It’s normal to be sad and have a dreadful day from time to time. Sometimes you just want to be alone and instinctively shut off your alarm clock and call in sick. Or you ignore a phone call from your mom. Or decline an invitation to dinner with friends. But if all these things become regular daily occurrences, you may have depression. Thankfully, medicine like ketamine has powerful antidepressant properties and may help reduce depression’s worst symptoms.
What is Depression?
Depression is a widespread and serious mental health problem that can negatively affect your feelings, actions, and how you think. It can have devastating consequences if the symptoms are ignored, but treatment is available. Typical symptoms may include feeling sad most of the time or no longer interested in doing things that once brought enjoyment. In other words, it can affect nearly all aspects of your life at home, work, and elsewhere and could trigger other emotional and physical problems.
Who Does it Affect?
Depression can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. It’s the great equalizer in psychiatric circles and is non-discriminate in who it impacts. According to the World Health Organization, it affects nearly 300 million people and is a leading source of disability.
The condition is equally damaging in the United States, with the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health estimating it affects more than 8% of all adults. Depression also affects millions of children and reaches across all socioeconomic boundaries.
What Are the Risk Factors?
- Personality traits like poor self-esteem, over-dependence, and criticizing yourself
- Early childhood or regular exposure as an adult to trauma or stressful events
- A family history of depression or other mental illnesses, especially with biological relatives
- Gender issues and lack of a support system
- You have been diagnosed with other mental health illnesses
- Substance abuse
- Histories of chronic illness, like cancer or heart disease
- High blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, and certain other medicines
What Are the Causes?
Depression is like many other mental health conditions in that its exact cause is unknown. But we have a promising idea of the culprits, which may include:
- Biological and physical differences in the brain.
- How brain chemistry functions, particularly neurotransmitters like glutamate. Neurotransmitters help regulate and disseminate pain signals, and moodiness and emotional problems can happen if they’re weak or somehow damaged.
- Hormonal changes.
- Family history. Depression is known to exist in families, particularly among blood relatives.
The Antidepressant Properties of Ketamine When It’s Used to Treat Depression
Ketamine’s not a new medicine. It’s been around for decades and was initially synthesized as a new kind of anesthesia. The initial goal was for ketamine to be used as a human anesthetic, which it was – to stunning effect, particularly during its first mass usage treating wounded U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam. It received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as a human and animal anesthetic in 1970 but has been used for almost 60 years to treat symptoms of mental illness and other pain conditions that don’t respond well to conventional therapy.
When used to treat depression, the medicine has more than proven its worth, with one version – esketamine – given FDA approval to help people with treatment-resistant depression. The medicine is known for its strong, antidepressant properties. No one knows for sure how ketamine works on the brain, but research by Harvard Medical School indicates it binds to NMDA receptors, which allows for a boost in the number of neurotransmitters in spaces between neurons. The medicine is thought to create many antidepressant effects, including:
- Giving patients the ability to create more and more long-lasting, positive thoughts and behaviors.
- Possibly lowering signals linked to inflammation can trigger low moods, thoughts, and cognitive function.
- Potentially counteracting suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- It can wipe out most symptoms and give you the means to resume normal life, according to Psychiatrist Alexander Papp, MD.
Diagnosis & Treatment
There isn’t a single test that can diagnose depression. Instead, your healthcare provider may rely on physical and psychiatric examinations to uncover the source of symptoms and treat them. There could be an underlying medical condition; with a mental health check, symptoms could be triggered by emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Both examinations will document your personal and family medical history.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, ketamine therapy may work to reduce the symptoms. But your healthcare provider could also recommend psychotherapy, antidepressants, or other types of medicine.