People who suffer from depression often hear, “It’s all in your head.” It’s simply wrong to assume that people with depression are “weak.” More so, it is not right to say that their symptoms are a product of their imagination.
It’s one thing to blame them and another to treat depression as a moral failing. So what exactly is depression, and what causes it to happen?
Depression is a mood disorder that affects millions of lives globally. Symptoms typically associated with depression are feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with their daily functioning.
Other symptoms include loss of interest in everyday activities, sleep disturbances, weight loss or gain, and suicidal thoughts.
Being clinically depressed is quite different from experiencing common negative emotions. Mild and fleeting feelings of sadness serve to conserve our energy in the face of unattainable goals.
However, when profound sadness becomes debilitating and persistent for more than two weeks, this may be a sign of depression.
Contrary to popular belief, depression does not root from a lack of willpower to endure negative emotions. Biological factors, such as genetic influences, actually contribute to the prevalence of mood disorders.
Studies suggest that mood disorders are more common among blood relatives of people with clinical depression.
Although depression has its genetic roots, genetics is not the only factor we should be concerned about. In other words, depression is not a result of a single cause. Factors such as physical, social, psychological, and biological factors contribute to the onset and development of depression.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about depression. Depression is a complex mental condition that’s why it needs to be studied continually. Every day, discoveries emerge on the various ways depression affects people’s lives.
Read the full article to learn more about genetic influences and other frequently asked questions about depression.
How do genetics play a role in depression?
One of the factors that cause depression in a person is their genetics. People who have family members who also have depression have a higher risk of developing depression than those who do not.
If a person has at least one parent who has depression, they are 10 percent more likely to develop depression, and that percentage more than doubles when both parents are depressed.
What are the 4 major causes of depression?
The four major causes of depression are family history, death or loss of a loved one, trauma or abuse, and biology. Though depression is a very complex mental illness, researchers really do not have a concrete and specific cause for depression.
Each person can have the same symptoms for depression, but not everyone will have the same effects inside the brain, and every person will have a different reason why they had developed depression over this time.
What is the heritability of depression?
Heritability is known as a statistic used when trying to estimate how a trait is likely to be passed on and how it can happen due to genetic variation between different individuals.
Now, according to a study published by Stanford University, the heritability of depression is at forty to fifty percent, and this number might double or increase when depression becomes severe.
Depression, according to this study, is fifty percent hereditary, and the other half is unrelated to genetics.
What is the primary cause of depression?
There is no one primary cause of depression. It can be caused by many different external and internal factors that may differ from person to person. There are cases caused by hormones and chemical imbalances in the brain, and there are cases caused by trauma abuse.
Generally speaking, depression can be caused by many things without really being able to identify a specific one. So make sure to consult with a doctor whenever you start to feel any symptoms of depression for any reason.
What happens to the brain during the depression?
Three brain areas are affected by depression, your prefrontal cortex, your amygdala, and your hippocampus. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for emotion regulation, decision making, and memories. Your amygdala facilitates emotional responses.
The hippocampus is responsible for cortisol production, which can cause many issues once there is too much of it. There could be many different things happening in your brain during the depression, and scientists have not yet fully understood what really happens.
Who is at greatest risk for depression?
Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone. It does not really matter how old you are or if you are straight or not. It is a mental issue face by everyone, which is why it is very serious.
Mainly, those who are experiencing or who have experienced abuse, death or loss of a loved one, and untreatable illnesses are more likely to be depressed. Also, people with disabilities and people with family histories of mental illness are very likely to experience depression.
Lastly, people with other mental conditions have a higher chance of developing depression.
Does depression age your brain?
Depression is a complex condition that has taken us years and years to understand fully.
According to a study published by Yale University, depression can actually change a person’s brain physically, which will quicken the brain’s aging process. Once this starts to happen, we are now more likely to be infected with illnesses that are more commonly found in older people.
Also, a group of researchers has found that when a person is depressed, they are more likely to experience a greater decrease in their cognitive functions.
Can depression change your personality?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), in 2019, an estimated 51.5 Million American adults aged 18 and above are diagnosed with a mental illness of some sort.
This can include a wide range of mental illnesses, from depressive disorders to personality disorders. This usually entails a certain degree of change, such as a loss of energy, isolation, quietness, and overall just more withdrawal.
