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What is Depression?

Clinical depression is more than just the "blues," being "down in the dumps," or experiencing temporary feelings of sadness we all have from time to time in our lives. It is a serious condition that affects a person's mind and body. It impacts all aspects of everyday life including eating, sleeping, working, relationships, and how a person thinks about himself/herself. People who are clinically depressed cannot simply will themselves to feel better or just "snap out of it." If they do not receive appropriate treatment their symptoms can continue for weeks, months, or years.

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The good news is that 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. Many 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 approximately 19 million Americans, or 9.5% of the population in any given one-year period. 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.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder)

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.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Dysthymic Disorder)

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.
(for more information go to Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder)

Cyclothymic Disorder
A milder yet more enduring type of bipolar disorder. A person's mood alternates between a less severe mania (known as hypomania) and a less severe depression.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Cyclothymic Disorder)

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.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Mood Disorder Due to...

Substance-Induced Mood Disorder
Depression may be caused or precipitated by the use or abuse of substances such as drugs, alcohol, medications, or toxins.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Substance-Induced...)

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.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Postpartum Depression
A rare form of depression occurring in women within approximately one week to six months after giving birth to a child.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Postpartum Depression)

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
This is an uncommon type of depression affecting a small percentage of menstruating women. It is a cyclical condition in which women may feel depressed and irritable for one or two weeks before their menstrual period each month.
(For more information go to Diagnosis: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder)

Symptoms of Depression

People who are depressed or manic may not experience all of the following 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. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or if you have questions about whether you may be depressed or manic, you should consult with your physician or a 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

Symptoms of Mania

  • Abnormal or excessive elation
  • Unusual irritability
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Grandiose notions
  • Increased talking
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Markedly increased energy
  • Poor judgment
  • Inappropriate social behavior

source: National Institute of Health Publication No. 97-4266 and 99-3561

If you think you might be depressed you should consult a qualified mental health professional. No one should have to suffer from the unpleasant symptoms of depression since very effective treatments are available.

Additional Statistics and Information About Depression

  • Major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States
  • Depression affects almost 10% of the population, or 19 million Americans, 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

How Depression Affects a Person's Life

Clinical depression affects all aspects of a person's life. It impairs our ability to sleep, eat, work, and get along with others. It damages our self-esteem, self-confidence, and our ability to accomplish everyday tasks. People who are depressed find daily tasks to be a significant struggle. They tire easily, yet cannot get a good night's sleep. They have no motivation and lose interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Depression puts a dark, gloomy cloud over how we see ourselves, the world, and our future. This cloud cannot be willed away, nor can we ignore it and have it magically disappear.

Read some first hand accounts of how people have experienced and managed their own depression.

Brenda's story:
Brenda picture "It was really hard to get out of bed in the morning. I just wanted to hide under the covers and not talk to anyone. I didn't feel much like eating and I lost a lot of weight. Nothing seemed fun anymore. I was tired all the time, yet I wasn't sleeping well at night. But I knew that I had to keep going because I've got kids and a job. It just felt so impossible, like nothing was going to change or get better.

"I started missing days from work, and a friend noticed that something wasn't right. She talked to me about the time that she had been really depressed and had gotten help from her doctor.

"I called my doctor and talked about how I was feeling. She had me come in for a checkup and gave me the name of a psychiatrist, who is an expert in treating depression.

"Now, I'm seeing the psychiatrist once a month and taking medicine for depression. I'm also seeing someone else for "talk" therapy, which helps me learn ways to deal with this illness in my everyday life.

"Everything didn't get better overnight, but I find myself more able to enjoy life and my children."

Rob's story:
Brenda picture "Things in my life were going all right. I had just gotten my GED and was starting a new job in a week. My family was really proud of me. But inside, I was feeling terrible.

"At first I was feeling sad all the time, even though I had no reason to be. Then the sadness turned into anger, and I started having fights with my family and friends. I felt really bad about myself, like I wasn't good enough for anyone. It got so bad that I wished I would go to bed and never wake up.

"My older brother, who I always looked up to, saw that I wasn't acting like my usual self. He told me straight out that I seemed depressed and that I should talk to a doctor about it. I hate going to the doctor. I thought, "No way am I going in for this."

"But after a few weeks, I started having problems at work too. Sometimes I wouldn't show up because I wasn't able to sleep the night before. When I got fired, I knew I had to listen to my brother and get help.

"I saw a doctor at the health clinic. He told me I had a common illness called depression and that treatment could help. So I started to see someone at the clinic each week for "talk" therapy. This treatment helps me learn to control depression in my everyday life. It has taken some time, but I'm finally feeling like myself again."

source: National Institute of Health Publication No. NIH-99-3561



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