Depressive disorders are common mental disorders that occur in people across all world regions and of all ages.
From the 2013 article “Burden of Depressive Disorders by Country, Sex, Age, and Year“, which is based on the results of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, we learn that depression is increasing worldwide.
This study is considered possibly the world’s most comprehensive global study of discomfort and death from disease. According to their findings, the number of years that people suffered from this mental illness has risen by over 37 per cent since 1990.
Depressive disorders are also a leading cause of disease burden globally and a contributor to suicide and ischemic heart disease.
What is depression?
Depression can be defined as an overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness that can last for months or years. People that suffer from it may feel that life is no longer worth living. Those affected by it often lose interest in the activities they used to enjoy and may also be affected by physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep.
Major depressive disorder (MDD), or clinical depression, is an episodic disorder. It is chronic and carries with it an increased risk of death. At least one major depressive episode occurs everyday for at least 2 weeks, where the affected individual experiences a depressed mood almost all day.
Dysthymia is a milder, also chronic form of depression, that lasts for at least 2 years. People diagnosed with dysthymia are often described as constantly unhappy.
What causes depression?
There are several theories that have developed over the years and we’ll cover here the ones that are most widely accepted.
- The INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP approach. This includes behavioural concepts, which means the depressed person uses their behaviour to control or influence a situation. This may have developed over time, unconsciously. It includes pouting, silence, or ignoring someone or something. The behaviour fails to serve the need that exists and often makes the problem worse.
- The LOSS MODEL, which argues that depression is a reaction to the loss of something or someone, status, self-esteem, or even a habit.
- The LEARNED HELPLESSNESS theory states that depression is the result of pessimistic and hopelessness feelings that are habitual.
- The BIOGENIC AMINE hypothesis is the most popular theory at the moment. This theory focusses on an imbalance in the physiology and metabolism of biogenic amines, especially catecholamines (dopamine and noradrenaline/norepinephrine) and an indoleamine (serotonin).
The biogenic amine theory is the focus of modern psychiatry. The goal is to manipulate neurotransmitter levels, rather than identifying and eliminating the underlying factors that are responsible for the imbalances.
Why are there imbalances in your serotonin, or dopamine levels? What about your gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) or other neurotransmitters. Could there be another cause to your depression?
Does your depression have a physiological or organic cause? Is it be due to more than one cause?
Investigating the cause
The nutritional clinical approach to depression is multi-pronged. Using a Functional Medicine approach, the following steps are taken:
- Take a full health history, looking at the potential causes and triggers
- Use functional laboratory testing to explore the relevant suspects
- Implement dietary, lifestyle changes
- Incorporate nutritional supplementation
Here is a list of some areas to test that provide useful information and are advised by Nutritional Therapists and Doctors when indicated.
- Full thyroid panel (possibly including thyrotropin-releasing hormone)
- Stress and adrenal function (cortisol and DHEA)
- Food intolerance
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Nutrient deficiency test (vitamins and minerals)
- Fatty acid profile
How do you or the people you know with depression deal with it? Do you understand some of the underlying causes in their disease?
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