Depression is the most common mood disorder in the world, and it takes a significant daily toll on our societies. Between 10 and 20% of the U.S. population experiences depression at some point. Independent of country or culture, depression is twice as common in females as it is in males. While recent data suggests the incidence of the disorder is on the rise among people less than 20 years old, the average age of onset is about 40 years.
When feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness and lack of motivation or interest begin to interfere with your life for weeks or months at a time, you may need to seek help for depression. Almost all patients complain about reduced energy, with a vast majority reporting irregular sleep patterns—either lying in bed unable to fall asleep or sleeping longer than usual. Other symptoms include decreased sex drive and fluctuating eating habits. Patients also tend to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol before seeking help.
The Neurobiology of Depression
Depression is first and foremost defined as a medical condition. It should by no means be thought of as a weakness in personality.
Genetics is likely to play a strong role in the development of depression. While scientists do not believe there is one “depression gene,” there is firm evidence that certain combinations of genes can predispose a person to depression. Medical research has shown that someone with a parent or sibling who has suffered from depression is two to three times more at risk for developing the disorder than the average person. There is also new evidence linking depression to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
A deficiency of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine are commonly associated with depression. Most antidepressants aim to stabilize the levels of these biogenic amines.
In addition to the biological influences above, Dr. Ahmad considers psychosocial factors when forming a diagnosis of depression. These include emotionally traumatic events (i.e., losing a parent, spouse or child) and environmental stressors (such as unemployment or natural disasters).
A depressive episode can often be the first symptom of bipolar disorder, and without proper evaluation, can be misdiagnosed as major depressive disorder.
On average, an untreated depressive episode lasts 6 to 13 months; most treated episodes last only 3.
Studies show that upwards of 80% of people diagnosed with depression improve with a combination of psychopharmacology and psychotherapy(particularly cognitive and behavioral). These treatment options, along with genetic testing, are all available at the Center for Integrative Wellness and will be tailored specifically to your personal needs and preferences as a patient.
The following links may be helpful in addressing some of your concerns about depression. As always, Dr. Ahmad is readily available to clarify any questions that you may have.
- PubMed Health – Depression: PubMed Health is a service provided by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)
- ScienceDirect – Neurobiology of Depression: A scientific database offering journal articles and book chapters from more than 2,500 peer-reviewed journals and more than 11,000 books
- Stanford School of Medicine – Depression and Genetics
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