This disease varies widely in just its intensity but its symptoms. Depression is among the leading causes of disability in the world today and is thought to affect some 121 million people around the globe. While over 850,000 people a year commit suicide (often due to depression), this illness can also impact the health in other ways.


Depression can affect everyone from young children to the elderly. The symptoms of those with mild to moderate depression vary widely and are listed below.  Severe depression is an excruciating disability, often freezing the emotional part of the brain into a pattern which cannot be altered by mere willpower.


Although the exact cause of depression is unknown and may vary between individuals, it is believed to be the result of changes in brain function triggered by stressful events such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or serious illness. Many people have a hereditary tendency to become depressed when faced with such life-changing events.

Other factors can include medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, brain tumors, or a deficiency such as folate.

Low self-esteem, poverty and neglect can also heighten a person's risk for depression.


No one should have feelings of guilt for suffering from depression.  Many times this illness cannot be prevented.  To help prevent such feelings, in general it is recommended to follow healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit and omega-3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, finding ways to relax, getting enough sleep, and avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol.

Counseling is also recommended to help prevent or alleviate depression. This can help patients learn new ways to handle the stressful events in their lives such as stress, grief or how to cope with chronic disease. Connecting with other people socially is also important, especially for the elderly, who frequently feel isolated or lonely. Becoming involved in volunteering or group activities is a good way to add social interaction into one's life.


There is no medical test which can diagnose depression. The current rule of thought is that two weeks of persistent sadness or loss of interest or pleasure in things that brought enjoyment can be considered to be major depression.

In addition, three or four of the below symptoms must be present to be classified as depressed:

  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

  • Lack of energy and fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions

  • Early morning wakefulness and insomnia

  • Restlessness or agitation

  • Dramatic changes in appetite, often with significant weight loss or gain

  • Thoughts of dying or believing one would be better off dead

  • Physical symptoms such as digestive upsets, headaches, or chronic pain that do not improve when treated

A milder form of chronic depression is called dysthymia. It generally lasts longer, sometimes as long as two years. Forms of psychotic depression can be accompanied by unusual symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.

Childhood depression can be hard to diagnose. Many younger children pretend to be sick or worry that a parent will die. Older children may get into trouble at school or sulk when they face depression. Symptoms seen in elderly people often mimic those of of dementia, making it difficult to receive a proper diagnosis.


The accepted treatments for depression vary a great deal and include antidepressants and psychotherapy. Medication can also be effective in the short term. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people new ways to fight the negative thoughts they are experiencing and is considered one of the most effective non-medical types of treatment for depression.

Engaging in a regular exercise program can also improve many of the symptoms of depression. The positive effects of exercise also tend to promote feelings of well-being and can help to prevent further episodes of depression from taking place.

Light therapy has been proven to be beneficial to some subjects. Thirty minutes per day of exposure to full-spectrum light may help to reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD.

Many people find taking antidepressants to be helpful for the short term. However, embarking on a change in diet and supplements may well be a more healthful approach. Ensuring the diet includes omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as tuna, salmon or mackerel is very helpful, as is taking between 400 and 800 mcg of folate (vitamin B9) in the form of multivitamins.

St. John's Wort has long been known to be effective in battling depression. It has been prescribed in Europe for this illness and studies there have shown it very useful in treating mild to moderate depression. It has very few side-effects, although it sometimes causes increased sensitivity to sunlight and dry mouth. This supplement reduces the efficacy of birth control pills and some HIV drugs, as well as chemotherapy and anti-rejection medications. Talk to a physician before starting a regular program of St. John's Wort. The usual starting dose is 300 mcg of a product containing 0.3 percent hypericin extract, taking it three times a day.


  1. Bratman, S. (1998). The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions. New York: Crown Publishing Group (1998)
  2. Brown, L. (1999). Alternative Medicine. London : Teach Yourself
  3. Carmen, R. (2009). The consumer handbook on hearing loss and hearing aids : a bridge to healing. Sedona, Ariz. : Auricle Ink Publishers
  4. Deepak Chopra, M.D. (2002). Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Puyallup, Wash. : Future Medicine Pub.
  5. Duke, J. (2003). The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs. London : Rodale
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D.(2006). The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages. London : Rodale

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