Depression is no small problem. The disorder, which affects 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, makes it difficult to work and handle daily tasks. At its worst, it can lead to dangerous and suicidal behavior. Depression can also cause pain and distress for friends, family members and others.
Although the exact cause of depression isn’t known, researchers believe that the disorder is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Contributing factors may be heredity, traumatic emotional events, medical conditions, alcohol or drug abuse, sleeping problems, social isolation, neglect or the side effects of certain medications.
Individuals suffering from depression typically experience prolonged sadness, anger, a sense of loss and/or extreme pessimism. Common characteristics of depression include:
Agitation, restlessness, and irritability.
Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss.
Extreme difficulty concentrating.
Fatigue and lack of energy.
Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and inappropriate guilt.
Inactivity and withdrawal from usual activities, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed (such as sex).
Thoughts of death or suicide.
Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping.
Left untreated, depression can worsen. It can undermine a person’s ability to function effectively in society. Depression doesn’t necessarily take hold suddenly. It can ebb and flow into one’s life over a period of weeks, months or years. It’s important to seek professional help and receive treatment if you experience any of the above symptoms for an extended period of time.
Healthcare professionals typically diagnose depression using diagnostic tests such as The Beck Depression Scale Inventory and Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. In general, doctors diagnose a condition as depression if an individual experiences five or more depressive symptoms within a two-week span. However, depression can take a number of forms, including bipolar disorder, Dysthymia, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Exercise and diet may help alleviate the symptoms of depression. In addition, doctors often prescribe medications and therapies. Common medicines and antidepressants include:
Other medications, including: tricyclic antidepressants, bupropion (Wellbutrin), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Some doctors may also prescribe Lithium and thyroid hormone supplements. Some individuals experiencing mild depression may also benefit from St. John’s Wort, an over-the-counter herbal medicine.
Antipsychotic medications for severe depression that may include delusional behavior and/or hallucinations.
Always consult a doctor before taking any medication.
Therapy and counseling are also common treatment approaches. Discussing problems and feelings can help alleviate depression. Therapy typically takes the following forms:
Psychotherapy. A licensed and trained therapist works with a patient to recognize symptoms and find ways to alleviate issues related to depression. The emphasis is frequently on helping patients learn problem-solving skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying symptoms and finding practical ways to alter behavior, thoughts and feelings.
Support groups. This informal approach allows an individual to share experiences with others suffering from depression and seek out strategies and solutions for dealing with the disorder.
With treatment, most patients begin to experience some improvement within a couple of weeks and marked improvement after four to six weeks. Signs of improvement include: better mood, improved sleep, a better appetite and an eagerness to resume regular activities. If extremely negative or self-destructive thoughts persist then it’s critical to tell a family member or visit a doctor immediately. Also, never stop taking medication without a doctor’s approval.
It’s important to recognize that, in the end, depression is usually treatable. By recognizing symptoms and seeking aid it’s possible to resume a more balanced and satisfying life.
Average Age of Onset: 32 years
Prevalence: 6.7 percent of the U.S. population; about 2 percent experience severe depression.
Gender: Women are 70 percent more likely than men to suffer from depression during their lifetime.
Race: Non-Hispanic blacks are 40 percent less likely than non-Hispanic whites to experience depression at some point in their lifetime.
Treatment: 56.8 percent of individuals suffering from depression receive treatment.
Trend: The prevalence of depression dropped from 7.9 percent in 2004 to 6.4 percent in 2008.