Understanding the enemy…part two

In our last post we looked at the different kinds of depression, and explored the symptoms of each of them. Now that we understand a little more (and hopefully can relate to one of the types of depression described) we can look at the actual physical cause of depression and anxiety.

It has been said that by 2020 depression will be the No.2 cause of disability worldwide. Speaking of it as a disability seems demeaning, but in reality it’s not – it’s just seeing the facts for what they are. You see, depression and anxiety is an illness that stems from changes in the actual chemistry of your brain. Anything from childbirth, to circumstances, to head injury can cause these changes in your neurotransmitters, manifesting itself in the different kinds of depression discussed earlier. It is, however, a disability with an excellent response to treatment, and in many cases doesn’t need to be a life sentence.

One example of such a neurotransmitter in your brain is Seratonin. It allows for the transmission of impulses from one nerve cell to another accross a tiny gap called a synapse. In depression though, the Seratonin levels in these gaps is too little or does not get reabsorbed properly, and that is where the problem lies.

With treatment, the aim is to get these neurotransmitters back up to the levels they should be.

It has been medically recorded that depression affects:

The attention-centre of the brain, impacting your ability to focus on one of several objects or trains of thought;

Your memory, including memories of time and space (episodic memory) and the meaning of things (semantic memory)

Your mental flexibility, meaning your verbal fluency, planning and problem solving capacity, inhibition, and working memory;

The time it takes to perform motor activity, for example your reaction time, rate of speech, and information processing speed;

Your ability to concentrate, which diminishes with time, and;

Your ability to be decisive, decreasing it dramatically.

The most common age of onset is in the late 20’s, but there is a steady rise of cases in the age bracket 15-19 as well. The female to male ratio ranges from two to one to three to one in all cultures, and there is a 6% chance of any adult getting depression at least once in their life. The chances increase to 12% if you have an immediate family member who suffers with the same disease. It must be said though, 70% to 80% of people will respond well to an anti-depressive medication combined with psychotherapy of some kind. For more serious cases, hospitalization (not a bad thing in my experience) and/or ECT (Electro-convulsive therapy) works well, with patients showing improvement within the first 10-14 days, and reports of ‘feeling normal’ again within 6-8 weeks. It is important to remember, however, that treatment should preferably not be stopped within the first six months – the treatment that got you well will keep you well, and it takes a while to get back on your feet.

In some cases, prevention is also better than a cure… in people who have recurring problems with depression, or more severe cases of depression, medication may need to be continued indefinitely to ensure that those ‘dips’ are avoided.

As mentioned in our previous post, help is available from the SADAG-website and we will have a support group starting on the first Wednesday of July this year. The aim of the support group is not to substitute treatment, and we encourage all our members (and members-to-be) to still seek professional help either from SADAG or their doctor.

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