Depression is what is also known as an affective disorder, which has a negative effect on how you feel, how you think and how you behave. An affective disorder is a condition that affects the way you experience your emotions. Typical for depression is feelings of sadness or apathy, loss of interest in almost all or many activities that one normally enjoys, and experiences fatigue and decreased energy. The symptoms of depression range from mild to severe and the symptoms should be present for at least two weeks. An important aspect of depression is that the symptoms cause significant suffering or negatively affect social, work or other areas of your life.
Symptoms of depression
Depression can look different from person to person. This is because one does not have to have all the symptoms of depression to be depressed. This means that you may find that you are depressed most of the day, sleep too much and are extremely tired, while another person, who also has depression, may find that they have reduced interest in activities they usually enjoy, loose weight and sleep too little.
The list of symptoms used to diagnose depression is:
- A depressed mood most of the day, almost every day (e.g. feeling sad, empty, hopeless)
- Reduced interest or enjoyment in all, or almost all, activities
- Significant weight loss or weight gain, or decreased or increased appetite
Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Impaired ability to think or concentrate, or indecision
- Recurring thoughts of death and suicidal thoughts
Depression should not be confused with reactions that happen as a result of significant losses, such as a death of someone important to you. This is because most people will experience being very sad, and possibly also having problems with insomnia, loss of appetite or other symptoms of depression, as a reaction to the loss of a loved one, but in that situation it is seen as an appropriate and natural response to the situation.
Why do some people get depressed?
Everyone can experience a depression, and there are several factors that play a role.
Individuals who already have low self-esteem, are generally pessimistic, and who are easily overwhelmed by stress seem to be more likely to experience depression. However, this does not mean that you can prevent depression, or stop being depressed if you are just ‘optimistic enough.
Stressful life events such as divorce, unemployment, death of close family or friends, etc. increases the risk of developing depression, especially in people with a genetic predisposition to depression
The heritability of depression is about 40%. That is, if one or both of your parents have also experienced a depression, there is a higher risk that you will also experience one at some point in your life.
There are several things you can do to prevent depression, or to keep it from getting worse, such as ensuring good sleep, being physically active, eating healthy, being out in nature and spending time with others.
Ensure good sleep
You sleep worse when you are depressed, but you can also increase the risk of depression if you sleep poorly. Sleep hygiene is about establishing routines that ensure a good sleep and it can be a useful place to start. For example, it could be getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, avoiding drinking caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee just before bedtime, and putting electronics away about half an hour before you go to bed.
Physical activity can positively affect your overall well-being, and contribute to better mood and sleep, and it can also help reduce stress. The effect of regular physical activity is well documented. It is a good way to prevent depression, but also a good way to treat mild to moderate depression.
Diet and depression
Diet can also have a big impact on your well-being. Especially during a severe depression, it can be difficult to find the energy to cook or eat food at all. It may therefore be a good idea to make sure you put this basic need on your activity plan, even if you do not feel hungry or in need of food. Also, remember to drink plenty of water so you do not get dehydrated.
If possible, it is also good to eat with others when you can, and to try to create a cozy atmosphere around the meal.
Spend time in nature
Spending time outdoors has a protective effect on mental health, and being in nature has a measurable positive effect on negative thoughts. Actually,r just seeing green areas through a window has a positive effect on our health. Contact with nature is associated with an increase in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose with life, and last but not least a reduction of mental illness.
Time with other people
Depression is characterized by avoidance and exhaustion, and it is common to avoid social situations. The lack of external impulses and participation in activities results in further lack of energy and depression, and this leads to a smaller social network and loneliness. Isolation makes you more depressed, while social interaction can have a positive effect on depressive symptoms. Actions like creating a new social connection, talking to a stranger for a bit, or even just going out to a coffee shop, where there are other people around you, can significantly increase your mood.