Everyone feels sad once in a while, but the feeling usually passes within a couple of days. Depression is characterized by persistent sadness and lethargy that squelches the desire and drive to carry out ideas and activities. A person who's depressed seems to have lost all pleasure and interest in life.

Out of the many different types of depressive disorders, some common types are major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder.

Major depressive disorder, also known as major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy even those activities that you once enjoyed doing. To put it in simple words, major depression is such a condition that disables and prevents you from leading a normal life. Although some people with this disorder only experience a depressive episode once a while, but episodes tend to recur throughout a person’s lifetime.

Dysthymic disorder, also called dysthymia, is characterized by long-term, but less severe symptoms as compared to a major depressive disorder that may not disable you completely from leading a normal life, but can prevent you from functioning normally or feeling well. People suffering from dysthymia are known to experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetime.

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or dysthymia. It’s characterized by cycling mood changes from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression).

But even the most severe cases of depression can experience significant improvement with the right professional help, yet the majority of the people suffering from these kinds of disorders often tend to overlook the importance of getting the same treatment. Advances in medical sciences have led to the development of many different medications, psychotherapies, and other methods to help people overcome this debilitating disorder.


Research suggests that depressive illnesses are brain disorders. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), reveal discernable differences in the brains of people with depression. Parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear to function abnormally, while levels of neurotransmitters used by brain cells to communicate are out of balance. But these images still don’t explain why depression occurs.

Depression is likely to originate from a variety of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors. Some types of depression tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic link, but there are also cases wherein people do reportedly suffer from depression even if there are no family histories of depression. In such cases, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any kind of stressful situation can be the initial catalyst. Subsequent depressive episodes may then occur with or without an obvious trigger.

Apart from the above mentioned, at times, nutritional imbalances and food allergies do also play a crucial role in causing depression in certain individuals. In addition, insufficient sleep and lack of physical exercises do also reduce the body’s ability to deal with stress, possibly laying the ground work for depression. Hormonal changes within the body may also be the culprit in cases in which depression is associated with PMS, menopause, or post-partum depression.

Depression frequently co-exists with other serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that people who suffer from depression in addition to other serious medical ailments end to portray severe symptoms of both depression and the other illness, thus making it difficult for people to adapt to their condition, and increased medical costs, as compared to patients who are not suffering from any kind of depression. Research is providing increasing evidence that treating depression can also help in treating the co-occurring illness.

Anxiety disorders, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and addictions often accompany depression. In fact, research has indicated that the co-existence of mood disorders and substance abuse is pervasive. Although the mechanics behind the intersection of depression and other conditions differ for each individual, these co-occurring illnesses need to be diagnosed and treated in every case.


People with depressive illnesses don’t always experience the same symptoms and their severity, frequency, and duration vary widely depending on the individual and their particular illness. Some of the more common symptoms include: persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings; hopelessness and/or pessimism; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness; irritability and restlessness; loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies; fatigue and decreased energy; and difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions. If the sense of hopelessness and despair goes unaddressed, it may lead to suicidal thoughts and impulses.

While depression affects each individual differently, obvious outward signs change in routine, such as sleeping and eating habits. Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep are typical, although some people suffering from depression prefer prolonged hours of sleep as it pledges to be the best solution to recurring problems. Eating habits tend to bet at the extremes – either you have a poor appetite and tend to lose weight drastically, or you have strong and constant cravings for sweet and junk foods. In either case, the nutrition is neglected and the resulting deficiencies further interfere with energy and attitude.

In most cases, depression may also give rise to a number of other physical problems that includes off, but is not limited to, weakened immune system, along with stomach upsets, headaches, and generalized or localized pains, and low or no sex drive. Women may experience reduced and infrequent menstrual periods or their periods may stop altogether. This is often interpreted as a sign of an unwanted pregnancy, compounding their depression. Men frequently experience loss of sexual interest and drive, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculatory impotence.

Some symptoms are characteristic of specific types of depressive illnesses. A depression which recurs with the dark, damp winter months and disappears annually with spring is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Women who've just given birth often experience post-partum depression, which can range from mild despondency to a devastating problem. Bipolar disorder is a serious form of depression characterized by extremes of mood swings and energy levels: periods of severe apathy and listlessness are offset by periods of euphoria and exhilaration when even sleep seems unnecessary.

Avoiding Depression

Having a strong support network to turn to is one of the best insurances against depression. Maintain your friendships and stay in touch with your family. Let your friends and loved ones help you when you feel down. Try and come out of your cocoon and treat yourself with a good movie, or play a game of hockey, attend events or engage yourself in activities that you enjoy doing. Be part of a faith community or volunteer for a cause you believe in. Most importantly be your own best friend. Address any unresolved emotional issues through counseling, set realistic goals, and be forgiving with yourself when you make mistakes. Depression can be overcome by empathy, trust, hope, emotional support and healthy relationship engagement. The brain releases “Oxytocin” when the brain starts feeling good. The hormone “Oxytocin” evokes the human brain to reach the positive thoughts and emotions required.

There are considerable evidence that regular exercise can help you prevent and overcome depression. You can gain mental as well as physical benefits from moderate-intensity exercise such as walking outdoors, gardening, dancing, and swimming. Pick something you enjoy and start doing it for 30 minutes a day, gradually increasing the length of time as much as you're able.

If you have depression, it may be extremely difficult to engage yourself in any kind of action to motivate yourself for good thoughts and healthy living. You may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. But it’s important to realize that these feelings are part of your depression and don’t accurately reflect your reality. As you start your treatment and begin to understand your condition, negative thinking will gradually be replaced by more positive thinking.

Your mood will improve incrementally, not immediately. Don’t expect to suddenly “snap out of” your depression. Often, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts. Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with emotionally healthy people who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.

To learn more about Alive for Wellness’s innovative approach to overcoming a mental health struggle visits www.aliveforwellness.com or call 250 862 1927

Author's Bio: 

Vic LeBouthillier is a Co-Founder of Health Factors / Social Enterprises / Mental Health Advocate / Director Research & Development.