While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time (weeks, months or even years) and sometimes without any apparent reason.
Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious condition that affects your physical and mental health.
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.
Fortunately, it is also treatable.
Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.
Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Thoughts of death or suicide
You have depression when you have five or more of these symptoms for at least 2 weeks:
- You have almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day.
- You think often about death or suicide (not just a fear of death).
- You feel restless or slowed down.
- You’ve lost or gained weight.
- A depressed mood during most of the day, especially in the morning
- You feel tired or have a lack of energy almost every day.
- You feel worthless or guilty almost every day.
- You have a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions.
- You can’t sleep or you sleep too much almost every day.
What is so tricky about this disease is the fact that people usually close up just enough to stop sharing their thoughts and feelings, which is when trouble begins.
Fighting depression on your own can significantly worsen the condition, therefore it is always advisable to ask for help immediately after initial symptoms emerge.
Risk Factors for Depression
Depression can affect anyone—even a person who appears to live in relatively ideal circumstances.
Several factors can play a role in depression:
Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.
Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.
Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.
Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.
Depression is a treatable mental illness. There are three components to the management of depression:
– Support, ranging from discussing practical solutions and contributing stresses, to educating family members.
– Psychotherapy, also known as talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
– Drug treatment, specifically antidepressants.