Depression is More Than “Just Being Sad”

You’ve heard it all before; “depression isn’t real.”, “just be happy”, and “you have no reason to be depressed.” Regardless of many people’s beliefs, depression is a mental illness that might be cause by the lack of activity of neural circuits in the brain, but nonetheless affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide to this day (See Fig. 1 to the right).

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Figure 1. Worldwide Statistics for Depression (Pietrangelo, 2015)

Many symptoms of depression might include fatigue, weight loss, persistent sad or an empty feeling, worthlessness, appetite/weight changes, suicidal thoughts, and chronic pain/digestive problems (NIH, 2016). Although these symptoms are not experienced by everyone who may suffer from depression, these are a few of the consistent ones seen in people who suffer from depression. If you experience one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should definitely see a doctor and maybe get some help on how to control it, which might include taking an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), and going to see a counselor. Anxiety (increased worry and fear) is also a mood disorder that is usually paired with depression and can start at any age in someone’s life, usually starting in adolescence or occurs in adults.

A person is more susceptible to developing depression if they already take medications that may cause depression, if they have a family history of depression, or they are at a point in their life in which they are under a great amount of stress or experience a trauma within their life. These would include incidents such as finals, a divorce, or a death in the family. Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15-44 and around 7% of the United States suffers from MDD. Worldwide, 350 million suffer from depression (WHO, 2015), and these are only the people who have been diagnosed with a Major Depression by their doctor or ones that are seeking help in managing their depression.

Considering that so many people suffer from depression daily worldwide, it is important that people understand the statistics and realize how important it is to bring about awareness and break the stigma that is associated with the mood disorder. While many people do get help in managing their depression or their anxiety, it is also important that others feel safe or comfortable in admitting that they are depressed and are not too ashamed of having a disorder that might prevent them from getting the help that they need before it’s too late. This blog aims to raise awareness and educate people that may be suffering from depression, so that they may know that there are many resources that are available to them so that they can be helped in the management of it.

Throughout this blog, you will see a series of four posts (including this one), on topics that are about and/or related to depression and anxiety and medications for these illnesses, the stigma that is related to them, research that has been done recently at UNC (University of North Carolina), and looking to the future and what it has in store when it comes to research on depression and anti-depressants.

Break The Stigma not Only With Depression; Anti-Depressants Too

When a person begins taking an anti-depressant, the goal is for them to overcome their depression and anxiety and also the symptoms of depression, including increasing appetite, drowsiness in order to get them back on a sleep schedule, and to raise serotonin levels in the brain so that a person may experience happiness. While these prescriptions are not going to heal one’s major depression, it does help in managing the symptoms of it, especially if someone is suffering from something such as seasonal depression (depression that is brought about at around the same time every year, most common in Winter).

Even though these medicines are aimed to help one’s depression, it may worsen anxiety and depression during the first few weeks of use. This is because some people may not respond to the medicine that has been prescribed to them and it may take a couple of tries with different medicines and/or an increase of dosage in order for it to start working for some people. Some people experience potential fatal side effects which include nausea, dry mouth, diarrhea, worsening anxiety, dizziness, reduced sexual desire, headaches, and other side effects as well (Mayo Clinic, 2016).

As these side effects from taking an SSRI such as Prozac or Zoloft can be fatal to the patient, it is important that a patient knows that they may suffer from some of these side effects, so it is crucial that the patient think about it before receiving a prescription from their physician. If any of these side effects persist during the first few weeks of something taking the medicine, you should immediately contact your doctor.

One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Depression

Recently at UNC (University of North Carolina), the interest in research on depression and the side effects of an antidepressant has piqued. Because of the fact that many people often do suffer from the potentially fatal side effects of an antidepressant, researchers such as Thomas Kash (pictured below), Catherine Marcinkiewicz, et. al. tracked the pathway in the brain that may be responsible for the side effects that are sometimes caused by taking an antidepressant during the first few weeks (Derewicz, 2016). The specific pathway that was tracked was tracked through the use of chemogenetic (engineering to interact with unrecognized molecules) tools, optogenetic (light source) tools, and lab mice.

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Thomas Kash, lead researcher. (Lang, 2011)

These researchers administered a small shock to the paws of the mice in order to evoke feelings of fear and anxiety within the brains of the mice, activating serotonin-producing neurons. Because these neurons in the brain were activated, it helped the researchers to see where the serotonin in an antidepressant goes when it enters the brain. This research is highly significant not only for people who might suffer with worsening anxiety and depression, but it also helps to understand the brains of most mammals when fear and anxiety is induced in them.

What’s Next and What Can YOU Do to Help?

As far as the future is concerned, there is still much research that needs to be done in order to find a cure or a treatment that someone may be able to use in order to prevent themselves from suffering from worsening anxiety and depression during the first few weeks of using an antidepressant such as Zoloft or Prozac. However, there are many things that you can do in order to help someone if you know that they may be suffering from depression and/or anxiety.

Be a friend and let them know that you are there for them, no matter how long it takes them to get over this hard time in their life, which may last longer than anyone may expect. Whether it be just them wanting someone to talk to or just be patient with them, do it. In the end it will make them feel a lot better if you at least attempt to understand what they are going through, even if you have never suffered from depression yourself; they will appreciate that you were there for them and know that your presence does not go unnoticed in their lives.

If you are suffering from depression yourself or even think that you might be, there are many hotlines that are available and it is important to get the help that you will need in order to get through it. Until there is a treatment for worsening anxiety and depression, it is important to pay attention to your medicine and the side effects that sometimes come along with taking the medicine. Even if you don’t have depression, it is important to understand some of these things in order to help break the stigma!! Always know the importance of mental health and do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Whether you just need someone to talk to, or you may think you may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorder; as someone you may know may be suffering from a disorder and you wouldn’t know it. Although the saying “never judge a book by its cover” is super cliché, it is also super relevant in this case, as you never know what someone may be going through behind closed doors and besides the person that they allow you to see.