It is estimated that depression affects 3.8% of the population. Five percent of adults suffer from it and 5.7% of people over 60 years of age suffer from this disease. Seventy-five percent of people with depression in low- and middle-income countries do not treat their condition.
About 280 million men and women suffer from depression. To put this figure in context, as of December 13, 2021, about 270 million people worldwide were diagnosed as infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Now that we have made clear its enormous incidence it is time to detail what it is, what types there are, what its symptoms are and what its treatments are:
What is depression?
Depression is a serious and fairly common mental illness that produces great sadness, apathy, negativity and/or despair for prolonged periods of time. The symptoms vary from one person to another and each individual manifests them in a different way. Insomnia, eating disorders and thoughts related to suicide are consequences of depression that do not manifest in all cases. This disorder prevents people from developing their lives normally and without treatment can evolve into a self-destructive spiral, the result of isolation from loved ones and the adoption of toxic behaviors.
What are the causes?
Depression can develop due to numerous factors that can be grouped into three main groups: genetic, physical and environmental.
Genetic factors are those that are related to a family history of the disease. Forty percent of people who are diagnosed with depression have relatives who have suffered from this disease, which makes it possible to establish a direct relationship. However, it is important to note that not all people with a family history end up manifesting the disease.
Physical factors are those related to the biological state of our body. It can be observed how people suffering from depression have values of certain neurotransmitters above the average. This explains the direct relationship between certain diseases, such as vascular diseases, and depression. But there is also an indirect relationship between this disorder, which can develop when a person’s life is limited by the suffering from an illness.
Environmental factors are those that come from the environment, such as traumatic events, major losses or prolonged stressful situations. These factors are the most unpredictable, but the most effective action can be taken against depression. Thus, trying to avoid generating situations of extreme stress as far as possible and giving support and tools to people so that they can face them without suffering psychological sequelae. In this category we find problems such as bullying or the pressure generated by social expectations, things that society is trying to correct.
This explains why depression manifests itself differently depending on the age of the individual. An adolescent suffers as a result of his or her environment and the changes his or her life is undergoing on a biological and personal level. In fact, it is estimated that one in five adolescents suffer from depression during their lifetime. An adult can suffer from depression, the result of his or her environment and of illnesses that are more common the older the individual is. Finally, the elderly are the group that suffers the greatest number of illnesses and, moreover, is more vulnerable to change than any other group. Unfortunately, among the elderly, this disease is underdiagnosed.
What types of depression are there?
Depression does not always manifest itself in the same way. For this reason, several types of depression can be differentiated and we will explain some of them below:
- Major depression. This is the type of depression that presents the most intense symptoms. These symptoms must manifest themselves for at least two weeks to be considered a case of major depression. The episodes may last for months or even years and may recur throughout the life of the person who has suffered them.
- Dysthymia. Unlike major depression, it occurs over a longer period of time, manifesting itself constantly for at least two years. On the other hand, the symptoms it presents are milder, which is considered a less dangerous type of depression.
- Manic depression. Also known as bipolar disorder, this is a type of depression that manifests stages of major depression and stages of mania. Mania is characterized by a state of extreme euphoria, energy and development of risky activities for the person, among other things, i.e., there are extreme abnormal states that alternate suddenly. There are two types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder. The difference between one and the other is that Bipolar II disorder does not present a phase of mania so accentuated as to represent social problems (hypomania).
- Psychotic depression. This is characterized by the addition of delusions and even hallucinations to the symptoms of major depression. The delusions are often related to feelings of deep guilt and disproportionate fears.
- Seasonal depressive disorder. This is a type of depression that manifests itself only at certain times of the year. It is more common in winter and autumn, but the seasons depend exclusively on each individual.
What is its treatment?
Depression has multiple treatments of different nature whose effectiveness has been proven:
Chemical treatment. Chemical treatment is based on the use of medications and drugs in order to reduce or eliminate the symptoms produced by depression. In many occasions this treatment is used to make possible the psychotherapy, method with which it is combined.
- Psychotherapeutic treatment. It is a therapy guided by professionals that seeks to give support and offer emotional tools to the patients so that they become involved in the recovery. In addition, it seeks to give patients the ability to face future situations in a way that affects their mental health as little as possible and thus prevent future relapses. Let us remember that maintaining a healthy life reduces the risk of suffering from depression-related illnesses, in addition to making it easier to have a high self-esteem.
- Electroconvulsive treatment. This is a type of therapy that consists of applying electric shocks to the head in order to artificially produce convulsions. The seizures generate high brain activity and manifest chemical changes in the brain that could serve as a treatment for depression and other mental illnesses. It is a controversial treatment that is used mainly with patients who have not responded to other treatments.
It should be made clear that knowledge and awareness, as with any disease, are great allies in treating it in time. Depression is the most common cause of psychiatric care and also the first cause of disability caused by mental illness. Society is moving forward and making this silent epidemic more and more visible, fighting to end the stigmas associated with receiving psychiatric care and raising awareness to create less hostile environments. Little by little we are shedding light on a silent pandemic that cannot be cured with masks and quarantine.