What is depression?
A common myth is that depression affects only those who can't manage life's ups and downs due to some personal weakness or failure of willpower. This is untrue. Depression is a medical illness not unlike diabetes or high blood pressure. A person with depression can't change his or her mood any more than diabetics can use willpower to change their blood sugar level.
The causes of depression are many but in recent years it has become clear that all depressions involve a chemical imbalance in the areas of the brain that regulate mood and emotion. Just as diabetics need regular treatment with insulin or other therapies, people with depression often require medications or therapy to restore mood and help them feel better.
Who gets depressed?
Everyone gets "depressed" from time to time because of disappointments or frustrations of daily life. After a short period of feeling unhappy or sad, however, circumstances may change and our mood improves. But for many people, the symptoms of depression are more severe and last longer. These people have a medical illness called "clinical depression" which is very different from "feeling down" or "having the blues". When "depression" is mentioned, we are referring to "clinical depression".
If you believe that you are suffering from depression - you are not alone.
About 1 in 5 people will experience depression at some point during their life. Depression is most common in adults between the ages of 18 - 44, although it may occur at any point in a person's lifetime. For many people the illness can start in childhood or adolescence but goes unnoticed because the symptoms - moodiness, irritability, and risk-taking behavior - may resemble typical teenage problems. Women are at especially high risk. Depression is about twice as common in women than in men. While depressed symptoms can occur at any time in a woman's life, depression often coincides with hormonal changes experienced during menstrual periods, pregnancy or after giving birth. Late-onset depression affecting people over age 55 is also a problem and is often unreported as it is sometimes mistaken as simply "growing old". Older people who become depressed have usually previously experienced one or more bouts of depression when they were younger.
How do I know if I am depressed?
Depression is most often associated with four types of symptoms:
- Changes in mood: People with depression have either a persistent feeling of sadness, or a reduced feeling of pleasure in activities (hobbies, family activities, etc.) that were once considered enjoyable. There may be a decline in having sexual relations. Sometimes depression is experienced as intense irritability.
- Physical symptoms: The most common physical symptoms involve:
- Appetite: Reduced appetite, often with weight loss, is often seen. Increased appetite and weight gain may also be associated with depression.
- Sleep: The most common sleep difficulty is awakening early in the morning. However, some people experience excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty falling asleep or frequent awakenings during the night.
- Other physical symptoms: That may be present are headache, constipation, and general aches and pains.
- Energy level and motivation: Depression often makes people feel profoundly tired, lacking energy and feeling unmotivated. Some people actually experience a physical slowing down, or a feeling of agitation and restlessness.
- Changes in Thought Pattern: People with depression often have negative thoughts. Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness are prominent, as are guilt or pessimism. Self-esteem and self-confidence may suffer since they do not feel good about themselves. Many depressed people complain that they can't focus their attention, have trouble concentrating or can't remember things.
- Anxiety:The vast majority of people with depression also have accompanying symptoms of anxiety, such as excessive worrying, nervousness, restlessness, panicky feelings or difficulty falling asleep. In fact, these symptoms may be so severe that many people seek help from their physician for anxiety, only to find that they are suffering from depression.
What do I if I think I have depression?
Depression is a medical illness that can be treated. So if you think you have depression, it is important to see your doctor immediately. Depression won't go away if you try to cheer up, take more vitamins, drink more alcohol or go on a vacation. If a doctor does not treat the depression properly, it can last for months or years and can lead to difficulties in your personal/social life or at school and on the job.
Types of treatment:
Your doctor will want to give you a thorough physical examination since depression may occur with some medical illnesses, or may be caused by a medication that you may be taking for another medical condition. If your depression is not due to a medical condition, your doctor will want to talk to you about the different treatments available:
- Medications: Newer antidepressant medications have proven to be very effective in treating depression (e.g. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Other effective medication includes tricyclic antidepressants (TCA's) and monoamine oxidase (MAD) inhibitors. In about 80 percent of cases, symptoms can be relieved and people can go back to their normal routine within a few weeks.
- Counseling and therapy: Many people benefit from talking to a therapist about how to cope with stress, family or marital problems or other things that may trigger an episode of depression.
The importance of getting help:
If you have depression, it is important to get help immediately. There is no need to try to handle it alone. There are many people and resources in your community who are there to help with proper treatment, and therefore you can go back to enjoying your life, your family and your work within a very short time.