Depression: 14 Important Insights

Depression: 14 Important Facts You Might Not Know

Chances are that in your lifetime you will be one of two people – depressed, or close to someone who is. For this reason, understanding depression is fast becoming a life skill. Here are 14 important insights.

  1. Certain personalities are more prone to depression.

    Depression can happen to anybody, but those with depression are more likely to be introverted, creative or perfectionistic. Personality doesn’t cause depression but it can be a risk factor.

  2. People with depression won’t necessarily look depressed.

    People with depression are often highly functioning and adept at concealing their depression from the world. It could be your doctor, dentist, teacher, best friend or the life of the party. Whether because of the stigma associated with depression, or because of their concerns about the impact on the people around them, many people with depression will be masterful at masking their illness publicly. This is further evidence that depression is not a sign of weakness. The strength and mental toughness it would take to carry on as usual would be enormous. Of course, sometimes the strongest act is asking for help.

  3. Depression is a deficiency in chemistry, not character.

    Unfortunately, we live in a society where depression is still vastly misunderstood. It is a physical illness that effects mood and is no more a product of personality or character than cancer or diabetes. The only shame around depression is in the response of the ignorant.

  4. The internal body clock is disrupted.

    The body has an internal body clock that uses signals in the environment to cue appetite, sleep and mood. In people with depression, this clock can be so severely disrupted, that a.m and p.m. are reversed. This means that sleep is disturbed, as morning is confused with night. When sleep is thrown off balance, so too are hunger hormones, hence the appetite and weight changes that often come with depression.

  5. Depression changes the size of the brain.

    In research from Yale University, analysis of the brains of people with depression have shown an overproduction of a genetic ‘switch’. This genetic switch causes the loss of connections between the brain cells that regulate cognition and emotion, causing the brain to shrink in size. The more severe and longer-lasting the depression the greater the shrinkage. Antidepressants can help to reverse this.

  6. Depression fades memory.

    Depression can really interfere with memory, particular the type of memory that deals with specific facts such as names or places. Part of the reason for this may be the tendency to over-generalise, which can compromise the ability to differentiate between similar experiences.

  7. Blood test to diagnose depression.

    Up to now, the only way to diagnose depression was through self-reports or reports and observation. But that is set to change. Researchers have developed a blood test that may be used to diagnose depression and predict who will benefit from therapy. This will give way to the tailoring of more effective treatments.

  8.  Mindfulness can reduce and protect against depression.

    Mindfulness can reduce and prevent depression adolescents (aged 13-20) and adults.

  9. Depression ages you faster.

    Research has found that depression leads to accelerated cellular ageing and a heightened risk of ageing-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. People with depression have a shorter length of telomeres (a repeating DNA sequence found at the end of chromosomes). The more severe and longer-lasting the depression, shorter the telomere length the greater the ageing. Those who had previous episodes of major depression had shorter telomere length than those who had not experienced depression.

  10. Exercise causes the same changes in the brain as antidepressants.

    An abundance of research has demonstrated that exercise alleviates symptoms of depression in the short-term, but also that it has a protective factor against developing depressive episodes in the future. In fact, a recent study has found that for mild to moderate depression, exercise has the same effect on the brain as antidepressants. Walking 30 minutes a day is enough to make a difference.

  11. Gut bacteria play a role in depression.

    Increasingly, evidence is pointing to a powerful connection between the gut and the brain, with neurobiologists at Oxford University finding that gut microbiome play an important role in maintaining certain brain functions such as mood, emotion and appetite. Mounting evidence is suggesting a link between the gut health and psychiatric and neurological disorders such as anxiety, depression and autism. 

    Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that taking probiotics has an effect on anxiety and depression by influencing the neuroendocrine stress response and by altering the way people process emotional information.

  12. Depression increases the experience of physical pain.

    Like the emotional pain isn’t enough, depression is also associated with physical pain such as headaches, backache, stomach ache, joint ache and muscle ache. Research has shown that depression and physical pain share a common chemical pathway in the brain and are influenced by the same neurotransmitters. In light of this, it has been suggested that depression and the painful physical symptoms that are associated with it should be treated together. Research has actually shown that a correlation between an improvement in physical symptoms and an improvement in other depressive symptoms. 

