Depression: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Depression: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 264 million people[1]. In fact, it’s the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 44[2]. Depression is different from short-lived emotional responses or mood fluctuations in response to everyday challenges. Rather, depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and despair, as well as a loss of interest in normal activities. It affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. At its worst, depression may make a person feel as if there’s no hope and that life isn’t worth living. Depression commonly sets in when a person has been anxious, worried, or ill for weeks, months, or years on end. This constant overstimulation can lead to changes in the brain and the depletion of feel-good neurochemicals, which depress one’s mood. People with depression typically try many different things to get back to their old selves. Some things may help a little, while others don’t help at all, and the struggle to find something to help can lead to further exhaustion and burnout. What many people don’t realize is that depression is not permanent. It’s the result of changes in a part of the brain called the limbic system[3], which can be reversed thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural pathways. In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about depression, including how re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program, can help your brain re-establish balance and resume normal, healthy function. Depression is also commonly referred to as:
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Major depression
  • Dysthymia
  • Chronic major depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Postpartum depression (depression following the birth of a child)

Symptoms of Depression

While everyone’s experience with depression is unique, common signs and symptoms of the condition can include[4]:
  • A persistent feeling of sadness or despair
  • Reduced interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • A loss of sexual desire
  • Ruminating on negative thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Avoiding family and social situations
  • Crying more than usual
  • Having difficulty keeping up with work and family responsibilities
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and hopelessness
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or self-harm
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, it could be a sign that you’re suffering from depression. Additionally, depression often co-occurs with other limbic system disorders, including, general anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, post-viral fatigue, and multiple chemical sensitivities. This is not surprising, as living with a limbic system impairment for months or years is stressful and, over time, depletes the feel-good neurochemicals in the brain.

Causes and Risk Factors of Depression

Depression is the body’s expression of emotional exhaustion. Think of the brain like a car battery. If we thrash the starter, the battery will eventually go flat. Similarly, if we thrash our emotional battery with fear, despair, and worry, it will also eventually become flat, causing us to feel depressed and apathetic. Neurologically speaking, depression is the result of changes in a part of the brain called the limbic system and structures related to the limbic system[3]. The limbic system is not only involved in your behavioral and emotional responses, but it also acts as the brain’s fear center, driving your primal fight/flight/freeze response. A limbic system impairment, such as depression, can arise when someone experiences chronic mental and/or physical stress over the course of weeks, months, or years. The constant stream of stress, worry, fear, and despair essentially overwhelms the brain, changing its circuitry[5] and depleting levels of feel-good neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. When the limbic system becomes impaired in this way, its protective mechanisms fire more rapidly and inappropriately. It continuously sends out alarm signals making the sufferer feel inappropriate feelings of fear, worry, and helplessness, even in the absence of true danger. These faulty neural pathways ultimately become conditioned, meaning they get stuck in a vicious loop of negative thoughts and despair. While depression can affect anyone of any age, there are a number of risk factors that may make someone more likely to develop depression:
  • Having a high chronic stress load
  • Experiencing traumatic or stressful life events (contracting a virus, getting in an accident, experiencing an emotional event, childbirth, etc.)
  • Experiencing traumas or stressful events in close succession
  • Experiencing trauma in childhood
  • A history of depression in your family
  • Substance abuse

How Depression is Diagnosed

Depression is most commonly diagnosed by a family doctor or a mental health specialist. While there isn’t a single test for depression, a qualified health professional can rule out various causes and ensure an accurate diagnosis. The healthcare provider will perform a psychological evaluation, which entails discussing the patient’s thoughts, moods, appetite, activity level, behavior patterns, and sleep patterns. Doctors will often ask people to complete a questionnaire, such as the Hamilton Depression[6] Rating Scale, to help assess whether or not a person has depression and/or its severity. Because depression can be triggered by health problems, such as thyroid disorders or vitamin D deficiency, the healthcare provider will likely conduct a physical exam and order blood work. In order to be diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must experience five or more of the following symptoms over a two-week period[7]:
  • Feeling depressed most of the day
  • Loss of interest in most regular activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Sleeping a lot or not being able to sleep
  • Slowed thinking or movement
  • Fatigue or low energy lost days
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Loss of concentration or indecisiveness
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

