What is depression? And what’s the difference between depression and sadness?
In technical terms, we can say that depression falls within the so-called mood disorders, that is to say in that very heterogeneous group of clinical pictures characterized by a significant alteration of affectivity. Affectivity is that condition that directs and colors the psychic life and therefore the existence of every human being. In less technical terms, but perhaps more indicative, depression is a disease of the soul, psyche and body that involves private and profound aspects of the person, which can ruin his existence. A disease which, if not adequately treated, tends to recur and become chronic. Sadness, on the other hand, is that state of mind that we have all experienced, connected to the feeling of loss or abandonment, to the evocation of something that no longer exists. Sadness is therefore physiological and transitory and tends not to interfere with social, work and relational functioning. Depression, on the other words, is a syndrome, a complex of symptoms, an experience that is qualitatively and quantitatively more intense than sadness: it is a pathology and, as such, it needs to be treated.
Is Depression a Common Disorder? Does it affect women or men more?
Depression is the most widespread mental disorder in the world, about 15 out of 100 people suffer from it, and cases have increased during the pandemic crisis. Its prevalence is twice as high in females as in males. There are several hypotheses made to explain this greater prevalence in women: on the one hand psychosocial factors are involved, in the Western world women find themselves in more stressful conditions than men, regarding identity, work, role, gratification; on the other hand, biological factors also play an important role, in particular the delicate hormonal balances, their biological rhythms and the impact they have on the brain. In fact, there are depressive pictures associated with specific moments of the female reproductive cycle such as premenstrual depression,
How does depression manifest itself? What are the symptoms?
The clinical picture of the depressive episode is characterized by a series of symptoms afferent to at least four dimensions, among these the emotional-affective one presents symptoms such as sad mood or anhedonia, i.e. the inability to feel interest in what before it gave pleasure. As regards the cognitive dimension and the psychomotor dimension, there will be a significant reduction in concentration and memorization skills and a slowing down of motor activity, respectively. The somato-vegetative dimension, that is to say corporeal, on the other hand, is characterized by a decrease or loss of appetite, as a consequence of the loss of interest in the pleasures of life; on the other hand, sometimes there may be an increase in dietary intake and weight. Sleep disturbances are also one of the most frequent and earliest symptoms. Typically the depressed person falls asleep in the evening and wakes up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. Sleep is often disturbed by nightmares and awakening is fraught with anguish at the thought of another day steeped in depressive suffering.
What is anxiety and what are its most characteristic symptoms?
Anxiety is an alarm signal that the mind activates when it senses a dangerous situation. It is an individual reaction to a sense of disproportion between what we face and the abilities we actually believe we possess. It is possible to distinguish between normal anxiety, generalized activation of psychic and physical resources in the face of a real stimulus, and pathological anxiety, which is quantitatively and qualitatively abnormal with respect to the stimulus and leads to inhibition or psychological and physical impairment with a reduction in the operational capacity of the person. In fact, anxiety can present both with psychic symptoms, for example the inability to relax and worry about the future, and with physical symptoms, such as tachycardia and changes in blood pressure values. Sometimes the anxiety can manifest itself in a critical and sudden form, without an apparently adequate stimulus, namely the panic attack. It usually lasts a few minutes but then, almost always, it brings with it the fear that the attack will recur.
Can anxiety and depression be present at the same time?
It happens very often that anxiety symptoms are associated with depressive symptoms. The patient, alongside the typical depressive symptomatology, may present psychic and somatic symptoms of anxiety, excessive concern for each event, inability to cope with the tasks required by his role, fear of any new situation. The depressed patient is generally apathetic, does not hang out with friends and acquaintances, is inactive, progressively reduces their movements. Some patients, on the other hand, may behave in the opposite way. They are restless, continually busy, agitated, irritable. It is the so-called agitated depression.
Are anxiety and depressive disorders brain “diseases” or a psychological problem?
The modern model of the causes of depression, anxiety and mental illness in general is a complex model of interaction and mutual influence between biological, psychological and social factors. Despite the remarkable recent discoveries, psychiatry currently does not have enough tools to say that depression is “simply” a brain disease, like Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or dementia. Depression, for example, derives from the concurrence and mutual influence between numerous risk factors and protective factors, such as, for example, genetics, the presence of stressful factors in pregnancy, the type of attachment and primary relationships in the former. childhood, traumatic events and the experience of loss in life.
What is the most effective treatment for anxiety and depression?
Anxiety and depressive disorders can be effectively treated through an often associated psychotherapeutic and / or pharmacological approach. Medicines can produce significant improvements in depressive disorder by reducing symptoms and inducing an improvement in general well-being. Psychotherapy is an intervention conducted with psychological techniques with the aim of analyzing and addressing the causes and behaviors related to the critical situation and the malaise that the subject is experiencing. It has long been seen that antidepressant drugs are effective because they act on the neurotransmitter systems, that is, on the chemical messengers of the brain and cause a modification of specific brain areas. More recently it has been discovered that psychotherapy is also able to modify, through neuroplasticity processes, slower, but more enduring, those same biological systems. For this reason, the international guidelines indicate the advisability of a pharmacological approach, integrated with the psychological one.