Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Understanding Depression as a Medical Diagnosis

Understanding Depression as a Medical Diagnosis

Online Media Specialist

Mental disorders come in so many forms that it's hard to keep track. They're misunderstood, confusing, misdiagnosed and, worst of all, to many, they are taboo. It wasn't until recently, after working on a teen depression campaign on Facebook, that I realized how many people do not comprehend the difference between being depressed and having depression.

Around 5 to 8 percent of adults, or 25 million people, in the United States have depression. Unlike a period of being sad or upset following an emotional event, depression is "a life-long condition in which periods of wellness alternate with recurrences of illness." The illness also manifests itself into different subsets, including manic depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder, postpartum depression, and dysthymic disorder. The causes of depression can range from emotional abuse, physical abuse, medications, other medical issues, major life events, and what I find to be the most misrepresented: genetic and biological factors. In most cases, no one thing is the source of depression.

Knowing your family history can help you understand if what you are experiencing is a one-time occurrence or if it could potentially be a disorder for which you need to seek professional treatment. Although the exact role genetics plays in "inheriting" depression is unclear, studies have found a very high correlation in offspring with the condition and past generations of family members who had one or more mental disorders. Indeed, Myrna Weissman, Ph.D., from Columbia University states, "When a parent has depression, a child faces three times the risk of becoming depressed, compared to a child without a depressed parent."

Researchers believe that a possible cause of depressive behavior could be caused by chemicals called neurotransmitters located in the brain. "Nerve impulses cause the release of chemicals from one nerve cell, or neuron, to the next, allowing cells to communicate with one another." One of these nerve impulses may misfire, fire too much, or not fire enough of a certain neurotransmitter, and this causes symptoms of depression. Some of the neurotransmitters believed to be linked to depression are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

A recent study made major steps forward in scientifically proving that the way these neurotransmitters are processed is related to depression and mental disorders. Results from the study showed that monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) was 34 percent higher in patients with untreated depression. This is important, because MAO-A helps breaks down chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Although it may seem inconsequential, the idea that depression and other related disorders can be linked to not only emotional events, but also a biological problem, pushes people to change their mindset about the disease. It can be the defining factor in pushing someone to get treatment.

Common misconceptions around major depressive disorder, depression, and anxiety include the idea that teens and adults alike are going through "growing pains" and need to "learn to deal with problems." But, in reality, these disorders can not only be linked to life events but also to a neurological disorder

Dismissing someone's feelings of doubt or self-hatred can cause long-term damage. Telling a person, especially a teen, that "everyone has problems," further exacerbates the idea of being ashamed of the feelings that come along with depression. If you haven't experienced depression, it can be hard to comprehend the confusion and anger sometimes caused by not understanding why you are being overwhelmed by negative emotions and thoughts.

If you ever suspect that you, or someone you know, need help, the National Suicide Hotline is free and available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

Dedicated to the most loving, understanding girl I knew. Thank you for teaching me how to snowboard, bumming along to concerts with me, and letting me constantly crash in your room. MB January 30, 1991 - March 15, 2014.

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