Here's What You Didn't Know About Having Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 8% of adult women in the U.S. will have a depressive episode this year. You probably know someone who's dealt with it (or maybe that person is you). But there's still so much we don't know about the disorder.

For instance, depression shows up differently in various people, and researchers are working on learning why that might happen. Some people may feel physical symptoms, like chronic pain. Others may only feel moderately depressed, but for longer periods of time (dysthymia). Sometimes depression is treated after a few months and never comes back. Yet other times, people have recurring episodes of major depression, or episodes that aren't helped by even our most advanced treatments.

However, we've never known more about depression than we do now — and researchers are continuing to find out more every day. Ahead, we're combing the latest research to help demystify all of the facets of this complicated condition.

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Antidepressants Can Work In Unexpected Ways

There’s still a lot left to learn about antidepressants and how they work. But according to a new study in the journal Neurobiology of Learning & Memory, part of the drugs' effect may come from giving patients more of a sense of control over their lives.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Here's what we learned from the study: Mildly depressed participants who had been taking an antidepressant for a week were better at figuring out which parts of a game they had control over and which they had to just let slide, compared to those getting a placebo. Non-depressed participants didn’t show any difference when they were taking the drug.

So the researchers think antidepressants may help us learn when and how to take agency over the things in our lives we can actually change.
Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Depression May Be Related To Inflammation

Although researchers have known for some time that our immune systems and mental health are closely tied, a study published earlier this month shows more about how the two may influence each other.

The researchers found that participants with higher levels of inflammation also had higher levels of glutamate (a neurotransmitter) in some areas of their brains. Your brain cells need glutamate to send messages to each other, but with too much, it becomes harder for them to function normally.

The study doesn't prove conclusively that the inflammation caused an increase in glutamate. But it does suggest that inflammation may make depression worse for someone who already has it, thanks to those higher glutamate levels.
Photographed by Ashley Batz.
We're Getting Better At Predicting The Worst

Although depression doesn't always lead to suicide, the vast majority of people who do attempt suicide have a mental health issue. Most commonly, it's depression. Figuring out both who's most at risk and when those people are most likely to attempt suicide are huge pieces of this complex puzzle. And a recent study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry brought us a little bit closer to solving it.

After looking at certain biological markers in 51 women with diagnosed mental illness (including women with depression), the researchers were able to suss out a few biological clues that could help them develop tests to predict suicide risk. A few of these were different from those previously identified in men, suggesting that women have separate risk factors for suicide. The researchers hope their work could eventually lead to actually preventing suicide — especially in people who wouldn't otherwise show up as being at risk for an attempt.
Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Apps Can Help You Manage

If you're looking for easy ways to keep a handle on your mental health, try an app. You're probably already keeping your phone around with you all day, so you might as well use it to track the way you're feeling.

For instance, Koko connects you with other people with depression to offer suggestions for ways to reframe your thinking. Both the Start app and T2 Mood Tracker will keep track of your symptoms so you have a record of yourself getting better. And tools likeMangoHealth make sure you're taking your meds — and that they're not reacting badly with anything else you're taking. Check out all of our (free!) favorites here.
Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Pinterest Offers Community, Not Support

You may think of Pinterest as a place for planning weddings and finding easy recipes. But, as a recent study revealed, there's a lot more going on there under the surface. Not only are Pinterest users sharing (often inaccurate) health information, they're also using the site as a place to talk openly about how their depression makes them feel.

But of the nearly-800 pins, the researchers found that in discussions about depression, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm, the majority made no mention of any coping mechanism. Of those that did mention a way to cope — most proposed unhealthy strategies, like pretending everything is okay rather than seeking help.

While it's great that people are able to talk honestly about their depression, it's not so great that they aren't getting much-needed help in actually dealing with it.
Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Don't Underestimate The Power Of Sleep

Sleep problems are a common symptom of depression. What's more, not sleeping enough can exacerbate the disorder's other symptoms. This can create a vicious cycle in which you can't sleep because you're depressed, and you're more depressed because you can't sleep. But the good news is that getting help with insomnia symptoms may also ease your depression symptoms, too. And, according to a new study, you can find that assistance readily online.

The research, published recently in The Lancet Psychiatry, examined specifically whether an online insomnia therapy program could help treat the other symptoms of depression. The therapy app, SHUTi, asked depressed participants to track their sleep and go through specialized training for six weeks.

Afterward, participants who received the SHUTi therapy showed significantly reduced depression symptoms compared to those who went through a placebo training program. And they were still doing better six months later. So if you're finding that your sleepless nights are making it harder to give your mental health the care it deserves, a program like this could help get back those vital ZZZs — and more.
Photographed by Maria del Rio.
People With Depression Are More Likely To Have Migraines

Both migraines and depression are more common in women than men. But migraines and depression share a lot more than that. As Mia Minen, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center explained in her recent paper, migraines and mental disorders generally occur together.

"We’ve seen that patients with migraines have somewhat different responses in emotional centers of the brain," Dr. Minen told R29. Some medications, like SNRIs, that were initially developed to treat depression, may also help in migraines.

But that doesn't mean depression causes migraines (or vice versa). Instead, Dr. Minen suggests the two conditions may both stem from the same underlying cause — one that we're still figuring out.
Photographed by Tayler Smith.
Fertility Issues May Make Depression Worse

From getting your diagnosis to going through rounds of IVF, fertility issues provide plenty of new, powerful emotional opportunities for mental health struggles to take hold. In fact, higher rates of depression and anxiety have been linked to the stress of undergoing fertility treatment.

Both depression and infertility can make you feel isolated, which just tends to make things worse. But there are therapists who specialize in helping you through these exact issues. An infertility counselor can help you figure out who, what, and when to tell about what's going on. And he or she can guide you through potentially difficult conversations with your partner.
Photographed by Fernanda Sliva.
The Link Between Major Weight Loss & Depression
Weight-loss operations such as gastric bypass are life-changing for patients who choose and qualify for these procedures. But some experts think we need to be paying more attention to the mental health effects that can go along with those changes.

Recent studies have shown that rates of depression and suicide risk are higher among those seeking bariatric surgery than in the rest of the population to begin with, while other research suggests the surgery may lead to depression after the procedure for some. Why? Partly, it's because there is little mental health screening being done for these patients. Researchers are now trying to find better ways of addressing mental struggles throughout the process — and giving adequate support to those who need it.
Show More Comments...