How Depression is Treated

While more and more research[8] is pointing to the fact that depression can be reversed using the principles of neuroplasticity, that treatment model has not yet infiltrated traditional medicine. Before we delve into how to treat depression from a neuroplasticity perspective, let’s discuss common traditional and alternative treatment options and the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Psychotherapy

Speaking with a therapist can help you learn how to cope with negative feelings. The most common type of therapy used for those with depression is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT can help you recognize, evaluate, and change cognitive patterns (ways of thinking) that are keeping you stuck and triggering symptoms. The key concept is that by changing your thoughts, you can change how you feel. While CBT has been shown to be safe and effective in the treatment of depression[9], its effectiveness can depend on the skill of the therapist leading the therapy. Additionally, therapy sessions are expensive, making them inaccessible to many people due to the cost.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant medications are often used in conjunction with therapy. These can help lift a person’s mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. This helps the person function in their day-to-day life and can make therapy more productive. While antidepressants can be life-saving in certain situations, the major downside is that antidepressants don’t permanently repair the root neurological cause of the dysfunction. A person may feel better when they’re on antidepressants, however, depression may come back when the person weans off of them[10]. This class of medications also comes with a long list of potential side effects and many people have difficulty discontinuing use.

Diet, detoxification, & supplements

Some medical practitioners, especially naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, and integrative medicine doctors, will suggest a certain diet or detoxification protocol aimed at lowering a patient’s inflammation levels and/or correcting nutrient deficiencies. Depression is not an inflammatory condition[11], however, inflammation is often present in the brains of those with depression. Individuals may see some improvement in their symptoms through diet, detoxification, and supplementation due to a reduction in inflammation and/or a temporary increase in nutrient levels, however, most people aren’t able to fully and permanently resolve their symptoms via these routes. Additionally, when symptoms are lowered in this way, the person must stick to the protocol indefinitely. For example, if a certain diet reduces a person’s depression, that person will typically find that their symptoms flare up the second they stray from their diet plan. This can be very limiting, as strict diets and protocols often need to be continuously enforced. Following diet and detoxification protocols can also be very expensive, as they generally require specialty, high-priced foods and many supplements. Diet, detoxification, and supplements are ultimately not effective because inflammation and nutrient deficiencies aren’t the root causes of depression. Rather, chronic inflammation and nutrient deficiencies are symptoms of depression, which is caused by an impaired limbic system. Once the limbic system dysfunction is addressed, inflammation levels will naturally return to normal.

How We Approach Depression

At its core, depression is the manifestation of a tired, overworked mind. Neurologically speaking, it occurs due to changes in the limbic system and other parts of the brain as a result of chronic stress[12]. These changes, or unproductive neural pathways, keep us locked in a chronic loop of depression and hopelessness. The good news is that these symptoms are temporary and can be reversed. Just as a car battery will recharge itself if we drive without thrashing the starter or leaving the lights on unnecessarily, so will your emotional battery recharge itself when you stop thrashing your mind with fear, worry, and despair. Through re-origin, you’ll learn how to adopt the perspective of the “curious observer,” separating yourself from the depressive thoughts and learning to see them as nothing more than a temporary expression of a tired mind. Then, using specific neurocognitive exercises, you can systematically work to create new, healthy neural pathways and get back to a place of balance where normal thought processes, feelings, and reactions can resume. re-origin’s approach does not chase or mask symptoms, but rather works to rewire the part of the brain that is causing the dysfunction (the limbic system), resulting in long-lasting recovery. The program is easy to follow, self-directed, cost-effective, and takes just minutes a day to implement.

