Know the Causes and Signs of Depression - Take the First Steps to Relief

Know the Causes and Signs of Depression - Take the First Steps to Relief

If you get depressed during the holidays, you should feel better when they're over, right? If you don't, January can be more depressing than the holidays. You think you should be feeling better and at least you had a reason for it. Therefore, knowing the many other reasons for depression can be the first steps in alleviating it.

Causes of Depression

Causes of depression include:

  • Learned helplessness
  • Being victimized
  • Ongoing stress and traumatic life events
  • Genetics

With learned helplessness, people believe that no matter how much they try to correct a problem, they can't find a solution. Feeling helpless and that your life isn't in your control can feed depression and anxiety.

Regarding being victimized, the aftermath can be anxiety and stress. However, both of these reactions can occur with depression. If you have been verbally or physically abused, for example, depression or an anxiety-depression may result.

Ongoing stress depletes certain chemicals in the brain (including epinephrine and dopamine), which can cause depression. In addition, certain life events can cause it. These events include a relationship break up, loss of a job, or the death of someone close to you.

Depression may have a genetic component. If your family has a history of depression, your risk of depression may be higher. However, being around family can also bring out depressive symptoms that have been dormant by raising old, unresolved issues.

Please note that anxiety is often "bound up" in symptoms of depression. That is, it's not uncommon for people who experience depression to also have feelings of anxiety. The intersection may lie in the realm of despair, which can fuel anxiety and add to feeling miserable. Both men and women can have a component of anxiety mixed in, though some researchers say that men more commonly have anger as an ongoing co-symptom.

Symptoms of depression

The classic sign of depression is if you can’t feel pleasure or are unable to look forward to upcoming events. It means that your “feel good” and motivational chemicals are depleted. Other signs of depression include:

  • Irritability, angry outbursts, and sadness
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Being unmotivated
  • Fatigue or tiredness, especially in the morning
  • Lower sex drive
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Headaches, digestive problems
  • Overindulging in food, gambling, sex, and alcohol/drugs

There are different strengths of depression, ranging from mild depression (“the blues”) to moderate and to severe depression. With moderate depression, you may be experiencing major problems with a job or a relationship, but you're able to cope with everyday living. Severe depression often comes with impairment in every-day living, self-destructive behavior, and suicidal thinking.

If you feel despair about the world’s situation, hopeless about your future, or find yourself despondent, seek help. A trusted friend, a therapist, or the Internet can be a good place to start. So can writing in a journal.

If you know Someone who is Suicidal

If you have a friend who is highly depressed or suicidal, helping him can be a slippery slope. On the one hand, someone who is suicidal is actually saying: “I can no longer make rational decisions and I need someone else to make them for me.” On the other hand, your attempts to help a highly depressed or suicidal person might be rebuffed. If that's the case, limit your responses to ones that indicate understanding. One thing to avoid is telling a suicidal person that to kill himself is selfish or will only devastate his family – it could just alienate him further. Rather, talk about how much you care about him. Let the person know that you want him here.

When a suicidal person appears to be getting better, she may have secretly made the decision to kill herself. Be especially aware if someone who has been very depressed acts unusually happy or gives away possessions. It means that it’s time to intervene in a big way.

In general, give the suicidal person something to look forward to on a regular basis, even if it’s a weekly lunch or a phone or text conversation. Try to understand her point of view, even if you don’t agree. Remain calm, and try to help the person break down the big “dark cloud” into smaller ones, helping her see her problems as more manageable. Ask her what has worked in the past, so that she can get in touch with her strengths. Also, emphasize that problems are temporary, while suicide is not.

While these suggestions can be helpful if you have a highly depressed or suicidal friend, it is important to remember that you're not the person’s therapist, and that you can only do so much to help her. In addition to doing what you can, encourage her to get the help she needs from a trusted therapist.

For more information on depression or to obtain support if you or someone you know is depressed, go to NIMH to learn more about depression.