Depression is a serious illness that affects over 300 million people worldwide. While everyone feels sad sometimes, people with Major Depressive Disorder, or clinical depression, can be down for weeks, months, or even years. It’s not something they can shake by changing their routine. For many, the activities that used to make them happy, don’t anymore. They may feel hopeless and exhausted, have trouble sleeping, lose their appetite, or have a decreased libido. It can be hard for them to get through the day or complete routine tasks. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. 

Why do people get depressed?

There isn’t really one particular reason people slip into depression. It can be triggered by an event or stress, but it can also start without a clear cause. Either way, it’s real and serious. One in 10 people have been depressed at least once in their lifetime, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. 

For decades, scientists believed that the illness was caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, like Serotonin, that help regulate mood. Many medications that treat depression boost these chemicals, but they often take weeks to work. This may be because the chemicals are actually helping build new neurons and connections in the brain. Several studies support this theory, suggesting that the root cause of depression could be problems with the brain’s circuits. 

One study showed that depressed people have weak connections in the parts of the brain associated with reward and memory, and strong connections in the areas associated with punishment. Another study found hyperactivity in the areas controlling concentration and mood. This might be what causes negative thoughts to stay at the front of someone’s mind, even when they try to push them away. Scientists are now looking for treatments that target these circuits directly to provide better relief. 

 

Is depression more?

Depression can be more than just bad feelings. It’s also been linked to chronic pain, immune system problems, heart diseases, and hormone imbalances. In fact, physical symptoms are often the first sign of major depressive disorder. In a study of roughly 1200 people who met the criteria for depression, nearly 70% went to the doctor for physical symptoms, not mental. 

So, does depression cause physical problems, or is it the other way around? Well, it may be both. For example, researches have long thought that stress can cause stomach issues, but there is also evidence that irritation in your gut can trigger mood swings. Since the mind and body are so closely linked, mental illness is often felt physically even though there is no illness in the body itself. Those physical sensations are called Psychosomatic Symptoms. Some scientists believe that physical and emotional pain share similar pathways in the brain, and it’s necessary to treat both types of symptoms to get relief.