This could be a contrast from who the person was originally especially when they used to have such high energy and an outgoing personality.
How does depression affect synapse?
Our brain goes through a lot of changes when we are experiencing depression. From memory loss to difficulties in focusing, there will be a significant change in our brain’s functions during the depression.
What happens is our brain will experience a reduction in the sizes of certain brain regions where mood and cognitive functions are regulated. While this is happening, there will also be a reduction in neuronal synapses in the most affected areas by depression.
Can a chemical imbalance in the brain be cured?
Yes, a chemical imbalance can be treated depending on what chemical in your brain is lacking or is too high. You have to make sure that you can visit a doctor to have this checked and addressed immediately to avoid any further complications with your physical or mental health.
Any imbalance should be checked because this can be difficult to deal with once it gets to a point where it is out of control.
Which neurotransmitter at low levels is associated with depression?
There are only three neurotransmitters that are associated with depression. These neurotransmitters are serotonin, or the happy chemical in our brain that elevates our mood when at a good level. It pushes us into a depression when in a very low level, Dopamine or the body’s chemical messenger.
This neurotransmitter helps the brain deliver messages to different parts of the body—lastly, norepinephrine, or the chemical that helps with our muscles’ contraction and especially our heart.
How do you test serotonin levels?
Testing for a serotonin imbalance could present itself as a challenge as there is no specific test that is accurate enough to determine whether or not your brain has enough or if it is too high or too low.
There could be a way to test this through our blood, but again, this still could not be as accurate as we want or need it to be. So, as of the moment, there is no specific test to help identify the serotonin levels in a person’s brain.
What causes a lack of serotonin?
Serotonin deficiency could cause a person to develop a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. A few causes for this could be age-related brain changes, poor eating habits, chronic stress, very little sun exposure, and insufficient exercise.
You might just also not be doing enough of the things that make you happy. You might be ignoring what you need or what could make you feel good about yourself and the things in your life.
Does caffeine affect serotonin levels?
Serotonin is a hormone in our brain that can elevate our mood as it helps us feel happier and better about ourselves. This is why when we intake food or drinks that make us happy; our moods would instantly shift. When we drink caffeine, it has the ability to reduce the serotonin in our brain.
When we drink too much caffeine, it might actually be causing our serotonin levels to decrease instead of helping us boost our serotonin levels. The increased intake of caffeine can make our nerve ending and serotonin levels become more sensitive.
Although caffeine can be healthy for us, it is best to keep it in moderation, much like all things.
What is the happy hormone?
The happy hormone is basically also known as dopamine. What dopamine does helps with our brain’s pleasure centers and other parts of the brain and its functions such as memory, learning, motor skills, and more? Dopamine could also be known as the “feel-good” hormone. This is the hormone that addicts get when they get their “fix.” Basically, dopamine makes us happy, and it makes us feel good about everything around us.
We learned that depression results from a combination of different factors. Some people are born to be genetically predisposed to depression. However, if they grew up in a loving and nurturing environment, they’re not likely to develop depression.
Likewise, someone who doesn’t have a family history of depression can develop the condition if they experience trigger events such as:
- childhood trauma,
- loss and bereavement,
- child abuse or neglect,
- family problems, and
Maybe you have a relative with depression, and you wonder if you’d also develop the condition. Or perhaps you have the condition, and you fear that your children might inherit it. It is important to note that regardless of genetic influences, anyone can get depression.
While people with genetic predispositions are at greater risk of developing depression, there are measures to minimize that risk. Also, depression is treatable, and its symptoms are manageable with the proper treatment methods.
Common methods used to treat depression include pharmacological treatments and talk therapy. Also, practicing healthy habits can do wonders in reducing the symptoms of depression. Among these habits are:
- avoiding drugs and alcohol,
- sticking to a regular sleep schedule,
- eating a balanced diet, and
- exercising regularly.
Another significant factor in the maintenance of people’s mental health is social support. Depressive symptoms can increase people’s tendency to isolate themselves from their loved ones or any social circle.
By yielding to this urge to remain solitary, depressive symptoms intensify, and recovery becomes more difficult. You can build strong social connections through:
- volunteering in community services,
- participating in social events, and
- getting together with loved ones.
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with depression, know that that help is available. Contact your local healthcare provider if you think that you might have depression. For anyone contemplating suicide, seek assistance from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline.