Depression is real, destructive, and fatal. It is a serious illness that needs immediate medical attention, but the social stigma against it that still exists discourages affected people from accepting their affliction and reaching out for help. But how does depression affect a person? Is there pain? Does it cause the body to deteriorate in time?
Depression is a sickness of the mind, and while its manifestation and impacts in life are very different from grave medical conditions that are diagnosed and treated in a straight-forward manner, it doesn’t mean that it can’t destroy the physical body in pretty much the same way as cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s. On the contrary, depression can be debilitating, degenerative and lethal, as it can possibly lead to death, usually by overdose or suicide. No matter how it began or progressed into a more serious condition, the fact remains that depression affects a significant number of adult population and has numerous cases of patient deaths in its sleeve. One death is too many to consider depression as a scary possibility. It can affect anyone, hence the more reason to be knowledgeable and watchful of its tell-tale signs, and the impacts it has in your life and relationships.
How depression affects your life, in general, is similar to having a degenerative disease like diabetes or cancer. It starts with simple and almost unnoticeable symptoms, at least not the kind that cause immediate concern and a visit to the doctor. Since it is not uncommon to feel loneliness every once in a while, even without any reason at all, it is easy for earlier stages of depression to be overlooked or ignored. Clinical depression may have a seemingly harmless start, but its progression can be deadly.
Depression can manifest as physical pain and other body problems. It can also result in loss of concentration and enthusiasm. Reduced sexual drive and performance can also occur. Relationships, career, and social life are easily damaged by depression. Unhealthy lifestyle and diet that follows the loss of motivation due to depression trigger a chain of detrimental effects that further harm the body. For instance, a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A few or all of these can further drive a depressed person to the brink – or that thin line between going back and trying to make things right again or moving towards the abyss and accepting that there is nothing worthwhile anymore to live for.
There are medical studies that point to imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain. Being a mental disorder, the brain is the primary organ that experts investigate to learn more about a patient’s depressive state and how best to treat it. The main parts of the brain that are directly affected by depression are the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and hippocampus. These parts play a key role not only in the negative emotions associated with depression, but also the cognitive dysfunction that results from the disease.
For instance, the hippocampus that is responsible for memory shrinks when the brain decreases its production of new brain cells and becomes exposed to high levels of cortisol, or stress hormones, for repeated and long periods of time. Cortisol spikes in number when the brain is under chronic stress. Memory loss and reduced cognition, therefore, are not surprising in people suffering from depression. The same causes and outcome occur in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates emotions and makes decisions.
The other part of the brain that is mainly involved in depression is the amygdala. This is the major player in the intense negative emotions commonly felt when in a depressive state, as well as the drastic changes in sexual drive and feelings of pleasure. People with depression are found to have increased activities in the amygdala, which interfere with the brain and the body’s circadian rhythm or sleeping pattern.
Depression can have various physical manifestations, including headaches, erratic heart rate, nausea, and dizzy spells, fatigue and lethargy, weight loss or gain, muscle pains, allergic reactions, and gastrointestinal problems. Depressed people may either lose appetite or eat too much food. Depression can also further complicate symptoms of pre-existing medical conditions such as heart or kidney disease.
A weak immune system is considered by experts as another possible cause of depression aside from biochemical imbalances in the brain. Inflammation and metabolic anomalies resulting from symptoms of depression such as stress and irregular sleep weaken the immune system.
The relationship between depression and sleep is a question of “egg and chicken.” Sleep problems may trigger or worsen depression. Likewise, the depressive state can cause sleeping problems, particularly insomnia and hypersomnia. Sleep problem is actually one of the main symptoms being checked when diagnosing depression. This correlation between sleep and depression makes it possible to treat both with the same antidepressant.
Depression reduces a person’s capacity to be happy, excited, or pleased. Depressed people find less enjoyment in things that previously give them pleasure, including sex. This leads to less sex drive and poorer performance. Some antidepressants can also have sex-curbing side effects.
Depressed people suffer from extreme loneliness, low self-esteem and confidence, grave insecurities/inferiority complex, and a minimal sense of focus. These factors may drive them to isolation, resulting in deterioration of their social life and relationships. A lot of negative feelings are involved in depression, and other people may not be empathetic, patient or sensitive enough to understand to give space and support to a depressed person. They may feel that their efforts can’t break through the walls of a depressed friend or family member, or the afflicted doesn’t help himself/herself to overcome their own sadness, guilt, or frustration.
The family is the first group of people affected when one family member suffers from depression. Family members are expected to have more patience in dealing with someone with depression.
It is difficult for depressed people to reach out, ask help, and share their feelings with others, even their partners. When their partner fails or refuses to clearly understand what depression is doing to them, they stop reaching out altogether and start isolating themselves. The loss of enjoyment and sex drive is another nail in the coffin that may further damage couples’ relationship, leading to separation or divorce.
People with depression lose the will to go out and meet friends or even communicate with them. Their loss of self-esteem discourages them to interact with friends, thinking that they might be ignored or ridiculed because they are not the same as before.
Loss of concentration and enthusiasm, forgetfulness, fatigue, lack of sleep, and other debilitating effects of depression can decrease a person’s productivity at work. This is bad news for the economy. A recent study on the impacts of clinical depression in a workplace showed that about $44 billion is lost every year due to depression and resulting poor productivity among employees.
Depression can happen to kids and teens as well. There is, however, a tendency to overlook its symptoms among this age group, because frequent mood swings, isolation/withdrawal, and loss of interest to communicate are quite common while going through adolescence. Depression symptoms such as loss of focus, hypersensitivity, fatigue, headaches, and low self-esteem decrease a student’s enthusiasm to learn and do their schoolwork, thus resulting in low grades or even failure.