Depression: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatments –


Depression: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatments

Posted by Lourens van der Walt on

Depression is a mood disorder that involves a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It is different from the mood fluctuations that people regularly experience as a part of life and regular activities.

According to the World Health Organization Depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 3.8% of the population affected, including 5.0% among adults and 5.7% among adults older than 60 years. Approximately 280 million people in the word have depression

People experience depression in different ways. It may interfere with your daily work, resulting in lost time and lower productivity. It can also influence relationships and some chronic health conditions.

Depression is an ongoing problem, not a passing one. It consists of episodes during which the symptoms last for at least 2 weeks and can last for years.

Depression symptoms

Depression can be more than a constant state of sadness or feeling “blue and Major depression can cause a range of symptoms affecting both your mood and body. All these symptoms of depression are experienced differently by men, women, and children.


  • Mood - anger, aggressiveness, irritability, anxiousness, restlessness
  • cognitive abilities - inability to concentrate, difficulty completing tasks, delayed responses during conversations
  • emotional well-being - feeling empty, sad, hopeless
  • physical well-being - fatigue, pains, headache, digestive problems
  • behavior - loss of interest, no longer finding pleasure in favorite activities, feeling tired easily, thoughts of suicide, drinking excessively, using drugs, engaging in high-risk activities
  • sexual interest - reduced sexual desire, lack of sexual performance
  • sleep patterns - insomnia, restless sleep, excessive sleepiness, not sleeping through the night


  • mood – e.g. irritability
  • cognitive abilities - thinking or talking more slowly
  • physical well-being -  decreased energy, greater fatigue, changes in appetite, weight changes, aches, pain, headaches, increased cramps
  • emotional well-being - feeling sad or empty, anxious or hopeless
  • behavior -  loss of interest in activities, withdrawing from social engagements, thoughts of suicide
  • sleep patterns - difficulty sleeping through the night, waking early, sleeping too much


  • mood - irritability, anger, mood swings, crying
  • behavior - getting into trouble at school or refusing to go to school, avoiding friends or siblings, thoughts of death or suicide
  • cognitive abilities - difficulty concentrating, decline in school performance, changes in grades
  • physical well-being - loss of energy, digestive problems, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain
  • emotional well-being -  feelings of incompetence or despair, crying, intense sadness
  • sleep patterns - difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

Causes of Depression

There are several possible causes of depression that can range from biological to circumstantial causes.

Common causes include:

  • Genetic Factors Genetic factors contribute to 40 percent of the predisposition to depressive and anxious symptoms, with 60 percent being attributed to environmental, non-inherited factors.” "Especially with anxiety, more so than depression, there often is some family history, and so therefore we think that there may be some genetic predisposition to this," Connolly explains.
  • Environmental Factors Also referred to as social factors, these include experiences like trauma or neglect in early childhood, and current stressors such as relationship difficulties, unemployment, social isolation, and physical illness. People who have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) , an anxiety disorder, are particularly likely to also develop depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
  • Pain Chronic pain, and particularly disabling pain syndromes, low back pain, headaches, and nerve pain, are closely linked to psychological distress, including both anxiety and depression, notes Harvard Health. In fact, they say, research suggests that “pain shares some biological mechanisms with anxiety and depression.”
  • Early childhood trauma. Some events affect the way your body reacts to fear and stressful situations.
  • Brain structure. There’s a greater risk for depression if the frontal lobe of your brain is less active. However, scientists don’t know if this happens before or after the onset of depressive symptoms. The way certain nerve pathways or circuits in your brain send information may not work properly. Scans show that the parts of your brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior look different when you're depressed, but scientists aren't sure why.
  • Drug use. A history of drug or alcohol misuse can affect your risk of suffering from depression

In addition to these, other risk factors for depression include:

  • low self-esteem or being self-critical
  • personal history of mental illness
  • certain medications
  • stressful events, such as loss of a loved one, economic problems, or a divorce 

However, in many cases, healthcare providers are unable to determine what’s causing depression.


Depression is treatable, and managing symptoms usually involves three components:

Support: This can range from discussing practical solutions and possible causes to educating family members.

Psychotherapy: Also known as talking therapy, some options include one-to-one counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Drug treatment: A doctor may prescribe antidepressants.

Exercise Getting exercise can also help ease symptoms of both depression and anxiety, although why isn’t entirely clear, per the Mayo Clinic. One reason may be that exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain that enhance you sense of well-being. Another may be that it distracts you from your worries, fears, and other negative thoughts. Whatever the reason, walking for as little as 10 minutes may alleviate symptoms, the ADAA notes.

Relaxation Techniques — a way of training your mind to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body by sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing — can ease symptoms of both anxiety and depression and improve quality of life, according to a large research review published in March 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine.



Antidepressants can help treat moderate-to-severe depression.

Several classes of antidepressants are available:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • atypical antidepressants
  • selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

A person should only take these medications as their doctor prescribes.

Some people stop taking medication after symptoms improve, but this can lead to a relapse.

Medication side effects

Medication used for depression can cause various side effects and people may experience:

  • nausea
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • low blood sugar
  • weight loss
  • a rash
  • sexual dysfunction


Non-Invasive Brain stimulation

Recent studies and scientific development has confirmed that it is possible to treat depression and anxiety by stimulating the brain. Where previously a implant is required, the Parasym device now allows you to achieve the same success in treating depression and anxiety by using an external, non-invasive and low risk treatment.

Parasym works by stimulating the auricular branch of the vagus nerve with targeted micropulses of electrical current through a specially designed electrode that connects to the tragus of the outer ear.

The Parasym device is low risk and very easy to use with many therapeutic benefits. It is clinically proven to battle the symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and insomnia without any high risks or  the use of harmful medication.

Buy it now on

If you need more help and assistance visit SADAG (South African depression and Anxiety group) at www.sadag.or/, which is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. On this website you will find comprehensive mental health information and resources to help you, a family member or loved one.


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