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

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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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Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare

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