Depression is a clinical illness characterized by prolonged feelings of grave sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. A depressive disorder is more than just feeling down or having “the blues.” Depression occurs when those feelings of sadness do not lessen overtime, and eventually prohibit the individual from functioning and participating in regular activities. The person’s depression becomes an interference—a mental obstacle that the individual is unable to overcome, causing him or her to lose interest in parts of their lives that were once important or enjoyable, such as relationships, hobbies, work, and social interactions.
Depression is a common disorder and is very treatable; yet most people with depression do not seek treatment. This is most likely due to the fact that the afflicted individual feels guilty, incapable, defeated, or ashamed of their depressed state, and confronting the problem seems too stressful or painful. Variations of depression have been identified in DSM-IV, including the following:
Major depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. This is the most common form of depression and affects approximately 15 million American adults, 7 million adolescents, and 6 million older adults. Major depression is characterized by an individual’s protracted depressed mood that lasts the majority of each day, and by their inability to perform normal daily routines and engage in once-pleasurable activities. Not only are relationships affected, but so are activities like eating and sleeping, as well as physical and sexual health. Individuals commonly experience a major depressive episode once in their lifetimes, yet some people with major depressive disorder will experience recurring episodes throughout their lifetimes.
Dysthymic disorder, also known as chronic depression or dysthymia. This is a less severe form of depression but is a longer-lasting mood disorder. Dysthymic disorder is characterized by chronic mild depression, irritability, disruptions in normal habits such as eating and sleeping, fatigue, and low self-esteem—although the disorder does not disable the individual from regular functionality. Individuals with dysthymic disorder may experience more than one depressive episode in their lifetimes that generally can last two years or longer.
Other Types of Depression
Other types of depression are psychotic depression, seasonal affective disorder, atypical depression, and bipolar depression (manic depression).
Signs of Depression
Signs of depression include: loss of interest in or concern for once-pleasurable activities; agitation, restlessness, or uneasiness; isolation from others; daily fatigue or loss of energy; headaches, backaches, digestion complications, cramps, and chronic pain; trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much; significant weight loss due to loss of appetite or weight gain due to overeating; inability to concentrate or make decisions; forgetfulness; avoidance of responsibility or social interaction; feelings of self-loss, guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness; and thoughts of suicide.
Women and Depression
Women are two times more likely to suffer from depression than men. This difference has been identified by research on changes in female biological, hormonal, and psychosocial factors. Forms of depression in women also include premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression, and menopausal depression, all of which are periods of large hormonal alterations in the female life cycle that cause an imbalance in brain chemistry. Additionally, mothers may be stressed by the dual responsibility of being a part of the work force while still maintaining a home for her children at the same time. Often, women may also endure more anxiety from childcare while simultaneously undergoing abuse, poverty, or caring for aging parents. Women are more likely to admit to their depressed feelings regarding suicidal thoughts, guilt, and worthlessness and seek treatment than men.
Men and Depression
Men are less likely to admit to the depression because of the stigma that depression is a sign of weakness or that emotional crises are feminine issues. As opposed to women, men will more likely acknowledge to their depression by admitting to their feelings of fatigue, physical strain or pain, insomnia, loss of appetite, anhedonia, and agitation. They are also more likely to become angry, aggravated, frustrated, unenthusiastic, and abusive. Men are more likely than women to turn to alcohol or substance abuse to cope with their depression, as well engage in risky behavior and successfully complete suicide attempts.
Impact and Treatment
In addition to the toll depression takes mentally, psychologically, and socially, it also seriously affects the individual’s physical health. People with depression are four times more likely to suffer from heart attacks because the risk of heart disease or cancer increases. If untreated, both mental and physical symptoms will worsen, and can lead to major ailments or even death. Depression is a very treatable disorder; it can be controlled with proper medication prescribed by a doctor in combination with psychotherapy.
Although antidepressants are commonly believed to be addictive, they are not habit-forming and patients can easily taper off their medication as instructed by their doctor. If the medication is not taken as prescribed, patients may experience withdrawal symptoms or relapse into their disorder.
If you are someone you know may be suffering from depression, it may be difficult to convince the individual to seek help. Denial is the most common reaction to confrontations of depression. However, the earlier the depression is treated, the smaller the impact will be health-wise and the easier recovery will be.
Resource: Depression Treatment Centers