Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
13 Reasons Why Depression Is So Prevalent
Depression can affect anyone, regardless of their age, race, or economic condition. Although depression is prevalent, especially in teenagers, some people experience depression, and some do not. Unlike what most people think, people dealing with depression do not always move around looking gloomy or shed tears at the slightest provocation. MentalHealth.gov defines depression as a lack of interest in vital aspects of life. Depression is categorized as a mood disorder and often described as emotions of loss, anger, or sadness that can be disruptive to someone’s routine activities.
It is also fairly common. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 8.1 percent of adults in the United States, ages 20 and above, experienced depression for an average 2-week duration between 2013 and 2016. People experience depression in different ways. The symptoms may include binge eating or eating little, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawing from people and routine activities, feeling numb and uncaring, having little or no energy, forgetfulness, feeling strangely confused, on edge, upset, anxious or scared, and thoughts of self-harm.
Depression can cause low productivity, strain relationships, and contribute to chronic health conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and asthma. It is necessary to note that there is nothing strange about feeling down sometimes. Being sad and upset happens to everybody. However, if you feel down or hopeless recurrently, you might be experiencing depression.
Depression is regarded as a severe medical condition that typically gets worse without adequate treatment. People who get treated usually notice improvements in symptoms in only a few weeks. The condition can start as sadness and gradually make you feel like shutting down and unable to cope or accomplish anything. Ultimately, you become numb and empty. Depression can also co-occur with other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder. The word “dysthymia” is also used to describe mild, long-term depression – often persisting for up to two years and beyond.
The prevalence of depression
Clinical depression has escalated to epidemic proportions in recent times. It is rampant in boardrooms and classrooms, refugee camps, cities, suburbs, and farms. At any point in time, the estimate is that over 300 million people have depression, which is about four percent of the world’s population, according to the figures released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015. Depression tends to occur more in women than in men, however, due to cultural conditions men may be less likely to report or seek treatment for depression, so this number may be skewed.
Depression is the most prevalent global disability, and unipolar (unlike bipolar) depression is the 10th top cause of untimely deaths. The association between suicide (the second leading cause of deaths in young adults between 15 to 29 years) and depression is obvious. All over the world, two people kill themselves every 60 seconds.
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Although the rate of depression and other prevalent mental health conditions vary significantly, the United States has the highest record of depression in the world, followed closely by countries like Colombia, Ukraine, France, and the Netherlands. Listed at the bottom of the scale are Nigeria, Japan, and China.
The wide variations
The apparent contrasts between countries have caused some people to call depression a “first world issue” or a “luxury.” The notion is that if you are experiencing constant fear for terrible events or live in a constant state of economic uncertainty, you will be too busy for such introspection.
Recent studies suggest different reasons, often overlapping – in mostly underdeveloped countries that usually lack the infrastructure to obtain data on depression and are less likely to identify it as a problem. Also, people in these countries will possibly feel some sort of stigmatization by expressing their feelings and are hesitant about asking for professional help. Figures are not as simple as equating depression with the rich and categorizing the poor as not depressed.
According to a paper published in the journal Plos Medicine, putting extremes away, most countries have the same rate of depression. It also discovered that the regions with the highest rate of depression are North Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. By country, Afghanistan has the highest number of years lost to depression, and Japan has the lowest.
13 Reasons Why Depression May Begin:
Some of the reasons for the prevalence of depression include:
Brain and Body Risk factors
There are different things that can result in depression when it comes to the brain and body, including:
Brain chemistry imbalances
One possible biological cause of depression is a disruption to the neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating moods. Some neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine play a crucial role in mood. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that allow different parts of the brain to exchange information. When certain neurotransmitters are deficient, it may result in symptoms visible as clinical depression.
This notion of depression indicates that excessiveness or deficiency of some neurotransmitters causes or somewhat contributes to depression. Although this opinion is usually mentioned as a primary cause of depression, there is no evidence to back it, and many professionals believe that it does not show the full overview of the complex elements contributing to depression.
The medications used to treat depression usually aim to modify the levels of certain brain chemicals. Some of the options include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Physical health and some medical ailments
Patients who have a chronic illness, thyroid disorder, or sleep disorder are more likely to experience signs of depression. The rate of depression is also often higher among people experiencing chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and diabetes. There is an obvious link between the mind and the body. If you are dealing with a physical health condition, you may notice changes to your mental state as well.
Illness is linked to depression in two ways. The strain of dealing with a chronic illness can cause an episode of major depression. Also, some ailments such as Addison’s disease, thyroid disorders, and liver disease can have depressive symptoms.
Female sex hormones
There are many studies to back the fact that women suffer major depressive disorder up to twice as much as men. Since the occurrence of depressive disorders worsens during women’s reproductive years, the idea is that hormonal risk factors may be responsible. Women are particularly prone to depression when they experience hormonal imbalances, such as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and transition to menopause.
Hormonal imbalances resulting from childbirth and thyroid disorders can also play a role in depression. Postpartum depression may happen following childbirth, and the notion is that it is caused by rapid hormonal fluctuations that occur soon after delivery. Also, a woman’s risk of depression reduces after experiencing menopause.
