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Depression Really is a Medical Condition

stethoscope notepadDepression is Much More Than Just Feeling Sad

We all get sad sometimes, and we all have bouts of what we have come to call depression, but the truth is, there are lots of different types of depression.

There is a mental health issue known as depression. This type of depression is usually short lived, situational, and while it is caused by a chemical and/or hormonal change, when you change the circumstances that have caused this type of depression, the brain begins to release and/or re uptake new chemicals, and this type of depression goes away.

Then there is something that is becoming more well-known that is called clinical or medical depression. This type of depression really has little to do with circumstances or situations in one’s life. However, it should be noted that circumstances can indeed exacerbate and make it worse. A person with clinical or medical depression gets depressed, just like everyone else does, but in their brain, there is a malfunction of the neurotransmitters that does not allow the brain to release and/or re uptake the chemicals necessary to move out of this state of being.

People with clinical depression are often misunderstood by friends and family, especially when it appears that things are going well in their lives. No one understands why this person is depressed or sad. The advice that is given to them is: Cheer up! Just smile! Don’t let it get to you!

So stop for a moment and think about this.

Diabetes is a disease that is caused by a problem with the pancreas, having to do with a hormone called insulin. There are many different causes for diabetes, including poor lifestyle choices, poor eating habits, poor physical and emotional health, a family history (genetics) of the disease, etc. Some people are more prone to it than others. Some people, when faced with identical circumstances, will never get diabetes, and some who do everything right will.

If someone has diabetes, would you tell them to cheer up and get over it? No, you would most likely tell them to go to the doctor, and if need be, change their lifestyle, eating habits, sleep habits, and perhaps in extreme cases, to take medication.

Depression is a disease that is caused by a problem with the function of the brain (neurotransmitters), having to do with hormones and chemical regulation, most notably serotonin. There are many different causes for depression, including poor lifestyle choices, poor eating habits, poor physical and emotional health, a family history (genetics) of disease, etc. Some people are more prone to it than others. Some people, when faced with identical circumstances, will never get depression, and some who do everything right will.

So it is clear from the information above that depression can indeed be a medical problem as much as diabetes is, why do people insist that people who suffer from depression simply ‘get over it’?

A diagnosis of depression can come from many different sources. There is a test, known as the MMPI that can often diagnose depression and classify it as to the severity, duration, type, and cause. EEGs and brain scans can look for abnormalities in the brain, including epileptic spikes that can result in depression. Blood work is often taken from someone who is suspected of having depression as well, to determine if there is a chemical or medical cause. Now, if depression were only mental health, and not a true medical problem, why all the medical tests?

Additionally, depression is not something that has been caused by life circumstances. Depression can often be seen in very young children, or when an adult patient seeks treatment for depression, they can usually tell the doctor that this pattern has been there for many years. As a young child, there is rarely anything so bad as to make one perpetually sad. The only way the sadness, melancholy, and withdrawal of a very young child can be explained is through the diagnosis of a medical condition known as depression.

Depression is nothing of which to be ashamed. It is partially controllable, but not completely. Learning to change lifestyles and attempting to keep negative influences out of your life can indeed help where depression is concerned, but it cannot prevent bouts of depression flare ups, just like other cyclical medical disorders can flare and go into remission. Depression can go into remission of sorts, where someone who suffers from depression can have depression free moments, ranging from a few days, to weeks or even months before another episode flares.

Now, it’s important to note that counseling is suggested for people with depression, NOT because depression is a mental health issue, but because having depression causes additional mental health issues. In other words, patients with depression are not sent to counselors to cure their depression. Rather, depression patients are sent to a counselor to deal with the symptoms that depression causes, much like a doctor often sends a cancer patient or an RA patient or an MS or lupus patient to a counselor in order to deal with the issues pertaining to their illnesses.

Depression is also a symptom of other illnesses and diseases, as well as being a side effect of some medications. If depression were merely a mental health issue, then these other illnesses and medications could not actually cause depression as a symptom or side effect.

It’s difficult to understand depression as a medical condition if you have never experienced it, but let’s see if we can explain it. Think of a time when you were severely depressed over something that had happened to you, very situational, and while you knew that the sadness would leave you in time, think of how you felt right at that moment while you were in the depths of that depression.

Now, try if you can, to picture feeling like that every single day of your life, day in and day out. Think about what it must be like when nothing makes you happy, nothing makes you smile, nothing brings you pleasure… and then extend that out to where you feel that way for months and months, and try to picture how you’d feel emotionally, physically, mentally.

Depression is a very serious medical disorder…. people DIE from depression. People’s health deteriorates from depression. People hurt, physically and emotionally, from depression. It makes it hard to work, to hold down a job, to maintain friendships, and some days, even to get up out of bed in the morning and function.

Now, consider also the helplessness that the depressed person must feel, when everyone around them is telling them, “Just get over it. Just do this, just do that.” when inside, they truly want to do these things.

As with any illness, having a solid support system of people who truly understand is of the utmost importance. If you have depression, do yourself a favor and don’t let your pride or feelings of shame get in the way. Seek professional help. Go to your doctor, tell him what’s wrong, and ask him what you should do. Would you begrudge a diabetic his insulin? Then why would you begrudge yourself a medication or lifestyle change to treat your medical disorder?

If you are a family member or care giver or friend of someone who has depression, don’t tell them to cheer up. All you will really be doing is making it worse, because, honestly, the depressed person wants to cheer up. Telling them to do so is equivalent to telling a diabetic to, “Just make insulin!” They can’t cheer up anymore than a diabetic can change how their pancreas makes the hormones it needs to survive, and telling them to do so only adds to their guilt, pressure, strain, and emotional state.

The best things you can do as a loved one of someone who suffers from depression is to be there, listen when they need to talk, be supportive of their moods, knowing they are real to them, and encourage them to seek medical assistance when required. Don’t ever make them feel ashamed for not being strong enough to, “Just get over it.” Truth is, it takes a lot more strength to admit there is a problem and seek help for it than refusing to admit there is an issue.

In the end, depression is something that can be controlled, treated, and a person can learn through many avenues, including lifestyle changes and medication, to live a perfectly fulfilling life.

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One Response to “Depression Really is a Medical Condition”

  • Tori:

    In the cociapmlted world we live in, it’s good to find simple solutions.

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