Depression is more than just the "blues," being "down in the dumps". It isn't the periodic feelings of sadness that everyone experiences at various points in our lives. It is a serious condition that affects a person's mind and body. All aspects of life are affected including eating, sleeping, working, relationships, and how a person thinks about himself/herself. People who are truly depressed cannot simply make themselves feel better or just "snap out of it." Without appropriate treatment symptoms can continue for weeks, months, or years.
Very effective treatments are available to help those who are depressed. However, only about one-third of those who are depressed actually receive treatment. This is unfortunate since upwards of 80-90% of those who do seek treatment can feel better within just a few weeks. People do not seek treatment for depression for a variety of reasons. Some believe that depression is the result of a personal weakness or character flaw. This is simply not true. Like diabetes, heart disease, or any other medical condition, clinical depression is an illness that should be treated by a mental health professional or physician. Another reason why many people do not seek help for depression is that they simply do not recognize the signs or symptoms that something may be wrong.
Depression affects large numbers of Americans. Approximately 19 million Americans, or 9.5% of the population in any given one-year period is dealing with depression. At some point in their lives, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will likely become clinically depressed. In fact, it affects so many people that it is often referred to as the "common cold" of mental illness. It is estimated that depression exacts an economic cost of over $30 billion each year, but the cost of human suffering cannot be measured. Depression not only causes suffering to those who are depressed, but it also causes great difficulty for their family and friends who often do not know how to help.
Types of depression
- Major Depressive Disorder
This illness impairs a person's ability to work, sleep, eat, and function as he or she normally would. It keeps people from enjoying activities that were once pleasurable, and causes them to think about themselves and the world in negative ways. Major depression is often disabling and may occur several times in a person's lifetime.
- Dysthymic Disorder
A milder yet more enduring type of major depression. People with dysthymia may appear to be chronically mildly depressed to the point that it seems to be a part of their personality. When a person finally seeks treatment for dysthymia, it is not uncommon that he/she has struggled with this condition for a number of years.
- Bipolar Disorder
Also known as manic-depression or manic-depressive disorder. This condition is characterized by mood that alternates between periods of depression and periods of elation and excitable behavior known as mania (see symptoms below). For people who have bipolar disorder, the depressions can be severe and the mania can seriously impair one's normal judgment. When manic, a person is prone towards reckless and inappropriate behavior such as engaging in wild spending sprees or having promiscuous sex. He or she may not be able to realize the harm of his/her behavior and may even lose touch with reality. Approximately 1% of the population is bipolar.
- Mood Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition
Depression may be caused or precipitated by a known or unknown physical medical condition such as hypothyroidism.
- Substance-Induced Mood Disorder
Depression may be caused or precipitated by the use or abuse of substances such as drugs, alcohol, medications, or toxins.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
This condition affects people during specific times or seasons of the year. During the winter months individuals feel depressed and lethargic, but during other months their moods may be normal.
- Postpartum Depression
A rare form of depression occurring in women within approximately one week to six months after giving birth to a child.
Symptoms of depression
Not everyone who is depressed will experienced the same symptoms. Some will have many symptoms, others will have just a few. The severity of the symptoms may also be different for every person and even vary over time. Depression in adolescents tends to look much different from depression in adults. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or if you feel you may be depressed it will be important to consult with a physician or qualified mental health professional. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, or has made plans to do so, you should seek the help of a mental health professional or physician immediately.
Sadness, anxiety, or "empty" feelings
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Insomnia, oversleeping, or waking much earlier than usual
- Loss of weight or appetite, or overeating and weight gain
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
- Feelings of helplessness, guilt, and worthlessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering
- Restlessness, irritability or excessive crying
- Chronic aches and pains or physical problems that do not respond to treatment
Major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States
Depression affects approximately 10% of the population in a given year
During their lifetime, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will become clinically depressed
Women are affected by depression almost twice as often as men
The economic cost of depression is estimated to be over $30 billion each year
Two-thirds of those who are depressed never seek treatment and suffer needlessly
80%-90% of those who seek treatment for depression can feel better within just a few weeks
Research on twins suggests that there is a genetic component to the risk of developing depression
Research has also shown that the stress of a loss, especially the death of a loved one, may lead to depression in some people
Risk factors for major depression
1. Gender: In the United States, women are about as twice as likely as men to be diagnosed and treated for major depression. Approximately 20-25% of women and 12% of men will experience a serious depression at least once in their lifetimes. Among children, depression appears to occur in equal numbers of girls and boys. However, as girls reach adolescence, they tend to become more depressed than boys do. This gender difference continues into older age.There are several theories as to why more women than men are diagnosed and treated for depression:
- Women may be more likely than men to seek treatment. They may be more willing to accept that they have emotional symptoms of depressed mood and feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.
Men may be less willing to acknowledge their emotional symptoms and more apt to suppress their depression through the use of alcohol or other substances. In such cases depression can be "masked," or viewed only as alcohol or drug dependency/abuse rather than as clinical depression.
Women may tend to be under more stress than men. In today's American society women often have to manage a variety of conflicting roles. They have many responsibilities and full schedules at home and work.
Women may be more prone to depression because of the possible effects of hormones. Women have frequent changes in their hormone levels, from their monthly menstrual cycles, to the time during and after 10pregnancy, to menopause. Some women develop a depressive illness around these events.
2. Marital factors: Women who are unhappily married, divorced, or separated, have high rates of major depression. The rates are lower for those who are happily married.
3. Age: While clinical depression usually occurs for the first time when a person is between the ages of 20 and 50, people over the age of 65 may be especially vulnerable.
4. Previous episode: If you have had major depression once before, your chances of developing it again increase. According to some estimates, approximately one-half of those who have developed depression will experience it again.
5. Heredity: People who have relatives who have had clinical depression have a greater chance of developing it themselves. Also, having a close relative with bipolar disorder may increase a person's chances of developing major depression.
Risk factors for bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed in equal numbers of men and women. It is not known for sure why major depression seems to affect more women than men while mania affects both equally. One reason may be that mania, with its very conspicuous symptoms, is much more easily recognized than depression. Depression may also go unrecognized in men.
Previous episode: If you have had major mania once before, your chances increase of developing it again. Most of those who have had an episode of mania once will have a second.
Heredity: People who have relatives who have had bipolar disorder have a greater chance of developing it themselves. Immediate relatives (parents, siblings, children) of those with bipolar disorder are 8 to 18 times more likely to develop the condition than those not related to people with bipolar disorder. Having a close relative with bipolar disorder may also increase a person.