How Much do you Really Know About Depression? It’s More Than Sadness

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

 

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Things are changing, but the black community has a persistent stigma against mental illness and seeking help for mental health conditions. Nonprofit associations focused on mental health, like Mental health America and National Association for Mental Illness suggest that one of the most effective ways to defeat stigma is education that increases awareness of issues related to mental wellness and illness. A cornerstone of any smart education strategy includes accurate, plain-language information about disorders and their prevention and treatment that the public can use to make healthcare decisions and respond to personal and others’ challenges with confidence and informed compassion. Ourselves Black provides the following information on depression as a strategic resource to help reduce and ultimately defeat stigma among black Americans.

Depression: What is it?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities that continues for at least two weeks. Contrary to popular characterizations, depression is not a personality disorder, but a mood disorder. This distinction is important to understand to avoid confusion and mislabeling between depression and other conditions like borderline personality disorder. Another important clarification is that while depression produces feelings of sadness, the condition itself is not those feelings. This is one of the reasons why an experience of sad feelings, by itself, is not sufficient for a diagnosis of depression.

What are the causes of depression?

Depression is a complex illness because it involves brain function and the various processes that produce mood. In simple terms, recent research shows that in people with depression, the biological processes that regulate mood in the brain become dysfunctional and no longer work as they should. The brain has nerve cells (neurons) that transmit chemicals (neurotransmitters) between the them. The chemicals carry messages and instructions to the parts of the brain that impact mood. Sophisticated imaging has allowed researchers to understand that the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus are primary regions of the brain involved in mood regulation. 

The hippocampus regulates emotions and is involved with long-term memory. The amygdala helps process intense (scary or disturbing) memories and emotional experiences. The thalamus receives information generated by the senses and sends it to the cerebral cortex where speech, thinking, and learning are controlled.

In depression, the transmission of information between neurons is either weakened or over-stimulated. Good transmission requires not just the presence of neurons but also growth, strong connections between them, and high-quality exchange of information. Faulty transmission means the brain regions responsible for mood, emotion, and thought regulation, and memory processing will not provide consistent and healthy indicators in those areas.

Research has also shed more light on the role of genetics in depression. Genes produce proteins involved in biological processes and can change how those processes work such that a person’s mood is predisposed to or becomes less stable.

Additionally, certain medications and vitamin deficiencies can produce symptoms that look similar to depressive symptoms. Therefore, it is important to talk to a medical professional for diagnosis and advice.

Are there different types of depression?

There are different forms of depression.

Major Depressive Disorder, also called Clinical Depression or Major Depression, is one type of depression. This is what most people mean when they use the term ‘depression’. A diagnosis is usually made using the Diagnostic Statistical Manual which requires five of the following nine symptoms to be present almost every day for at least two weeks:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Markedly diminished interest in pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day
  • Significant weight loss without dieting or weight gain
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • Lessened ability to think or concentrate, or trouble making decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death
  • Purposeless physical activity like pacing, restlessness, tapping fingers/feet, moving objects around

Persistent Depressive Disorder, also called Dysthymia,  is another type of depression. It is a chronic, lower-grade form of depression that lasts at least two years.

Peripartum Depression is depression associated with pregnancy and/or childbirth and is characterized by extreme sadness, anxiety and/or indifference, and significant changes in sleep or appetite.

Because depression is a serious mental health condition, people shouldn’t assume that every episode of disappointment or ‘being down’ is actually depression, nor should it be confused with the following conditions which might be related to or often co-occurring with, depression.

Anxiety

Grief

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD)

 

The information presented here is not intended to be medical advice. It is for informational and educational purposes only and is based on information from these sources:

American Psychiatric Association

Mayo Clinic

Harvard Medical School/Harvard Health Publications

Please consult these and similar resources for additional information.