Although many people experience different types of mental illness, one of the most serious mental health disorders is depression, which affects nearly one in ten US adults, with the rate being almost twice as high for women as for men. Depression and other mental health disorders can affect thinking, mood, and behavior.
Depression, which is a mood disorder characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in participating in social and personal activities, is also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression. Those suffering from depression often have trouble doing normal, day-to-day activities and sometimes feel as if life isn’t worth living.
People that suffer from depression commonly say they wish they could just “snap out of it,” but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. It often requires lifestyle changes, medication, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The symptoms of depression can be overwhelming for those struggling to understand why they feel so blue and why they can’t just “roll with the punches” of life like their friends, family, or coworkers do.
Symptoms of depression often include:
- Feelings of sadness
- Being tearful for no discernible reason
- Feelings of emptiness
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- A hopelessness that problems are too overwhelming to be solved
- Experiencing verbal or physical outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in many activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
- Problems sleeping, such as insomnia or sleeping too much
- Being tired all the time and having no energy
- Changes in appetite, such as not eating enough or eating too much
- Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- Sluggish thinking, speaking, or body movements and difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
- Overwhelming thoughts of death leading to suicidal thoughts and, for some, suicide attempts
Some people discount these symptoms, concluding that being miserable or unhappy is just who they are, never considering that they might just be suffering from a mental illness. But depression does not discriminate; it strikes young and old alike. But with age, biological changes can knock internal systems out of whack, making people more susceptible to depression. When doctors see the symptoms of depression in younger people, they are more likely to realize something is not right and take action to correct it. But for older people, the symptoms of depression are often confused with aging, and older people become resigned to the symptoms, thinking there is nothing they can do about it.
There’s nothing further from the truth.
If you believe you are suffering from depression, seeking help from a physician or mental health professional could mean getting your life back. Depression often indicates an imbalance that with the right treatment, can be alleviated, eliminating its symptoms and their effect on your life.
What Causes Depression?
While it’s hard to pinpoint one single cause of depression, researchers have learned that those suffering from the illness often have similar markers, or biological differences. This is often referred to as the biology of depression.
Genetics play a large part in whether you might be susceptible to depression. Researchers have conclusively determined that depression runs in the family. Though there is an increased likelihood that if someone in your family suffers from depression, you are at risk too, researchers have been unable to determine if there is a specific gene that is responsible. But just having a family history of depression doesn’t mean you will actually suffer from it. There are other factors that can make it more likely.
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals and hormones that regulate a wide variety of physical and psychological functions, including heart rate, sleep, appetite, mood, and fear. When there’s a problem with your neurotransmitters or something is disrupting their production, you tend to experience problems in your body and mind, including suffering from depression.
When it comes to depression, the most important neurotransmitters are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Could a Hormonal Imbalance Be Responsible for Your Depressive Symptoms?
Serotonin helps regulate sleep, aggression, eating, sexual desire, and mood. If your body is not producing enough serotonin, you may experience the symptoms of depression. Low levels of serotonin can lead to low levels of norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline. For some people, low levels of norepinephrine can also result in mood changes, including depression.
Dopamine is most commonly referred to as the brain’s “reward” chemical, which controls the release of “feel-good” hormones associated with activities that provide pleasure, including sex, hobbies, and sports. Dopamine also affects motivation, perception, attention, and movement. Those with low dopamine levels often report not being able to experience the same sense of pleasure from activities or family members and friends that they did before becoming depressed.
An imbalance in neurotransmitters and hormones could be attributed to a number of causes, including, for women, pregnancy and menopause. Postpartum depression can also be a result of a hormonal imbalance.
An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, in both men and women can lead to depression too.
Those who have lived through traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, or have witnessed traumatic events, can also be suffering from chemical or hormonal imbalances, which can contribute to physical problems and mental health issues.
Cortisol, also known as the stress or “fight or flight” hormone, can also affect how your body reacts to and processes information. In people who are suffering from depression, doctors find higher cortisol levels, which means their bodies are “on alert,” even in non-stressful times. Agitation, sugar cravings, increased belly fat, and insomnia are often symptoms of high cortisol. Low levels can be associated with the inability to handle stress, extreme fatigue, low libido, and mood instability.
