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/

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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.

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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

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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 .

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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.

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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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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