Clinical depression is one of many mental disorders affecting 1 in 10 Americans today. This disorder is characterized by ongoing feelings of sadness and despair which leads to anxiety, agitation, feelings of emptiness, and loss of self-worth. Following these initial symptoms are possible weight loss or gain, insomnia, lack of energy, unusual indecisiveness, and even suicidal thoughts or attempts. There are many possible causes of major depression; however, very often the disease strikes without any triggering cause which leads to a great deal of frustration by the affected person and his or her loved ones. Fortunately, scientists have narrowed the list to three major causes: a first depressive episode caused by a traumatic event, a biochemical disorder, or an inherited disorder.
Depression can result from an emotionally or physically stressful incident. This has been termed by psychologists as first depressive episode. Possible causes include the death of a loved one, an abortion or miscarriage, a move to a new home or job, the end of an important relationship, financial problems, a chronic illness, or any other traumatic event. For many people, these incidents produce a mild to moderate case of the blues. They feel “down” for a while, but they are able to continue functioning and performing everyday tasks. Although these people may experience the chemical imbalance that is the hallmark of depression, the brain abnormality typically corrects itself within a few weeks. However, in some critical cases, the chemical alteration lasts for a much longer time, this is when mild to moderate depression turns into full blown clinical depression.
The same chemical alteration that can result from first depressive episode, can also be the result of a naturally occurring biochemical disorder. It now appears that depression can be caused by decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are neurotransmitters found in the brain that are responsible for triggering the events that allow a person to feel motivation, capability, and the drive to live everyday life. The depressive brain chemistry alteration seems to be self-limiting in most cases: after one to three years, a more normal chemistry may reappear, even without medical treatment. However, if the alteration is profound enough to cause suicidal impulses, a majority of untreated depressed people will attempt suicide, and as many as 17% will succeed. Therefore, depression must be thought of as a potentially fatal illness.
There is also scientific evidence that depression is an inherited disorder. A recent article published in the Health Section of USA Today claims that a study is giving scientists encouragement that they are on the trail of a manic depression gene. The gene might increase vulnerability to the disease only if inherited from the father. The researchers traced the inheritance of a series of markers on chromosome 18, which was identified in a 1994 study as a possible location of the gene. Chromosome 18 is one of three of four locations that look equally promising for finding the depression gene.
Overall, there are many causes of this unbearable disease, and often many times a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors are involved in the onset of a depressive disorder. However, the big risk factor in major depression is suicide. Within five years of suffering from major depression, an estimated 25% of sufferers try to kill themselves. Therefore, it is important to take action when confronted with the symptoms of this disease.