The term depression refers to a type of mood disorder associated with feelings of sadness, anger, loss and frustration. Although people normally experience these feelings at one point or another, they usually pass within a short time. This medical condition is persistent and interferes with normal daily life yet it is one of the commonest illnesses that affect around 18 million Americans. It occurs in different ways, from mild to severe and as single or recurring episodes. According to many experts, depressive disorders are chronic conditions that need long-term treatment.
It is not clear what causes depressive disorders although experts believe they are associated with genetic, biologic and environmental factors. The sufferers may have unusual levels of neurotransmitters, which are types of brain chemicals. Factors that may lead to the conditions include:
- Biochemical and physical changes in the brain.
- Long-term stress
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Sleep problems
- Some types of medications, such as those used to treat irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol or high blood pressure
- Serious medical conditions like cancer and heart attack
- Social isolation
Types of Depressive Disorders
There are different types of depressive disorders and here are the main ones.
- Major depressive disorder has episodes that last for at least a fortnight and often take up to 20 weeks. Also known as clinical depression, the condition affects how people think, feel and behave. The sufferers tend to feel they do not have any reason for living and experience both physical and emotional problems. They find it difficult to carry out such normal functions as eating, sleeping or studying. Although people may experience several episodes during their lifetime, it tends to occur only once but treatment is often taken throughout one's life.
- Dysthymia is a chronic type of depressive disorder that is relatively less severe. Its symptoms are similar to those of major depressive disorder, which the sufferers are likely to develop, except that they are milder. The symptoms may last for two years or more.
- Atypical disorder is linked to intermittent feelings of elation when those affected experience something good. It manifests different symptoms than the first two conditions. However, its name is deceptive because it is probably the commonest type of depressive disorder.
- Adjustment disorder is associated with the way the sufferers respond to different experiences in life. For example, some people react to the deaths of their loved ones in ways that manifest depressive symptoms.
- Psychotic depressive disorder involves a combination of severe depressive symptoms and some type of psychosis. The sufferers may break with reality and experience disturbing but false beliefs. They may also see or hear things that other people neither see nor hear. The two conditions are known as delusions and hallucinations.
- Seasonal affective disorder, as its name indicates, is associated with changes in seasons and occurs mostly when there is little sunlight. SAD often occurs in the fall-winter season and tends to lift in the summer-spring season.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder manifests its symptoms about a week before menstruation and disappears once the period ends.
- Postpartum mood changes occur in between 10 and 15 percent of mothers who have just delivered. Many new mothers experience baby blues because of physical and hormonal changes in addition to the added responsibility. However, this condition is more serious than this normal occurrence.
- Bipolar disorder is rare compared to other depressive disorders. It involves cycling mood changes that go from extreme lows to extreme highs, which is why it is also known as manic-depressive illness. The condition can affect relationships and performance at either work or school and may even lead to suicide. The first symptoms may be experienced during childhood although people tend to miss the early signs. Fortunately, the condition is treatable.
Different methods are used to treat depressive disorders and many professionals recommend the use of both antidepressants and psychotherapy, with cognitive behavioral therapy being the most successful method.
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