Depression is often misunderstood as just feeling down and sad. However, it’s a complex condition. The facts, symptoms, and management might surprise you.

What Is Depression?

Depression is usually determined when at least five of the following symptoms occur for at least two weeks:

-depressed mood

-lack of pleasure activities

-weight change or change in appetite

-changes in sleep

-changes in activity

-fatigue, diminished concentration

-guilt or feeling of worthlessness

-suicidal tendencies

Depression has profound and varying impacts. Here are some surprising facts:

Depression has different triggers.

People have a higher risk of depression if they’ve recently been through a stressful life event, if they’ve had depression in the past, or if a close family member has been depressed. Sometimes it develops without any obvious cause.

Genes provide some (but not all) of the answers.

Ole Thienhaus, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson, says the genetic predisposition to depression is becoming better understood and might explain why a person becomes depressed and another doesn’t.

A family history of depression matters, but it’s not always the only factor. For example, identical twins, siblings who have exactly the same genes, will only have 30 percent to develop depression according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Depression affects the body.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Headache, stomach problems, shortness of breath, and general physical tension are potentially symptoms of depression.

Depression is thought to be a “gut feeling.” According to a review of research published in January 2016 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, it’s a complicated relationship between the brain, the central nervous system, and the “good” bacteria in the gut that contributes to depression. Various diets that include probiotics and prebiotics play a role in managing depression in theory.

Depressed brains look different.

Research from a review of the American Journal of Psychiatry showed Imaging studies revealing that some of the structures and circuits of the brain work differently when a person is depressed.

Depression is linked to other health problems.

People with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis have an increased risk of depression. 

Depressed people might not look depressed.

Jeremy Coplan, MD, professor of psychiatry at SUNY, says“Depression is a hidden illness.People tend to put on a façade to cover up their depression.

Exercise helps manage depression.

Exercise helps stimulate natural compounds in the body that can make you feel better.

Warming up could help.

Charles Raison, MD, professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, says exposure to heat may act as a sort of antidepressant. Hot yoga, a warm bath or shower, saunas, and hot tubs are low-cost ways to try.

Depression is a leading cause of disability.

The World Health Organization considers depression to be a leading cause of disability worldwide. “People routinely say that depression is the worst thing that’s happened to them,” Coplan says. “And the reason that’s offered is that their brains don’t work properly. They can’t make decisions and they aren’t sure of themselves — everything requires huge mental effort.”

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