Depression affects millions of men, women, and children around the world. Depression is a mental disorder that creates a constant feeling of sadness, loss, and hopelessness. Mentally, those affected may experience constant emotional distress, lack of concentration, loss of interest, and even the complete inability to feel pleasure. These mental handicaps can lead to more severe symptoms such as self-harm, excessive fatigue and weight loss due to lack of appetite, insomnia, and even suicide. Depression affects different people in different ways, resulting in varying symptoms.

 

Is our understanding of depression treatments and prevention changing? Where does the medicine and research currently stand? These are questions that millions of people ask the internet and their local health professionals every day. Globally, 350 million people live with depression, including 3.5 million in America. The world of mental health is constantly evolving, and new research allows us to identify, treat, and manage depression with higher effectiveness. Let’s take a look at some of the newest developments and research refining current theories accepted today.

Dark Roots

Recent delving into the history of past societies and civilizations has uncovered the way depression was viewed in antique eras. Stigmatization and illiteracy concerning depression has a lineage traced from Ancient Rome up to medieval times. With severely limited knowledge of brain function and the human mind, depression was habitually frowned upon as being the fault of the victim.

Romans associated prolonged despair and sadness with weakness and incompetence. Depressed people struggled to hold power or respect in society. This ideology spread into later civilizations reaching medieval times, when stigma turned deadly.

Paranoia towards conspiracy against monarchies and government heads led to the categorization of depression as a sign of guilt. Anyone with depression was thought to be responsible of a heinous crime or immoral tendencies. Judicial systems were riddled with corruption themselves, and depressed innocents were the first choice to blame or frame. As medicine evolved, stigmas weakened. Still, many frown upon mental illness even in today’s societies.

Causes

Exponential advancements in modern medicine have allowed scientists to discover overlooked causes of depression that may catalyze or worsen the condition.

Developing research has revealed several external and internal risk factors:

Existing Illness

While the presence of mental disorders has long been linked to likelihood in inducing depression, new research shows that chronic physical conditions that affect the body may lead to depression not only due to physical disability, but most notably through chemical imbalances, as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin production can be disturbed in conditions such as lupus, fibromyalgia, and glaucoma.

Smoking and Alcohol

A cyclical relationship develops between smokers/drinkers and depression. Many depressed patients turn to these outlets for temporary relief, but soon realize that their depression worsens as withdrawals and addiction release chemicals that induce despair to tell the body it wants a specific substance.

Social Media

69% of Americans sign onto Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other virtual social sites on weekly basis. Views into the life of others are molded by what they WANT you to see. Users post their accomplishments, future plans, and relationships to illustrate a fairytale life that doesn’t exist. Watching your friends and family exemplify a perfect life can leave you feeling envious, worthless, and inferior to them.

Selflessness

Many people go out of their way to put everyone else above themselves. Doing this overextends the body and mind. This eventually leads to situations where you are taken advantage of or overly-relied on. You’ll soon be left overwhelmed and feeling like nothing more than a slave beneath your peers. Balance must be applied to obligations and mental capacity.

Brain Inflammation

This is perhaps the most exciting of recent discoveries related to depression. Research concluded that neuro-inflammation is 33% higher in depressed patients. This is a form of swelling that occurs in the brain to protect its vital sectors. Although not certain of the cause of swelling, psychiatrists believe this will help end the stigma towards patients from others who interpret the condition as a choice or result of one’s own faults.

Symptoms and Markers

Doctors may have a new way of anticipating short and long-term depression in patients by looking for indicators that often show before and within the first stages of the condition.

If you believe you a loved one could be entering depression, key signs to search for are:

Abrupt Optimism

Many patients may express excessive positivity and happiness in order to hide their sadness or convince themselves that they are not depressed. Overly optimistic outlooks such as negating failure, setting unreachable goals, and boasting of past accomplishments can all be symptoms of denial in the beginning of depression.

