Major depressive disorder, more commonly referred to as depression, is a real illness. Depression is a serious, mental-health disorder that requires compassion and often times medical intervention. Approximately 16 million Americans have experienced a depressive episode just this past year. And, although some may experience a depressive episode once in their lives, many individuals suffer with recurring episodes.
For these reasons, October has been designated as Depression Awareness Month. As prevalent as depression is, there are still of misunderstandings regarding the condition and how it manifests. Having an awareness of the signs of depression and taking time to provide support for a friend or loved one – or seeking support for yourself – is crucial in managing mental health and learning to live a positive life with this condition.
Depression can present in many different ways that affect an individual’s day-to-day functioning. Symptoms of depression include insomnia, lack of appetite, lack of energy, hopelessness, guilt feelings, inability to focus on normal tasks, sadness, crying spells, agitation, frustration, over-eating, and over-sleeping. The causes are just as diverse as the symptoms.
Obvious triggers of depression are a physical trauma, a genetic predisposition for a mental health disorder, or substance abuse. A less obvious cause is diagnosis of and living with a chronic illness, such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or Crohn’s disease. Managing symptoms and trying to adapt to new physical limitations can have a profound effect on how people navigate their daily lives.
Individuals with chronic health conditions have a higher risk of developing depression. In fact, depression is the most common complication of a chronic illness. Research suggests that people who have depression along with a medical illness tend to have more severe symptoms of both illnesses. Symptoms such as pain, fatigue, or isolation that already exist as part of the medical condition are often intensified with depression. Feelings of sadness and worthlessness can develop as the fear of relying on others for help, losing a job, and loss of the physical ability to enjoy life as fully as before becomes the new normal.
Chronic illness can cause major life changes and limit independence. A chronic illness can make it difficult to do simple things, such as grocery shopping or walking to the mailbox; and it can diminish any sense of hope for the future. It is understandable that people with chronic illness often feel despair and sadness. In some cases, the physical effects of the condition itself or the side effects of medication also lead to depression.
Individuals with a chronic gut disease, such as IBD, may have even greater difficulty managing their mood. Serotonin is a well-known neurotransmitter and is responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. This particular neurotransmitter has its beginnings in the microbiota, the name used to describe the microbe population living in the digestive system. It has been discovered that up to 90% of the body’s serotonin production occurs in the microbiota of our stomach. Recent research has suggested that gut microbiota has an influence on mood. When a disruption of the balance of the gut flora occurs, production of serotonin is greatly affected. Further research into the gut-brain connection could aid in understanding and treating depression.
Neither chronic illness nor depression discriminates based on age, race, socioeconomic background, or gender. The challenge becomes and remains navigating a very personal condition while trying to live the best life possible. If you are concerned about the mental health of someone you know and love or are concerned for yourself, head to www.mentalhealthscreening.org for a free mental health screening. Talk to someone, ask for help, and seek treatment. No one is ever truly alone.