Introduction to Depression

Mental health has been a hot topic in recent years. Awareness of mental health is taken more seriously now than ever due to the rising stresses and new pressures of the social media era. The rate of afflictions to many have also been very alarming. Hence there is a serious drive to make the community more aware of mental health and the causes of depression.

One of the most common yet most overlooked problems is depression. Depression may affect people of all ages, as early as childhood to the elderly. Although it is a common occurrence, depression is serious. It is defined as a persistent feeling of being sad, loss of interest in things, feeling of hopelessness for life in general and it can go on from weeks to years. People who are depressed cannot just simply get out of it and it affects many areas of their lives such as their family life, work, friendships, other relationships and productivity.

Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year, and it is estimated that one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life.

Depression can strike at any one time, but on average, it first appears during the late teens to mid 20s. Women are more likely than men to experience depression. Some studies show that one third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime.

Causes of Depression

The first step in effectively dealing with it is identifying the causes. There are many causes of depression as well as risk factors. A person’s depression may likely be caused by more than one reason or event. Family history and genetics, lifestyle and environment, biochemistry and physiologic factors are the identified clusters of possible causes of depression. Most common reasons that people perceive to cause depression are life events that are deeply saddening or disturbing such as death of a loved one, abuse in many forms, violence, poverty, a serious illness or substance abuse.

Physiologic Causes of Undernutrition

However, little is known of the connection between depression and physiological causes as well as how one’s diet and nutrition can be a contributing factor. It is common knowledge that poor diet and nutritional intake can be responsible for a sickly body. But as the prevalence of depression is becoming more frequent, new studies and research have also expanded into the connection of diet and nutrition to depression. Apparently, diet plays an important role in one’s mental health.

One analysis states :

“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and a low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178117301981

The most identified nutritional deficiencies associated with depression are that of omega-3 essential fatty acids, B Vitamins and folate, minerals and amino acids specifically tryptophan and tyrosine. While these deficiencies provide a connection, an excessive sugar and stimulant intake is also responsible.

Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain function and structure which has an overall effect on the physiochemical, biochemical, physiological, and behavioral areas. Omega-3 is mostly found in fish and certain nuts. Several studies conducted by Dr Joseph R Hibbeln show that the higher your blood levels of omega-3, the higher your levels of serotonin are likely to be. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in the brain which contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness.

Dr Hibbeln also discovered that fish eaters are less prone to depression. A recent survey in Norway reinforced this finding as it found that those who consumed cod liver oil had the lowest incidence of depression, and the longer a person had been taking it the less likely they were to be depressed.

Vitamin B and folate play a critical part in metabolic pathways of the brain and researchers have noted that symptoms of depression are the most common signs of deficiency in the neuropsychiatric aspect. A study has been conducted wherein a studied group showed significant improvements in their mood with an enhancement in their Vitamin B2 and B6 status. Rich sources of Vitamin B and Folate would be found in most proteins such as fish, meat, eggs, poultry, milk, dark leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains.

Minerals and micronutrients that are linked to depression are calcium, iodine, iron, selenium and zinc. Studies have shown that people with high-anxiety levels and depression are deficient in these micronutrients not only during the onset but even from childhood. Poor nutritional status in children and adolescents combined with changes in mental and behavioral functions while growing up have long-term adverse effects and that includes depression. Many of these minerals such as Selenium and Zinc have also been known to greatly improve a person’s mood.

Amino acids role is another important link to depression. Amino acids are responsible in synthesizing critical neurotransmitters that greatly affect our mood. Serotonin also known as the happy chemical is made from an amino acid called Tryptophan while Dopamine which plays a part in how we feel pleasure and how we think, and plan is made from Tyrosine. A lack in these amino acids results in poor mood and aggression which subsequently contributes to depression.

Psychological Causes and Stressors

Another key player in the incidence of depression is psychological stress. Common sources of psychological stress are media featuring news on war and terrorism, divorce, unemployment and many more. Psychological stress can trigger psychological changes and physiological responses in the body which may eventually lead to manifestations of depression. Currently, the incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a smorgasbord of psychological stress. People fear contracting the disease, lost livelihood and failing businesses, adjusting to working from home, exhausted front liners distanced from their families, alteration of lifestyle and simply the nature of quarantine where we lost social interaction has all caused a huge impact on our psychological stability. The uncertainty of the situation has caused people from all walks of life to develop coping skills that was never considered. And while some have the needed tools to cope better than others, those who are not equipped and have poor mental health fall into depression. Low self-esteem, and a negative view of self and the world are those prone to depression.

Depression can be prevented, and it can be treated and cured. With the right resources, support system, and a comprehensive knowledge on the problem, people going through depression have a hope of gaining back a better state of mental health and eventually a better quality of life with a renewed outlook and purpose.