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!)”]

102 Comments

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.

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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

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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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days 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.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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