniques (e.g., deep-breathing, mood management, meditation, etc.)
- Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to improve mood. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, releases mood-elevating chemicals in the brain and can decrease stress hormones. One of the best options to bust the blues is taking a brisk walk outside each morning for at least 30 minutes five days a week. But what’s important is that you choose something you enjoy and will stick with, whether it’s going to the gym, walking, or evening gardening.
- Diet. Reduce your intake of sweets – Sweets temporarily make you feel good as blood sugar levels soar, but may worsen mood later on when they plummet. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol both dampen mood. Alcohol temporarily relaxes us and caffeine boosts energy, but the effects of both are short-lived. Both can worsen mood swings, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
- Sunlight. Getting enough sunlight has been shown to be effective for seasonal mood changes that happen in the darker winter months. Exposure to light in the morning helps the body’s sleep/wake cycle work properly. Production of serotonin, a brain chemical that key in influencing our mood, is turned on in the morning upon exposure to light. During the winter when there is less sunlight, serotonin levels can drop, making us feel tired and prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One of the most simple ways to increase your exposure to light is to walk outdoors in the morning.
Symptoms of Depression
People who are depressed may not experience all of the following symptoms. Some will have many symptoms, others will have just a few. The severity of the symptoms may also be different for every person and even vary over time. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or if you have questions about whether you may be depressed or manic, you should consult with your physician or a qualified mental health professional. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, or has made plans to do so, you should seek help immediately.
- Sadness, anxiety, or “empty” feelings
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Insomnia, oversleeping, or waking much earlier than usual
- Loss of weight or appetite, or overeating and weight gain
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
- Feelings of helplessness, guilt, and worthlessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering
- Restlessness, irritability or excessive crying
- Chronic aches and pains or physical problems that do not respond to treatment
source: National Institute of Health Publication No. 97-4266 and 99-3561
How Depression Affects a Person’s Life
Clinical depression affects all aspects of a person’s life. It impairs our ability to sleep, eat, work, and get along with others. It damages our self-esteem, self-confidence, and our ability to accomplish everyday tasks. People who are depressed find daily tasks to be a significant struggle. They tire easily, yet cannot get a good night’s sleep. They have no motivation and lose interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Depression puts a dark, gloomy cloud over how we see ourselves, the world, and our future. This cloud cannot be willed away, nor can we ignore it and have it magically disappear.
- Major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States
- Depression affects almost 10% of the population, or 19 million Americans, in a given year
- During their lifetime, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will become clinically depressed
- Women are affected by depression almost twice as often as men
- The economic cost of depression is estimated to be over $30 billion each year
- Two-thirds of those who are depressed never seek treatment and suffer needlessly
- 80%-90% of those who seek treatment for depression can feel better within just a few weeks
- Research on twins suggests that there is a genetic component to the risk of developing depression
- Research has also shown that the stress of a loss, especially the death of a loved one, may lead to depression in some people
More on Clinical Depression
Clinical depression is more than just the “blues,” being “down in the dumps,” or experiencing temporary feelings of sadness we all have from time to time in our lives. It is a serious condition that also affects a person’s mind and body. It impacts all aspects of everyday life including eating, sleeping, working, relationships, and how a person thinks about himself/herself. People who are clinically depressed cannot simply will themselves to feel better or just “snap out of it.” If they do not receive appropriate treatment their symptoms can continue for weeks, months, or years.
Types of Depression
Major Depressive Disorder
This illness impairs a person’s ability to work, sleep, eat, and function as he or she normally would. It keeps people from enjoying activities that were once pleasurable, and causes them to think about themselves and the world in negative ways. Major depression is often disabling and may occur several times in a person’s lifetime.
A milder yet more enduring type of major depression. People with dysthymia may appear to be chronically mildly depressed to the point that it seems to be a part of their personality. When a person finally seeks treatment for dysthymia, it is not uncommon that he/she has struggled with this condition for a number of years.
Also known as manic-depression or manic-depressive disorder. This condition is characterized by mood that alternates between periods of depression and periods of elation and excitable behavior known as mania (see symptoms below). For people who have bipolar disorder, the depressions can be severe and the mania can seriously impair one’s normal judgment. When manic, a person is prone towards reckless and inappropriate behavior such as engaging in wild spending sprees or having promiscuous sex. He or she may not be able to realize the harm of his/her behavior and may even lose touch with reality.
A milder yet more enduring type of bipolar disorder. A person’s mood alternates between a less severe mania (known as hypomania) and a less severe depression.
Mood Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition
Depression may be caused or precipitated by a known or unknown physical medical condition such as hypothyroidism.
Substance-Induced Mood Disorder
Depression may be caused or precipitated by the use or abuse of substances such as drugs, alcohol, medications, or toxins.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
This condition affects people during specific times or seasons of the year. During the winter months individuals feel depressed and lethargic, but during other months their moods may be normal.
A rare form of depression occurring in women within approximately one week to six months after giving birth to a child.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
This is an uncommon type of depression affecting a small percentage of menstruating women. It is a cyclical condition in which women may feel depressed and irritable for one or two weeks before their menstrual period each month.