  13. Antidepressants aren’t a magic pill.

    Depression can respond really well to treatment but the type of treatment that is most effective can differ from person to person. The best approach involves a multi-faceted approach that responds to the whole person – mental (therapy, emotional support, cognitive awareness, mindfulness); physical (exercise, diet); chemical (medication). Furthermore, antidepressants generally won’t have an immediate effect. Expectations that medication is a magic bullet can lead to disappointment and a further worsening of symptoms. Depression is treatable but can involve some trial and error of responses. Knowing this, and being patient and open to altering treatment is an important part of the way through depression.

  14. Asking about depression or suicide will never make it worse – but it could save a life.

    Everyone has their ups and downs but if someone you know is acting unusual (mood, sleep and appetite changes, sadness, aggression, recklessness, more withdrawn), it might be something more. If you have any hunch at all that something isn’t right, it’s important to ask if he/she is depressed or suicidal, using direct language such as ‘suicidal/giving up on life’ rather than the lesser ‘hurting yourself’. People often avoid asking for fear it will plant the idea but it doesn’t work like this. The question might save a life. If the person is suicidal, seek immediate help from a doctor, hospital or suicide prevention helpline.

For those who have never had depression, the darkness is impossible to imagine. It can strike anybody and none of us can know when we, or someone we love, are about to walk through the middle of its very broad and undiscerning target.

Depression is a treatable illness. We are learning more about depression every day and a lot ground is being made in the search for effective treatments with minimal side effects. 

The more that can be understood about depression, the more it can be responded to with wisdom, respect, openness and compassion – it should never be responded to with anything less.

(A shortened version of this post was published on The Huffington Post UK.)

[irp posts=”1727″ name=”How to Heal From Depression. The 6 Proven, Non-Medication Ways That Are As Effective as Antidepressants (We Should All Be Doing This!)”]

105 Comments

Denyse

Thank you Karen – Most enlightening and clarifying information. Sincerely appreciated this.
I’m sick of hearing that depressed people are attention seekers, sensation needers, etc etc etc.
They need to know it is an illness like Diabetes or Cancer (as mentioned above) xxx

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Elisabeth S

I love how you said that depression is a chemistry flaw and not a character one. I think this is important to people to understand. Knowing that there is something physically wrong causing depression, I think will help people seek treatment a lot sooner.

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Jim

I Just dont know what to do anymore… Lifelong depression which has worsened over the last few years.. Years of therapy which really haven’t done much. Over a quarter of a century on some variant of an anti depressant, no family to speak of… few friends… it all went downhill really fast and its never recovered. Of course the first question I’m asked is “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” And when the response is “no” , everyone thinks its not serious…So they go on their merry way. I dont know what to to… I cant seem to help myself… Ive had health issues the last couple of years and it limits my motility… And I gotta be honest… when i respond to “that” question, Im not exactly telling the truth… I just dont have the nerve to do it… And so I just linger….