Health problems that cause chronic pain or sap you of energy and motivation can also contribute to depressive symptoms. Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. Chronic pain and debilitation can be caused by heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses.
The “sex hormones” estrogen and testosterone also interact with other hormones and neurotransmitters in the body. When estrogen and testosterone are out of balance, it can cause a cascading effect, sometimes leading to depression.
Estrogen, which boosts serotonin, helps fight depression and promotes sleep. Low levels of estrogen can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness, which is common throughout menopause.
Progesterone helps promote sleep and has a natural calming effect. It also increases the calming neurotransmitter known as GABA and enhances the production of endorphins, which help you feel good, normalize libido, and act as a natural diuretic and a natural antidepressant. Abnormal levels of progesterone can cause insomnia and contribute to bad moods.
This should all be considered evidence that an imbalance of hormones can lead to depression. Hormones have a significant impact on daily life, such as sleep, mood and feelings, and other factors that help improve a person’s overall quality of life. Even though depression can be caused due to a number of emotional and psychological factors, hormones and their role in depression cannot be overlooked.
For women, the onset of perimenopause and menopause, which many women already dread because of the experiences they hear throughout their life from other women that have gone through it, can result in a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that can cause stress, frustration, other challenging feelings, and ultimately depression. It can seem overwhelming and too much for some women when you pile these symptoms on top of everyday life and juggling work, family, finances and more.
On top of that, just like stress, depression may be another symptom of menopause. During the perimenopausal and menopausal time of life, hormonal imbalances associated can inhibit the body from properly managing stress and feeling positive. Hormonal imbalances and depression are closely related in women.
Women who experience premenstrual dysphoria, a health problem that is similar to premenstrual syndrome but is more serious, might be at greater risk of depression or other mental health issues. Premenstrual dysphoria causes severe irritability, depression, or anxiety in the week or two before the start of a period. While symptoms usually go away two to three days after a period starts, those who experience it may need medicine or other treatment to help with the symptoms.
Are There Treatments for Depression?
A mental health professional or a medical care provider might prescribe SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, for the treatment of depression. Normally, once a neurotransmitter has served its purpose in the brain, it is reabsorbed into the body. SSRIs prevent the serotonin from being reabsorbed, leading to higher levels of serotonin in the synapses.
However, it’s not quite understood how SSRIs, by boosting serotonin levels in the body, actually work, and they don’t work for everyone.
In addition to consulting with a therapist, those suffering from depression should also consider consulting with the bioidentical hormone doctors at BodyLogicMD.
What Are Bioidentical Hormones?
Designed to be exact replicas of hormones innately produced by the body, bioidentical hormones match the body’s naturally produced hormones molecule by molecule.
Many people think that antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications are their only choice, immediately asking their physicians about these medications without considering other options. BodyLogicMD-affiliated physicians, however, explore the underlying issues to determine whether their patients are experiencing hormonal imbalance, situational depression, or adrenal fatigue brought on by stress, which allows for treatment options that can help resolve the underlying issue rather than just treating depressive symptoms.
Diagnosis and treatment begins with having your hormone levels tested, usually through blood, saliva or urine testing. When the results are back, your BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner will create a customized treatment plan to help balance your hormone and stress levels, if necessary. This often includes bioidentical hormones, nutrition and lifestyle modifications, a supplement regimen and stress-reducing techniques like yoga or meditation to help offset depression and elevated cortisol levels.
Supplements available through BodyLogicMD include Mood Support, which is specially formulated to help improve mental clarity and promote a more positive and relaxed state of mind, contains bioactive nutrients and amino acids that can help encourage healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine – the neurotransmitters that keep you happy and balanced. The decrease of neurotransmitters in the body can be attributed to overwhelming stress, genetics, medication and dietary deficiencies, and can lead to increased stress, interrupted sleep, and poor memory and mood.
If you are living with depression, whether or not you think it may be caused by a hormonal imbalance, contact the BodyLogicMD-affiliated bioidentical hormone doctor nearest you today to schedule an appointment and learn more about how an individualized treatment plan can help you regain your health, wellbeing, and joy for life.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.