Family History and Genetics
A history of depression in the family is another major risk factor. You are at a higher risk of experiencing depression symptoms if you have family members who have depression or another form of mood disorder. According to estimates, genetics contribute to about 40 percent of all depression cases. Studies of adoption, families, and twins have associated genetics with depression. Although the postulation is that there is a strong genetic factor, scientists are still unsure about every genetic risk factors of depression. Researchers have discovered that people who have a parent or grandparent with depression are twice at the risk of depression.
There is no clear explanation for the role played by genes in depression and other mood disorders, but what is known is that there are certain genes that play a contributing role. By getting a clearer understanding of the functions, gene researchers may be able to develop more effective treatments for depression. It is necessary to note that no specific cause of depression acts independently. Genetics could play a major factor, but scientists also think genes and environmental factors work together to control the expression of these genes.
Lifestyle risk factors
Certain lifestyle factors can contribute to depression. Although some of the risk factors of depression, such as family history and gender, cannot be changed, people have better personal control of lifestyle factors.
Circadian rhythm disruptions
A form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (medically called major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern) is believed to be the result of a disturbance in the usual circadian rhythm of the body. Light hitting the eyes affects this rhythm and during the shorter days in winter, when people stay outdoors for limited periods, this rhythm can be disturbed. People living in colder climates when there are short, dark days may be at increased risk of depression.
Aside from disturbances to circadian rhythm, lower sunlight exposure can also cause a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain, which may affect mood. Seasonal fluctuations can also change melatonin levels in the body, which can disturb sleep and contribute to mood disorders. Although it is impossible to control seasonal changes, you can take certain steps to reduce the effect of these changes on your mental health.
Dealing with stressful life events can be overwhelming and one’s ability to cope may become difficult, ultimately causing depression. Scientists suspect that high levels of the hormone cortisol, which are produced during stressful situations, can disrupt neurotransmitter serotonin and contribute to depression.
Eating poorly can aid depression in multiple ways. The deficiency of some vitamins and minerals are believed to cause signs of depression. Research has discovered that diets with low omega-3 fatty acids or an imbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 contribute to the prevalence of depression. Also, consuming diets with high sugar content has been linked to depression.
Grief and loss
The loss of a loved one, whether family or friends or even pets, can extend beyond normal grief and cause depression. The symptoms of grief are similar to depression. In response to loss, people may suffer a loss of sleep, displeasure, or disinterest in routine activities and poor appetite. The symptoms of grief often improve gradually, but if the symptoms worsen, the grief may turn to depression.
Alcohol and drug use can play a part in the development of depression. However, certain prescription drugs have been connected to depressive disorders. The drugs that have a link to depression include statins, benzodiazepines, corticosteroids, anticonvulsants, and beta-blockers. It is necessary to check whatever prescription drugs you have and consult the doctor if you notice signs of depressions.
Family and social environment
In some cases, living in a stressful, unhappy, and negative family atmosphere can contribute to depression. Some high-stress living conditions such as homelessness, violence or poverty can play a part. Experiencing bullying, harassment or peer pressure can cause some people to feel insecure, victimized or isolated. These situations do not always cause depression, but dealing with them without support or respite can make slipping into depression easier.
Some people’s personalities can put them at a higher risk of getting depressed. For instance, people who constantly worry, suffer low self-esteem, are sensitive to personal criticism, are perfectionists or are pessimistic and self-critical.
There has been an increase in the rate of divorce in recent times. Children from broken homes are remarkably more prone to developing depression and anxiety, even in their twenties. A study published by the Journal of Marriage and Family discovered that divorce had dire consequences on children’s psychological welfare before and after divorce. The adverse effects could not be ascribed to pre-divorce stress in the family.
Early childhood trauma
Trauma refers to the emotional experience and not the specific incident since people respond to devastating events differently. For children, the trauma usually accumulates over time due to recurrent experiences. Such events may include domestic violence, sexual abuse, natural disasters and bullying. Childhood trauma may have repercussions for the rest of your life. If these events are not processed safely and productively, they may cause mental health disorders such as depression well into adulthood.
13 Reasons Why Depression is so Prevalent: Treatment for Depression
While it is possible to manage the symptoms with a type of treatment, some people may find a combination of treatments more effective. Some of the solutions to depression include:
- Medications: most drugs used for depression treatment has advantages and potential side effects.
- Psychotherapy – talking to a therapist can help patients learn to handle negative feelings. Family and group therapy sessions may also be beneficial.
- Light therapy – exposure to ranges of white light can improve moods and symptoms of depression.
- Exercise – A minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity several times a week can help increase the production of endorphins in the body, which can improve mood.
- Avoid alcohol and drug use – alcohol and drug misuse can temporarily improve your symptoms, but they can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety over the long-term.
- Self-care – patients can improve symptoms of depression through self-care. This means getting adequate sleep, eating healthily, avoiding negative people, and indulging in pleasurable activities.
Regardless of the cause of depression, there are many effective treatment options. Discuss with the doctor if you notice signs of depression to get a diagnosis and an effective treatment plan. Living with depression can be hard, but treatment can help improve the quality of life. Take an assessment test for depression here.