Extreme Alterations

It’s obvious that death, disease diagnosis, career failures, and other negative events in life are precursors to a state of despair. However, many positive and normal changes can mark depression. Circumstances that break a comfort zone can lead to depression caused by shattered routines and unfamiliarity. The beginning of college, a dream career out of state, and other otherwise cheerful changes with fragile beginnings can make depression apparent.

Infectious Symptoms

People who suspect depression in others will sometimes notice them frequently exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Depression can suppress the immune system, and this makes your body highly-susceptible to colds, flus, and other pathogenic illnesses. Social withdrawal and a high volume of “sick days” are red flags that signal the beginnings of depression.

Medicinal Treatment

Pharmaceuticals remain the most popular method used in treating depression. Current antidepressants work with the objective of catalyzing the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain that increase positive moods and emotional responses.

There are two categories of neurotransmitters in the brain:

  • Excitatory- Stimulate the brain
  • Inhibitory- Calm and balance the brain

Antidepressants used today target the excitatory sector, and thus increase production of neurotransmitters while blocking their reabsorption. Patients taking popular forms of these medications such as Prozac and Lexapro usually have to wait 6 weeks before the possibility of a positive response occurs. During this time, chemical changes can worsen depression and lead to suicidal tendencies and actions. Even then, only about a third of patients reported a positive change.

The University of Maryland organized a research team that sought to focus on the opposite target of existing antidepressants, inhibitory neurotransmitters. With the new agenda in mind, they created a new drug that has ultra-high potency potential. When tested in rats with depressive symptoms, emotional response improved significantly within a short 24 hour period.

Why did it work so well? The drug targeted the inhibitory neurotransmitters and reduced their production in the brain. The result was a higher output of excitatory transmitters that created a balance in the brain not thwarted by the overproduction of Inhibitors.

Researchers are now synthesizing a new form of the drug so that it may be tested in humans. If results are mirrored, a gateway to a market of entirely new, fast-acting, and effective antidepressants may be opened.

Alternative Treatment

Advancements replicating the progress of those in pharmaceuticals have also taken place in secondary treatment of depression. Researchers have harnessed technology’s ability to generate artificial realities and conditions.

An excellent example of this involves reformed light therapy, discovered in 2015. The original method is effective at treating Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD). However, these properties can be extended to other forms of long-term depression, research finds.

Dr. Raymond W. Lam is a psychiatry professor at University of British Columbia. He led a study that grouped 122 patients with non-seasonal depression into four pods. Each pod received one of four treatments.

Their organized treatments can be outlined by the following:

  • Pod 1- 30 minutes exposure to fluorescent light (daily)
  • Pod 2- 20 milligrams Prozac (daily)
  • Pod 3- 30 minutes light AND 20 milligrams Prozac (daily)
  • Control Pod- Placebo Pill AND False light (daily)

Observations were analyzed, and two surprising conclusions were reached:

  1. There WAS NOT a substantial difference in results between members of the Control Pod (receiving the placebos) and Pod 2 (receiving 20 mg of Prozac)
  2. There WAS a significant difference in the members of Pod 3 (receiving Prozac AND light) and members of all other pods.

Dr. Lam hypothesized that both Prozac and florescent rays used simultaneously would be necessary to produce effective light therapy, as he observed idle light being ineffective in non-SAD patients. His predictions were proven correct by the experiment.

Following the concepts of these studies, psychiatrists have set new agendas for similar treatments such as color, flash, and shape therapy. These all involve visual designs and illusions that cause a production of chemicals that stimulate the regulatory sectors of the brain in the same way light therapy does.

The Future Has Become Reality

The events of the present were recently considered mere fantasies of an unlikely future. Discoveries and enhancements like these have proved quite the opposite, however. Although countless progress remains to be achieved in the field of mental health, researchers are confident that knowledge and depression treatments will continue to evolve until the ultimate goal is reached: finding a cure for mental disabilities.