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Depression: 14 Important Insights

Chances are that in your lifetime you'll be one of two people - depressed or close to someone who is. For this reason, having a basic understanding of depression is fast becoming a life skill. Here are 14 important insights.

Chances are that in your lifetime you'll be one of two people - depressed or close to someone who is. For this reason, having a basic understanding of depression is fast becoming a life skill. Here are 14 important insights:

1. Certain personalities are more prone to depression.

Depression can happen to anybody but those with depression are more likely to be introverted, creative or perfectionistic. Personality doesn't cause depression but it can be a risk factor.

2. You can't always tell by looking.

It could be your doctor, dentist, teacher, friend, sister or the life of the party. People with depression can be highly functioning and adept at concealing their depression from the world.

3. Depression is an imbalance of chemistry, not character.

Depression is a physical illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and is no more a product of character than diabetes is. Clearly depression isn't a sign of weakness - the mental toughness needed to carry on as usual would be enormous. That said, sometimes the strongest act is asking for help.

4. The internal body clock is disrupted.

The body has an internal body clock that uses signals in the environment to cue appetite, sleep and mood. Depression can disrupt this so severely that in some people 'a.m.' and 'p.m' are reversed. When morning and night are confused, sleep and appetite are thrown off balance, hence the sleep disturbances and weight changes that often come with depression.

5. Depression changes the size of the brain.

In research from Yale, analysis of the brains of people with depression have shown an overproduction of a genetic 'switch'. This genetic switch causes the loss of connections between the brain cells that regulate cognition and emotion, causing the brain to shrink in size. The more severe and longer-lasting the depression the greater the shrinkage. Antidepressants can help to reverse this.

6. Depression fades memory.

Depression interferes with memory, particularly that which deals with specific facts such as names or places. This may be due to the tendency to over-generalise, which can compromise the ability to differentiate between similar experiences.

7. Bood test to diagnose depression.

Researchers have developed a blood test that may be used to diagnose depression and predict who will benefit from therapy.

8. Mindfulness can reduce and protect against depression.

Mindfulness can reduce and prevent depression adolescents (aged 13-20) and adults.

9. Depression ages you faster.

Depression accelerates cellular ageing and heightens the risk of ageing-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. People with depression have a shorter length of telomeres (a repeating DNA sequence found at the end of chromosomes). The more severe and longer-lasting the depression, the shorter the telomere length and the greater the ageing.

10. Exercise has the same effect on the brain as antidepressants.

For mild to moderate depression, exercise alleviates symptoms in the short term and protects against future episodes. Walking 30 minutes a day will make a difference.

11. Gut health can effect depression

Mounting evidence is pointing to a powerful connection between the gut and the human brain. Oxford researchers have established that gut microbiome help to regulate mood and have a role in regulating against depression and anxiety. Taking probiotics has potential to ease depression by influencing the way the brain processes emotional information.

12. Depression increases the experience of pain.

Depression and physical pain share a common chemical pathway in the brain, which is why depression often comes with physical symptoms (headache, backache, stomachache, joint and muscle pain). Research has found a connection between improved physical symptoms and an improvement in depressive symptoms.

13. Antidepressants aren't a magic pill.

Depression is treatable and people will differ in terms of what works best. Expectations that medication is a magic bullet with immediate effect can lead to disappointment and a further worsening of symptoms.

14. Asking about depression or suicide will never make it worse.

If someone is acting unusual (mood, sleep and appetite changes, sadness, aggression, recklessness, more withdrawn), it's important to ask if he/she is depressed or suicidal, using direct language such as 'suicidal/giving up on life' rather than the lesser 'hurting yourself'. People often avoid asking for fear it will plant the idea but it doesn't work like this. The question might save a life. If the person is suicidal, seek immediate help from a doctor, hospital or suicide prevention helpline.

Depression can strike anybody and none of us can know when we, or someone we love, are about to walk through the middle of its undiscerning target. The only shame around depression is in the response of the ignorant. The more depression is understood, the more it can be responded to as it should be - with wisdom, respect, openness and compassion.

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