What is depression? Overview, causes and prevention

Depression is a serious mental illness that occurs at any age . The patients feel very depressed, lose their interests and are exhausted and listless. The disease is long-standing and rarely gets better on its own without treatment. How do you recognize depression, which forms of depression are there and which therapies help? Read everything you need to know about it here!

Quick overview of depression

Symptoms : Main symptoms are deep depression, loss of interest and listlessness; Side symptoms include insomnia, self-doubt, feelings of guilt, difficulty concentrating
Causes and risk factors : partly genetic predisposition, mental injuries, disturbed messenger metabolism in the brain , stress
Diagnostics: anamnesis interview, physical examinations
Treatment : Various forms of psychotherapy , medication (antidepressants)
Course and prognosis: Depression is curable. The probability of recurrence after a depressive episode without prevention is about 50 to 75 percent.
Prevention: stress reduction, sport, maintaining social contacts.

What is depression?

Depression is a mental disorder that makes people feel depressed and lacking in motivation. In addition, there are often symptoms such as low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, sleeping disorders and poor concentration . Depression usually severely impacts those affected, restricts their everyday life, puts a strain on romantic relationships and, in some patients, leads to incapacity to work – in the worst case even to suicide.

Incidence of depression in Africa

According to NIH.gov, it is estimated that 29.19 million people, which forms 9% of 322 million in Africa, suffer from depression. Over 7 million of these are in Nigeria (3.9% of 322 million).

The WHO reports that about 5% of adults in the world suffer from depression.

What causes depression?

How depression develops has not yet been fully elucidated. Doctors assume that several factors always play together. These include biological, genetic and psychosocial triggers. The extent of the influence of the various factors varies from case to case.

Genetic Influences

Twin and adoption studies have shown that depression also has a genetic root. The risk of developing depression is 50 percent higher if other first-degree relatives already have the disease. For example, if a mother has a depressive disorder, this is a risk factor for the child, especially if the disorder started at an early age.

Vulnerability: Susceptibility to depression

Vulnerability describes how susceptible a person is to a mental disorder. For people with high vulnerability, even a little stress can lead to depression. If, on the other hand, vulnerability is low, people manage to cope well with even very stressful events. Such people are called resilient . Not only the objective severity of the stress decides whether a person suffers from depression, but the ability to deal with it.

The experiences that a person has made in his life have a significant influence on this. For example, people who have experienced traumatic experiences such as abuse or neglect in childhood have a particularly high risk of developing depression. But it is also crucial which skills a person has acquired in order to cope with stressful situations.

Disturbed messenger metabolism in the brain

Nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other via electrical impulses and messenger substances, so-called neurotransmitters. There are indications that this so-called cerebral metabolism is altered during depression.

A disturbed norepinephrine or serotonin level in the brain tissue may be partly responsible for depression. If these messenger substances are not in balance, this disrupts the exchange between the nerve cells. And that in turn affects feelings and thoughts negatively.

Irregulated stress hormones

Other approaches to explaining the cause of depression focus on a dysregulation of the stress hormones adrenaline , noradrenaline and cortisol . In particular, depressed people have been found to have elevated cortisol levels. Such a condition can be considered as a trigger for depression, but also as its consequence.

Stress as a trigger

Stress plays a crucial role in the development of depression. Conversely, depression itself also causes stress – for example, because the illness reduces a lot of quality of life. Some phases of life are inherently associated with increased stress. These include, for example, puberty or retirement. In such phases, the risk of depression increases.

Significant life events are also stressful. This includes negative experiences such as job loss, separation or a serious illness. However, positive events also cause stress: For example, a promotion, the birth of a child or a wedding also increases the likelihood of developing depression.

In fact, people with depression often report difficult events before the onset of the illness. In many other cases, however, depression appears to appear out of nowhere.

Negative thought patterns

It’s not always fate or genes: personal attitudes towards life also have an impact on the risk of depression. People who think badly of themselves and the world and see pessimism about the future are more likely to become depressed. Good self-esteem and optimism, on the other hand, protect against depression.

Risk factor female gender

Women are about twice as likely to suffer from depression as men. One possible explanation is that women are more at risk due to hormonal fluctuations. Such hormone fluctuations occur, for example, in the course of the menstrual cycle and during and after pregnancy.

In addition, depression in men is discovered less frequently. Some are reluctant to show weakness and seek help. However, they also sometimes have atypical symptoms such as aggressive and excessive behavior, which makes diagnosis difficult.

Physical illnesses and depression

Some physical illnesses promote depression. Diseases of the brain and hormonal imbalances in particular affect the emotional world. The latter include hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism or what is known as Cushing’s syndrome , in which the adrenal glands release excessive amounts of cortisol – the result is often a depressive phase.

Serious and chronic illnesses are also a constant burden on the psyche. People who suffer from cancer, severe cardiovascular diseases or diabetes often develop depression. It is also possible that the drugs used for treatment or the physiological processes associated with the disease increase the risk of depression.

Conversely, depression has an unfavorable influence on the course of such diseases or even promotes their development. With such a combination of physical and mental illnesses, it is always important to treat the mental and physical suffering equally.

Medicines and drugs

Taking certain medications also occasionally affects mood. These include cardiovascular drugs such as beta blockers, cortisone and related substances, hormonal contraceptives and some neurological drugs such as antiepileptics and anti-Parkinson drugs.

Drugs such as alcohol, cannabis and other substances that influence the psyche also promote the onset of depression.

How does depression progress?

Depression progresses very differently from person to person. Consistent treatment helps most people who suffer from depression. The therapy makes it possible to break through depressive episodes or to let them subside completely. Depression is considered curable.

If left untreated, however, there is a high probability that depression will persist for months or years. This is especially true for major depression. The earlier treatment begins, the better the outlook.

About half of people who have had a depressive episode will relapse. For people with severe depression, the figure is 75 percent. With each relapse, the likelihood of further depressive phases occurring increases. Chronic depression is particularly difficult to cure. They often become lifelong companions and require constant treatment.

How can depression be prevented?

There are many factors that contribute to depression. Not all can be turned off. In order to strengthen your own mental health and thus possibly reduce the risk of depression, it is advisable to reduce stress.

A stable social network also has a protective effect. Therefore, maintain regular contact with friends and exchange ideas about worries and problems.

Sport and regular exercise have proven themselves in the therapy of depression and make a contribution to preventing the development of depression.