When doctors talk about depression, they mean the medical illness called major depression. Someone who has major depression has symptoms like those listed in the box below nearly every day, all day, for 2 weeks or longer. There is also a minor form of depression that causes less severe symptoms. Both have the same causes and treatment.
If you’re depressed, you may also have headaches, other aches and pains, digestive problems and problems with sex. An older person who has depression may feel confused or have trouble understanding simple requests.
Symptoms of depression
- Feeling sad, hopeless and having frequent crying spells
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy (including sex)
- Feeling guilty, helpless or worthless
- Thinking about death or suicide
- Sleeping too much, or having problems sleeping
- Unintended weight loss or gain
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Having trouble paying attention and making decisions
- Having aches and pains that don’t get better with treatment
- Feeling restless, irritated and easily annoyed
What causes depression?
Depression seems to be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it hard for the cells to communicate with one another. Depression also seems to be hereditary (to run in families).
Depression can be linked to stressful events in your life, such as the death of someone you love, a divorce or loss of you a job. Taking certain medicines, abusing drugs or alcohol or having other illnesses can also lead to depression. Depression isn’t caused by personal weakness, laziness or lack of willpower.
How is depression diagnosed?
If you’re having symptoms of depression, be sure to tell your doctor so you can get help. Don’t expect your doctor to be able to guess that you’re depressed just by looking at you. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner the depression will lift.
Once you tell your doctor how you’re feeling, he or she may ask you some questions about your symptoms, about your health and about your family history of health problems. Your doctor may also give you a physical exam and do some tests.
How is depression treated?
Depression can be treated with medicines, with counseling or with both.
What about medicines?
Many medicines can be used to treat depression. These medicines are called antidepressants. They correct the chemical imbalance in the brain that causes depression.
Antidepressants work differently for different people. They also have different side effects. So, even if one medicine bothers you or doesn’t work for you, another may help. You may notice improvement as soon as 1 week after you start taking the medicine. But you probably won’t see the full effects for about 8 to 12 weeks. You may have side effects at first but they tend to decrease after a couple of weeks.
How long will I need medicine?
How long you’ll need to take the medicine depends on your depression. Your doctor may want you to take medicine for 4 to 6 months or longer. You need to take the medicine long enough to reduce the chance that the depression will come back. Talk with your doctor about any questions you have about your medicine
What is psychotherapy?
In psychotherapy, you talk with your family doctor, a psychiatrist or a therapist about things that are going on in your life. The focus may be on your thoughts and beliefs or on your relationships. Or the focus may be on your behavior, how it’s affecting you and what you can do differently. Psychotherapy often lasts for a limited time, such as 8 to 20 visits.
Will I need to go to the hospital?
Depression can usually be treated through visits to your doctor. Treatment in the hospital may be needed if you have other medical conditions that could affect your treatment or if you’re at high risk of suicide.
How long will the depression last?
This depends on how soon you get help. Left untreated, depression can last for weeks, months or even years. The main risk in not getting treatment is suicide. Treatment can help depression lift in 8 to 12 weeks, or less.
Getting through depression
- Pace yourself. Don’t expect to do everything you normally can. Set a realistic schedule.
- Don’t believe negative thoughts you may have, such as blaming yourself or expecting to fail. This thinking is part of depression. These thoughts will go away as your depression lifts.
- Get involved in activities that make you feel good or feel like you’ve achieved something.
- Avoid making big life decisions while you are depressed. If you must make a big decision, ask someone you trust to help you.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Both make depression worse. Both can cause dangerous side effects with your antidepressants.
- Physical activity seems to cause a chemical reaction in the body that may improve your mood. Exercising 4 to 6 times a week for at least 30 minutes each time is a good goal. But even less activity can be helpful.
- Try not to get discouraged. It will take time for your depression to lift fully.
Useful Herbs in the Treatment of Depression
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha has the requisite properties to remove negative thoughts from the mind. The aphrodisiac properties of ashwagandha also help in improving the mind and removing depression.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)
Brahmi is prescribed before a yogic session. The reason is that brahmi helps to relax the mind and bring it to a comfortable state. Brahmi is very popularly available in the form of oils. The oil has a cooling and soothing effect on the mind. Regular use of this oil can prevent the person from feeling depressed.
Cardamom (Elattaria cardamomum)
Cardamom has a very pleasing odor which can soothe the nerves. When a person is depressed, a tea made by putting cardamom in it can have almost miraculous effects.
Guggulu (Commiphora wightii)
Guggulu has become the focus of attention recently due to the presence of special chemicals in it called as guggulsterones. These chemicals improve the nervous coordination and hence are beneficial in the treatment of depression. Guggulu is more effective in depression caused due to seasonal affective disorder.
Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi)
Jatamansi brings a calming effect on the mind. By canalizing the energies of the mind in the right direction, jatamansi can remove the depressive thoughts.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is effective in treating depression that is caused by the change of seasons, i.e. seasonal affective disorder.
Dietary Treatments for Depression
- For people with depression a heavy food is not advised. The person must not eat to the full capacity. Hot, spicy and pungent tastes must be avoided as these will aggravate the senses further. Fluids and fresh vegetables (in salads) must become an important part of every meal. The person can have cool sherbets like rose sherbet in the middle of the day, especially in the afternoons and when the evening is beginning. Tea and coffee may be taken occasionally to stimulate the brain.
- Most people with depression lose their appetite and desire to eat. For such people, food must not be forced, or it could lead to vomiting. When such a disinterest in food occurs, fruits can be consumed. A diet rich in fruits is beneficial in the treatment of depression.
Ayurvedic Treatment for Depression
- Even in Ayurveda, a psychological counseling between the physician and the patient is undertaken. This helps the physician to understand the root cause of the depression. Then they can take the formulated steps to cure the problem. Such counseling is done to increase the sattva of the mind.
- Slowly allowing a stream of water to fall in the center of the forehead enables the mind to remove its negativistic thoughts and focus more on a positive outlook. This therapy is known as shirodhara and it is becoming very popular in the western world also. An alternative therapy is shirobasti. The oil massage therapy called as abhyanga is also very useful.
- Ayurverdic professionals also advocate the use of yoga in keep the mind restful. Praanayama and yoga must become an important part of a person’s daily routine. This helps to concentrate the mind on positive thoughts and depression will never occur. Yogic asanas that are beneficial to people with depression are bhujangasana, halasana, paschimottasana, sarvangasana, shalabhasana, shavasana and vakrasana. In addition, pranayamas like bhastrika and kapalbhati are very strongly advised.
- Get someone do a good head massage with a cooling oil like brahmi oil.
- Improve the regimen of your day. Begin with yoga in the morning and then listen to good soothing music. For some people, visiting their religious places of worship also helps to come out of depression.
- Focus your mind in other activities and hobbies in order to keep the thoughts causing depression away.
- You can try eating an apple with milk and honey. This helps to improve the mood.
- Simple lemon juice (the extract of one lemon in a glass of water, sweetened with sugar) is also good. It releases stress-removing hormones and brings the mind at ease.