The sun's out, summer is upon us, the weather is finally warming up. Many people—especially those living where winters get cold—are emerging from the "winter doldrums," finally opening up the windows, feeling more energetic and hopeful and spending more time outdoors.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects about 4 percent to 6 percent of people, and another 10 percent to 20 percent suffer from a mild form of this seasonal depression.
But weather and seasons aren't the only reasons people get depressed. Depression—with feelings that range from discouragement to hopelessness—is a serious mood disorder that can cause severe symptoms, and not just seasonally. It affects approximately 19 million Americans in a given year.
Most of us get depressed or "down" every once in a while, but major depression is different: it's felt most of the day, for nearly every day of the week for at least two weeks and it interferes with your daily life. Severity, duration and the presence of other symptoms distinguish depression from ordinary sadness.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Due to its myriad causes, there are many treatments and combinations of treatments including medication and non-drug approaches such as psychotherapy and other types of therapies including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), as well as alternative approaches like herbs, supplements, hypnosis and meditation.
Depression is complicated, and so are the reasons for it. Sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious to search for and identify what is causing your depression. Once you find it, you may be closer to knowing how to treat it. Here are some possible causes:
1. Summer weather. If you thought SAD only struck in the wintertime, you're wrong. It can also happen in the summer. There can be many reasons: a disruption in your normal routine, increasing heat and humidity, or body image issues.
2. Underactive thyroid. Having a thyroid that is underactive, or sluggish, has been linked to depression. In hypothyroidism, which affects almost 10 million Americans, the thyroid not does produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone, which can create a wide range of symptoms, including depression, mood impairment or trouble with concentration. Blood tests to measure your thyroid function can confirm this condition, which is treatable with medication.
3. Inadequate sleep. There's a powerful link between sleep and depression, and it works both ways. Depressed people may have more trouble sleeping, but lack of adequate sleep can also lead to depression. Being exhausted can make you feel tense and irritable and be much less likely to get proper exercise, which can also prevent you from feeling your best. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress and help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
4. Internet addiction. This might be an example of "some is good but more is not." British researchers who studied the Internet's role in depression found that "Internet addicts" had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression. Could be that depressed people are more drawn to the Internet, or it could be that the Internet is causing depression by socially isolating people or causing them to feel bad about themselves when they see social media accounts of everyone else's glorious vacation, reunion, party or other celebration. The study's lead author is quoted as saying, "The Internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side."
5. Urban dwelling. Where you live can affect your mood. One reason could be stress. A 2011 study in the journal Nature found that mood and anxiety disorders were more commonly found in city dwellers than in those who lived in rural regions. City dwellers showed more activity in the part of the brain that regulates stress than those who lived in quieter, more peaceful environments. In fact, the risk of mood disorders has been found to be up to 39 percent higher among urban dwellers. Just being out in nature helps fight depression and can improve your mental health and well-being, according to a recent study from the University of Essex.
Researchers don't know exactly what causes depression, and there may be many factors. It may be related to hormones or to an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain or to low levels of folate. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to depression or other aspects of their medical history that put them at risk. If you think you may have depression, talk to your health care provider immediately. Don't wait another day.