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What Brings on the Blues?

What Brings on the Blues?

Why do people get depressed?
I heard that depression has to do with brain chemistry. Is that true?
Does depression run in families?
Are there different kinds of depression?

Why do people get depressed?
Why do some people get depressed while others don't? That is a question researchers have been trying to figure out for a long time. The short answer is that everybody is different. We all feel differently about the things that happen to us.

For instance, when some people get sick, they get sore throats. Other people get stomachaches or headaches. Maybe you know someone who never gets sick at all. This doesn't mean that one person is better than another. It just means that every person's body reacts in its own unique way. The same is true of depression. One person can shrug off something upsetting at school, while another person might get very upset. It's just who they are.

A lot of things can cause people to get depressed. Some experts think that depression happens when people have lost someone very important to them, like a parent or a pet. Depression can also be a way of dealing with anger. For instance, you may be angry with one of your parents for doing something hurtful or with a teacher for giving you a bad grade on a test. If you are afraid to say anything, you may hold your angry feelings inside and begin to feel depressed.

Sometimes, people become depressed if they don't get something that is important to their self-image. For example, maybe you think of yourself as a great soccer player, but you didn't make the team this year.

Teens can also get depressed if they receive too much criticism at home and at school, or if their parents argue all the time. Sometimes teens get depressed if one parent expects one thing from them and the other parent expects something completely different. Kids can also "learn" to be depressed if their parents respond to stress in unhealthy ways, like staying in bed when they didn't get a job promotion or being in a bad mood when something doesn't go their way.

Some people think that depression can come from your attitude. For instance, if you think that you are worthless or you don't have much hope for the future, it can actually cause you to be depressed. Or if you think, "Why should I study for that test? I can't understand those math problems anyway," that negative attitude might lead to depression. back to top

I heard that depression has to do with brain chemistry. Is that true?
Yes. Many scientists have been studying what actually goes on in the brain when people are depressed. There is still so much they don't know, but they do know quite a few things. For instance, one thing they know for sure is that, when you are depressed, something is actually happening deep inside your brain. The part of the brain that controls your emotions is called the limbic system. It also controls such things as your body temperature, appetite, hormone levels, blood pressure, and behavior.

For the limbic system to work properly, information has to travel from one part of your brain to another on a complicated journey. It does this with the help of some chemicals called neurotransmitters. If your brain isn't making enough neurotransmitters or if the neurotransmitters aren't doing the job quickly enough, depression may result.

A lot of different things can cause these neurotransmitter problems. Usually, they are difficult life events and situations, also known as "triggers." It is important to remember that depression doesn't come out of nowhere—even if it seems that way. Something always happens to make you start feeling depressed. Here are some common triggers that can lead to depression.
  • Someone in your family, a close friend, or even a pet is very sick or dies.
  • Your family is in the midst of a major conflict, like a divorce or financial problems.
  • Your parents are abusive to you and your siblings, or to each other. This could be physical or emotional abuse—any behaviors that make you feel afraid whenever you're at home.
  • You experienced trauma or a stressful event when you were very young, like the death of a parent or someone else who was special to you.
  • You have a serious health problem, maybe something that has kept you in bed or in the hospital for a while.
  • You've had some learning problems in school.
  • You've been drinking or using drugs. This is a tricky one, because alcohol and drugs can make you feel better at first. The problem is, you will feel much worse later on.
All these things can actually change your brain chemistry. But keep in mind that you won't necessarily get depressed if these things happen to you. back to top

Does depression run in families?
Depression can run in families, kind of like allergies. So your depression may be what experts call hereditary. This means that you have inherited certain depression genes from someone in your family, like your mom or your grandfather. This doesn't mean you will definitely get depressed, but it can make you more vulnerable to the illness if things aren't going well in your life. On the positive side, if you know that depression runs in your family, you can learn how to deal with your feelings so that you can do your best to stay healthy. back to top

Are there different kinds of depression?
Yes. Some people get depressed once, and then never again. Other people get depressed more than once, but feel OK most of the time. Both of these situations are known as major depression (also called clinical depression). Major depression lasts at least two weeks. There are many symptoms that may signal this kind of depression.

Some people have milder symptoms of depression for a year or longer. This kind of depression is called dysthymic disorder. People with dysthymic disorder can still go to school and work, and live pretty normal lives, but their depression makes them always feel a little down and out.

A third kind of depression is known as manic depression, or bipolar illness. This is when a person's moods go back and forth between very sad (depressive) and very hyper (manic). People with bipolar illness sometimes feel on top of the world. They may do a lot of wild and risky things, like driving too fast or spending too much money. They also tend to have a lot of racing thoughts in their head. People with this kind of depression will almost always need medication to help them stay on a more even keel.

Teens with depression may also have anxiety disorders or eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/17/2001
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