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Karen Young

Jim. I hear you on how serious this is! Any amount of depression which causes pain and intrudes on your potential to be happy is serious. Absolutely. I also hear that you have tried everything to feel better. I can hear how desperately you want to move this, and I understand that when you have tried everything, it can feel so helpless. I want you to know that the research in the area of depression is moving forward all the time. We are discovering new potential causes all the time which may lead to more effective treatments. In the meantime, do you have a consistent practise of exercise and mindfulness? If you haven’t practised mindfulness before, the Smiling Mind app is a great place to start. It has a series of guided meditations. Both exercise and mindfulness change the structure and function of the brain in ways that can strengthen it against depression. If you are on any form of anti-depressant, it is also important to be doing these things. The research on both exercise and mindfulness is prolific, and growing stronger. Sleep is also critical. If you are having trouble sleeping, this will interfere with the way your brain functions and potentially make it more susceptible to depression. If you are having trouble sleeping (and you might not be), speak with your doctor about this. Melatonin is the body’s natural sleep hormone – it’s what let’s our body know that it’s time to wind down and get sleepy. It can be taken as a supplement, and it might be useful – but speak with your doctor. Here are some articles that might be useful for you:
– Doing These Two Simple Activities Together Can Reduce Depression by 40% in Two Months – https://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-depression-meditation-exercise/
– Stronger by Nature – 30 Minutes of Nature Will Strengthen Mental Health – Research – https://www.heysigmund.com/stronger-by-nature/
– Healing From Depression. The 6 Proven, Non-Medication Ways To Strengthen the Brain and Body Against Depression (We Should All Be Doing This!) – https://www.heysigmund.com/the-non-medication-ways-to-deal-with-depression-that-are-as-effective-as-medication/
https://www.heysigmund.com/mindfulness-as-effective-as-medication-in-preventing-relapse-in-depression/

Something else that can make an enormous difference is gut health. Here is an article that explains that
– Our ‘Second Brain’ – And Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Mood – https://www.heysigmund.com/our-second-brain-and-stress-anxiety-depression-mood/

Reply
Lr

Vitamin D deficiency, I know that really effects my mood. Also a food allergy panel, prayer and practicing being thankful for even the littlest of things, and do something to help others that u enjoy doing helps me along with any type of exercise.

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Luke

Interesting stuff , especially the relationship between stomach/gut and depression.

I had taken medication daily over a period of about five years for acid reflux. ( Cimetidine, Omprazole, Lanzoprazole, etc). Ok an unexpected breakdown of a long long term relationship may have triggered depression which I still battle. But within a year I was suddenly free off and able to stop taking medication for acid reflux which hasn’t returned so far ,five years later, though depression remains.
The correlation mind gut makes sense. Seen Very little about any research, till reading this

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LW Clay

Loved this article. I have a young blog on mental health, and I’d like to use this article in my next post. Of course I would give credit to the author and your site. How can I get permission to repost this with some of my own comments added at the beginning and end? Thank you.

Reply
Karen Young

Unfortunately, I’m not able to give permission for the articles to be republished on other sites but you are very welcome to publish up to 75 words of the original article with a link back to the original article on this site. Here is a link to the content share guidelines https://www.heysigmund.com/content-share-guidelines/. I hope you understand, and I hope the 75 words and a link back to the original article will be something that can work for you.

Reply
Karen Young

Sally the research that talks about the blood test is hyperlinked in the section that talks about the blood test. It’s linked to the word ‘Researchers’. Your doctor will also be able to help you with more information about this.

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Karen Young

Our body chemistry is extremely complicated. Serotonin is not the only part of this. The point of this is that depression is biological and not about personality or character.

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Anon

I was wondering where can I go or what can I do to see if I actually have depression everyone tells me I’m just faking and to shake it off but I just can’t they say it’s all in my head

Reply
Karen Young

If you suspect you might have depression, I would really encourage you to see a doctor. A doctor will be able to diagnose and set you on the right track to manage your symptoms and move towards healing.

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Cindy Lou

I’ve had ADHD all my life.With major depression it’s a fast moving train.Sometimes I meditate or just bus to the city to be among people.Has it helped,I’m still here but very tired.Was Red Sel Chef now on welfare lost everything.Stolen 1 piece at a time.Now at 60 depression is a deep hole,if you have no help the enormity of the problem is insurmountable.The black is very thick.The out look,not great view .

Reply
Mar

I really would like to know more about:” what to do and what mot to do when your husband is having a depression”
He has got all sorts of treatment. Nothing really works.

Reply
Jerilee

Hi I hope you are able to still see this message ?!
I wonder how this relates to post natal depression. Does it all still apply

I really enjoyed the piece. Thank you

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Jerilee the research here wasn’t done with PND, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen with PND. Depression takes different shapes in different people, so while there will be vast similarities, there will also be differences in the way people experience depression, whether it’s PND or major depression.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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