What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder which makes the person feel extremely sad, anxious and lose interest in all activities. This needs to be differentiated from the normal “feeling low” or “feeling down” where a person feels sad or low for some period. Depression or Major depressive syndrome is when this sad feeling occurs consistently and continuously. It is estimated that more than 10% of the world’s population suffers from depression. Sedentary lifestyle, busy work schedules, competition in all ways of life all add up to the stress which can ultimately lead up to depression. While depression is completely curable, the main challenge lies in getting people acknowledging that this is a disorder which needs proper treatment.
Causes of Depression
There could be several causes for depression. Changes in brain size and structure especially in the frontal lobe and changes in neurotransmitters within the brain seem to potentially cause depression. In women, hormonal changes after pregnancy, menopause and thyroid problems are also known to cause depression. Other causes include alcohol and drug abuse, medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), insomnia, chronic illness and also certain medications like steroids and anti-suppressants.
While depression disorder can start at any age, people in the age group of 20-30 are seen to be affected more. Also studies more women been affected by depression than men.
Risk factors which could trigger depression are
• People who had difficult childhood – those who had experienced traumas, loss of near and dear ones, suffered abuse and neglect have greater chance of suffering from depression than others.
• Those with low self-esteem and low on confidence
• History of other mental disorders such as over anxiety, eating disorders
• Family history with blood relatives having suffered earlier from depression
The main types of depression are major depressive disorder (MDD) and persistent depressive disorder (PDD). MDD is the most common type and can last up to 4-6 months where PDD is more chronic and last for years if not treated properly. There are few sub types of MDD such as
Catatonia: where the person experiences an inability in movement and prefers to stay still and remain silent for long periods.
Melancholic depression: where there is an excessive and inappropriate amount of guilt feeling resulting in melancholic expression and mental state
Psychotic depression: where there is a tendency for suicide, delusions and hallucinations.
Peripartum onset: which can occur during the last stages of pregnancy in women
The main symptoms of depression are
• Feeling of sadness, emptiness, despair on a continuous basis
• Losing interest in normal activities
• Disturbance in sleep patterns - Lack of sleep(insomnia) or too much sleep
• Feeling guilty for no real reason
• Suicidal tendencies and thoughts
• Headaches, migraines, body pains with no explanation
• Significant weight loss or weight gain
Depression can also lead to other serious health and social complications like diabetes, obesity, cardio vascular diseases, suicidal feelings, social isolation, issues in family and relationships.
Depression cannot be diagnosed by any specific tests. However, the doctor can diagnose after doing a physical examination and detailed discussion with the person and their relatives or friends.
Medications, therapies and counselling sessions are the main modes of treatment for depression. Common medications include antidepressants like bupropion, mirtazapine, trazodone and vortioxetine. In some cases, antipsychotic drugs like aripiprazole, quetiapine and Risperidone are also prescribed. These medicines should be taken only under doctor advise and extreme care should be taken in using these medications as they can cause severe side effects. Care should be taken in ensuring that the medicines are used in the proper prescribed dosage and also that they should not be stopped without a doctor advise.
Physio therapy sessions, counselling by mental health experts, music therapies are some of the other common treatments for depression.
Ayurvedic Treatment for Depression
Ayurveda is the one of the oldest, if not the oldest, forms of medicines that is being practiced in the world. This medical system is practiced continuously for more than 3000 years in India and is mentioned in Vedas, the ancient Indian scriptures. Ayurvedic scriptures have detailed mentions about various ailments and also has recommended treatment procedures for them. Ayurveda classifies depression as “vishada roga” which means illness related to sadness and despair.
In Ayurveda philosophy, the five basic elements in nature air, water, earth, fire and ether are present in all living beings and things. These elements are represented in three doshas of Ayurveda – Vata (which is a combination of air and ether), Pitta (which is a combination of fire and water) and Kapha (combination of water and earth). When these doshas are in balance, vata dosha ensures proper circulation within the body, Pitta dosha drives proper metabolism and digestion and kapha dosha gives structure and form to body.
Any imbalance or vitiation of these doshas cause illness in the body or mind. Kapha dosha is also responsible for ojas, the force of stability and contentment.
Ayurveda also mentions about three gunas or mental states which exist in all living beings and these are sattva, rajas and thamas. Sattva gives clarity in all thoughts and gives a joyous feeling in the mind. Rajas is turbulent and aggressive and causes moods and attitudes like desire, pride, anger and is controlled by ego. Thamas is the ignorant state of mind where the person will be self -centered, tends to be in isolation and can lose interest in all activities.
Another important concept in Ayurveda is related to ‘ama’ or toxicity. Improper food habits, lack of exercise, consumption of toxic food products, alcohol etc. causes toxins to be formed and accumulated in the body parts including brain. These toxins or ‘ama’ then causes doshas to vitiate which then results in dosha imbalances and diseases.
Ayurveda classifies depression as being primarily caused by one of the doshas being aggravated or vitiated. Vata dosha depression is attributed to loss of near and dear ones, loss of employment and other things which can create a sense of emptiness. Pitta dosha depression is normally due to failures in life such as in job or academics, not living up to self-expectation etc. and kapha dosha depression leads to sleep disorders, eating disorders and a general resistance to changes in environment.
Ayurvedic treatment for depression is based on the type of dosha which is causing the imbalance and since these are different in each person, the treatment method is highly personalized. Treatment aims at correcting the dosha imbalance, removing ama (toxins) and in enhancing the mental state from thamas to sattva. This involves treatment therapies and also life style changes to ensure that the mind and body are in unison and in alignment with nature.
Depression treatments in Ayurveda is based on panchakarma treatment. Medicated oil massages, internal administration of medicated oils and herbs, induced purging and vomiting, emesis treatment are all used to cleanse the body and get rid of ama and improving the dosha imbalances. Typical treatment duration is around 21 days and treatment cost for depression in Ayurveda is between 1,300 to 3,800 USD. The concept of treating the person rather than the disease and in ensuring that mind and body are treated at the same time is what makes Ayurveda treatment for depression unique and effective.