Depression is a serious medical illness affecting more than 14 million American adults every year. The United States National Institute of Mental Health maintains that, "Depression is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major Depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally." Depression causes pain and suffering not only to those who have the disorder, but to those who care about them. Depression can be a lethal disease with more than 1 million deaths from suicide each year. Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for people aged 15-44.
According to the standard diagnosis guide (DSM-IV-TR) published by the American Psychiatric Association, depression is diagnosed when an individual is experiencing either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure plus four or more of the following symptoms during the same two-week period:
Depression is known to be hereditary so depression may occur in some people who have a particular genetic makeup that makes them more likely to develop depression. However, the exact nature of these genetic characteristics is not known. Other factors may contribute to an individual’s likelihood of experiencing depression. Some of these risk factors include:
There are non-drug and drug therapies available to treat depression. While the exact cause of depression is not known, the leading scientific theory is that depression is caused by decreased activity in the neural networks of the brain that regulate mood and motivation - specifically, it is thought to be an imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters (the chemicals released between neurons to communicate information).
Depression is often initially treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy) and antidepressant medication administered together. It is believed that antidepressant medications work by increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters. Although antidepressants can be effective for some patients, they do not work for everybody. Additionally, antidepressants often result in unwanted side effects. For these patients, alternative treatments that involve the use of a medical device are available. These treatments include transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
If you feel you are experiencing any of these depression symptoms, contact your doctor and speak with them about your treatment options. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) may provide a new way back for those who have not benefitted from prior antidepressant medication.