Set delivery address
Set delivery address

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in daily life.

22 June 2016

While many people suffer from phases of depression and anxiety at various times in their lives, severe clinical depression can be crippling and lead to suicidal feelings. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 350 million people globally, of all ages, suffer from depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease, reports the WHO.

As many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems (and this does not include more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia), according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)

Who does it affect?

Depression can affect anyone. According to SADAG, around 20 percent of the population may suffer from major depression during the course of their lives. Depression is reportedly twice as common in women than it is in men.

Because emotional ups and downs are particularly common in adolescence, depression in teenagers is often a normal part of growing up. Whilst young adults experience depressed moods as a norm, clinically diagnosable depression also occurs, and reportedly affects five in every 100 teenagers.

Like “adult” depression, it can interfere with daily activities, including deterioration in performance at school and college, loss of interest in friendships and decreased enjoyment in social activities. Depression is a major cause of suicide.

Depressive illness in teenagers is often accompanied by tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuous sexual behaviour and risk-taking behaviour.

What are the main types of depression?

There are three main types of depressive disorders, with symptoms varying according to severity and persistence:

1. Major — or clinical — depression (also known as major depressive disorder or MDD) interferes with an ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. It’s the most acute form of depression.

2. Dysthymia, which is less severe and does not disable, keeps you from functioning at your full potential or from feeling happy.

3. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is characterised by episodes of depression and elation or mania. 

Depression during pregnancy, or antenatal depression, is also common, due to hormonal changes. 

Other, less common depression disorders include:

  • Minor depressive disorder (same duration, but less severe than MDD)
  • Recurrent brief depressive disorder (same symptoms as MDD, but lasts for less than two weeks)
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (occurs in the last week before menstruation for at least a year) 

What are the causes of depression?

Depression can be caused by lifestyle factors, genetic factors, physiological factors or chemical imbalances.

There are many possible causes of depression. In many cases, in fact almost always, it’s caused by a combination of factors. For each person, there is a complex, individual group of factors that work together to cause or prevent depression.

Specific events may trigger or it may develop for no apparent reason. Possible reasons include:

  • External events: These may include relationship difficulties, financial worries, redundancy, retirement, or other stress factors. Grief due to the death of a loved one may lead to depression.
  • Genetics: Inherited factors may play a role. Research has shown that having close relatives who have had depression means you’re more likely to become depressed. 
  • Physiological or biochemical factors: Depression is believed to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. 

Research also reveals that more than 40% of people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa have a diagnosable mental disorder. 

A study done by the University of Cape Town’s Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health indicates that, in low-income and informal settlements surrounding Cape Town, one in three women suffers from postnatal depression, while research from rural KwaZulu-Natal shows that 41% of pregnant women are depressed – more than three times higher than the prevalence in developed countries.

For more info

For more information on depression, visit The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

Read More: Depression Super Section