Depression is one of the most common mental disorders globally. It affects from 8-12 percent of the global population, with some countries such as Japan as low as 3%, and others as high as 17% in the United States. Depression entails a generally low mood, low self esteem and anhedonic behavior. Often people have short episodes of depression in response to a difficult life experience or loss of a loved one. These cases are not diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder because they are adaptive behavior, and very common. To really be diagnosed with depression, the behavior change must impair normal function. In most cases of depression, people will not seek out help, due to the depression, so they must have an intervention initiated by someone they know.
Treatment of depression is controversial, because there are three well known methods, Antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, and Electroconvulsive Therapy. Antidepressants, such as Zoloft, work with Serotonin to increase the levels by stopping reuptake in the synapses. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood in general, and high levels of serotonin in the brain correspond with happier moods. While the medication is one of the more effective methods, research has shown that often a placebo pill will create a similar improvement in mood. A drawback to medicating for depression is side effects, which can actually increase the symptoms of depression, such as anhedonia, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts, as well as nausea and headaches among other effects.
Psychotherapy involves talking with the depressed person and teaching them ways to cope with life, and to realize that facing their problems head on, rather than avoiding them is a better path to take. It may also involve analyzing the person's history and thought processes to find the origin of the depression if it is not known already. Generally, psychotherapy works well for older patients, and in conjunction with medication it shows good results.
ECT is a treatment in which the patient is anesthetized, electrodes are placed on the temples, and pulses of electricity run through the brain. The treatment has good short term results, but relapse rates are high after stopping the treatment. Continued ECT treatments however, show good results.While this is a fast acting treatment, it is used as a last resort for people who do not respond to medication or psychotherapy, because it has the side effect of memory loss and headaches.
In short, depression can be diagnosed if it impairs your life, and can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or ECT. It's a common disorder, and affects almost everyone at some time in their life.
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