How to Live and Cope with Depression

At re-origin, we believe that nobody should have to live or cope with depression. We want you to eliminate your depression, once and for all, and re-establish peace and happiness. Our program involves applying an easy-to-follow, five-step neurocognitive technique to override and rewire faulty conditioning in the brain and create new, functional neural pathways.

The key to overcoming depression lies in applying our techniques and being persistent in your efforts. With dedication and repetition, you can create new, healthy neural pathways in your brain. Learn more about the re-origin program with a free trial at re-origin.com/freetrial.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions about depression:

While this is a common question, there isn’t a “number one” cause of depression. Depression can arise for many reasons. Perhaps it started after a difficult divorce, the loss of a family member, prolonged work stress, an illness, or even another limbic system condition. No matter the cause of your depression, re-origin can help you resolve it. If your depression is the result of another limbic system condition, such as fibromyalgia, post-viral fatigue, or multiple chemical sensitivities, re-origin’s program will help you address both conditions simultaneously, ensuring that both the trigger and root cause of your depression are addressed.

It’s important to understand that something like work stress or divorce is merely a trigger for depression—it’s not the root cause. The root cause of depression is changes that occur in the brain as a result of chronic stress. Thankfully, these changes can be undone using the principles of neuroplasticity via re-origin’s program.
Anyone of any age can develop depression, although it’s most common in people between the ages of 45 and 65[13].

A Final Word from re-origin

To a person suffering from depression, the thought of ever recovering can feel insurmountable. It’s crucial to understand, however, that depression is a temporary and reversible condition. It’s a physical expression of the extreme fatigue of your emotions and mind. By applying the re-origin steps to rewire your unproductive neural pathways, you’ll become less overwhelmed and depression will gradually recede. Your brain is waiting to heal itself, if you’ll let it. All it needs is a break from the onslaught of fear, worry, and despair and some reprogramming. When you give it that break and replace your negative thought patterns with more productive ones, your brain will heal as naturally as would a broken arm. If you’re suffering from depression, know that it’s not your fault. Life can be really challenging and your brain often falls at the mercy of life’s circumstances. What is in your control, however, is your ability to recover. With re-origin’s proprietary neuroplasticity training program, you can learn to undo the underlying cause of your depression, opening the door to joy and happiness once again.

References

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  2. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
  3. Wei Liu, Tongtong Ge, Yashu Leng, Zhenxiang Pan, Jie Fan, Wei Yang, Ranji Cui, “The Role of Neural Plasticity in Depression: From Hippocampus to Prefrontal Cortex”, Neural Plasticity, vol. 2017, Article ID 6871089, 11 pages, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/6871089
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8933#symptoms
  5. Singh, S. P., & Karkare, S. (2017). Stress, Depression and Neuroplasticity. arXiv preprint arXiv:1711.09536. Available from: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1711/1711.09536.pdf
  6. http://www.assessmentpsychology.com/HAM-D.pdf
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression#types
  8. Kays, J. L., Hurley, R. A., & Taber, K. H. (2012). The Dynamic Brain: Neuroplasticity and Mental Health. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 24(2), 118–124. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.neuropsych.12050109
  9. Driessen, E., & Hollon, S. D. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy for mood disorders: efficacy, moderators and mediators. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 33(3), 537–555. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933381/
  10. Serafini G. (2012). Neuroplasticity and major depression, the role of modern antidepressant drugs. World journal of psychiatry, 2(3), 49–57. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3782176/
  11. https://www.ajmc.com/view/depression-not-an-inflammatory-disease-but-inflammation-plays-a-huge-role
  12. Liu, B., Liu, J., Wang, M., Zhang, Y., & Li, L. (2017). From Serotonin to Neuroplasticity: Evolvement of Theories for Major Depressive Disorder. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2017.00305
  13. https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/facts-about-depression-whos-at-risk.aspx