11 Facts You Should Know About Depression

diego_cervo/iStock via Getty Images
diego_cervo/iStock via Getty Images

You may say you feel depressed after getting passed up for a job or having a fight with a friend, but as people living with clinical depression and anxiety know too well, it's more than just a sad feeling. Depression disorders are characterized by feelings of emptiness and negativity, and symptoms range in severity from trouble getting out of bed to thoughts of suicide. While diagnoses are more common than ever before, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: As more people seek out the many types of depression treatments now available, stigma around the condition lessens, and life with depression becomes more manageable for the millions who have it. Here are a few more facts about depression causes and treatments.

1. Depression symptoms can be physical as well as mental.

Depression is a mental illness, but its symptoms aren’t limited to the mind. In addition to insomnia, fatigue, and persistent sadness, patients may have physical pain in the form of headaches, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal discomfort. These symptoms may have something to do with serotonin and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that govern pain as well as mood. Pain can make you feel worse emotionally and further dissuade you from leaving the house, which can reinforce feelings of isolation and loneliness—a vicious cycle many depression sufferers are familiar with.

2. Depression causes can vary from genes to alcohol abuse.

Depression is a complex condition that can be caused by a range of factors. Some people are genetically predisposed to depression. Others become depressed as the result of a long-term stressful life event—such as an abusive relationship, isolation, unemployment, chronic illness, or a traumatic childhood. If someone is predisposed to depression, sudden difficulties that arise in their lives can trigger a depressive episode. Drug and alcohol use have a chicken-and-egg relationship with the mental disorder: Substance abuse can lead to depression, and some people who are depressed turn to substances to cope. Whatever the underlying cause, the actual symptoms of depression occur when neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for regulating mood aren’t functioning properly.

3. One in seven new parents may have postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is thought to be a side effect of the dramatic drop in estrogen and progesterone levels a new parent experiences following the birth of a baby. Other circumstances associated with being a new parent, such as stress, fatigue, and self-doubt, can lead to feelings of sadness and emptiness. Anyone who feels depressed for more than two weeks after delivering their child should reach out to a doctor for help.

4. Four depression types affect the brain in different ways.

A 2017 study in Nature Medicine suggested that neurological scans showed four different manifestations of depression, with some overlap between the subtypes. People with brain activity that corresponded to subtypes 1 and 2 felt more fatigue, while people with subtypes 3 and 4 were less likely to feel pleasure. Each subtype might respond differently to various treatments, researchers found. For example, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a method of administering magnetic impulses to change brain activity, is most effective for subtype 1.

5. Antidepressants target specific neurotransmitters to relieve depression symptoms.

Today, four categories of antidepressants are commonly prescribed for depression, and each works slightly differently. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac) affect serotonin, the brain chemical associated with feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like duloxetine (Cymbalta) target norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter that promotes alertness—as well as serotonin. Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs), such as buproprion (Wellbutrin), increase norepinephrine and dopamine and purport to have fewer side effects than other drugs. Second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) like aripiprazole (Abilify) are used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and can also be used for depression when other medications haven't worked.

6. Dogs get depressed, too.

Animal researchers have observed depression-like symptoms in other species. Unsurprisingly, captive animals deprived of the social interactions they would have in the wild are particularly susceptible. Zoo animals, lab test subjects, and pet dogs can all exhibit what might be described as animal depression. Studies have even shown that fish can get depressed and respond positively to antidepressants. Depression in animals isn’t analogous to the condition in people, but studying how it affects animals might lead to better human treatments.

7. Depressed people may use certain phrases in speech.

Depression is often an invisible illness, but one analysis of depression-focused internet forums found that users tended to use a lot of first-person pronouns like I and me and fewer third-person pronouns like they, he, or she. The finding suggested that people with depression are focused on themselves and feel disconnected from others. Another linguistic indicator of depression is the use of absolutist words such as always, constantly, and completely, which may be associated with a black-and-white view of reality.

8. A hot bath might ease some depression symptoms.

For a study, researchers from Freiburg University in Germany pitted exercise—often touted as a depression-fighter—against hot baths to see which was more effective at alleviating symptoms. Subjects with depression who took 30-minute hot baths and relaxed with hot water bottles and warm blankets for 20 minutes twice a week saw their condition improve more than the subjects who exercised for 45 minutes twice a week. The study [PDF] wasn't peer-reviewed and it came with a few caveats. The sample size started small with just 45 subjects, and of the 23 people assigned to the exercise group, 13 failed to complete the study because they were unable or unwilling to be physically active. But the results support the theory that hot baths can stabilize one’s mood by normalizing body temperature and circadian rhythms.

9. Some of history's famous figures have (possibly) had depression.

It’s impossible to truly diagnose someone when they’re dead, but using historical documents and other clues, scholars have speculated that some of history’s greatest thinkers had depression. They include Abraham Lincoln (friends called him the most depressed person they'd ever seen), Charles Dickens (he was described as falling into a depression at the start of each book), and Leo Tolstoy (he wrote of contemplating suicide in one letter). The list of living celebrities with depression is more reliable. Buzz Aldrin, Dolly Parton, and J.K. Rowling have all spoken about dealing with the disorder.

10. Daylight Saving Time might trigger depression.

Depression that’s connected to a certain time of year is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from it. Medical experts aren’t entirely sure what causes it, but it may have something to do with changing daylight hours disrupting patients' circadian rhythms, the system that governs sleep cycles. This may also be why hospital admissions for depression spike the month immediately following Daylight Saving Time.

11. Depression rates are rising—but maybe not for the reasons you think.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people suffer from depression globally. That number is much larger than it was a few years ago. Between 2005 and 2015, rates of depressive illness rose by nearly 20 percent. Depression is also 10 times more common among people born after 1945. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people feel worse than they did a century ago—awareness of the condition has grown tremendously in recent years and people today may be more likely to seek help for their depression and receive a diagnosis. It's also possible that older generations kept their struggles to themselves.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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U.S. Postal Service Issues 'Healing' Stamp to Help Americans Struggling With PTSD

USPS
USPS

Showing your support for military veterans and others afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is now just a lick away. This week, the United States Postal Service (USPS) released a new Healing PTSD stamp, with proceeds going toward the assistance and treatment of service members and civilians struggling with emotional and psychological symptoms brought on by a troubling life event.

The front of the stamp, which features a green plant growing from a pile of fallen leaves, is intended to symbolize healing. The stamp is what the USPS refers to as semipostal, which is postage that sells for a premium in order to raise funds for causes thought to be in the public interest. The Healing PTSD edition is 65 cents, or 10 cents more than a regularly-priced first-class stamp. That money, minus the postage paid and the reimbursement of reasonable costs acquired by the Postal Service, will be distributed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and routed to the National Center for PTSD.

The first semipostal stamp was issued in 1998 and was intended to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. A stamp for Alzheimer’s research followed in 2017. Semipostal stamps are intended to be sold for no more than two years at a time.

The Healing PTSD stamp is available at local post offices and on USPS.com.

[h/t Task & Purpose]

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