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. 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. 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.
People who are depressed may have few or many of the following symptoms:
- 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
The severity of the symptoms may 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, 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.
There are four very common types of depression that I will briefly discuss today:
Major depressive disorder (MDD) 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. MDD can be diagnosed by a health care professional when a patient demonstrates at least 2 weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest accompanied by at least four additional symptoms of depression as outlined above.
Dysthymia, sometimes referred to as chronic depression, is a less severe form of depression, although it is more enduring. With dysthymia, the depression symptoms can linger for a long period of time, perhaps two years or longer. Those who suffer from dysthymia are usually able to function adequately but might seem consistently unhappy.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time. A rare form of seasonal depression, known as “summer depression,” begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall. But in general, seasonal affective disorder starts in the fall or the winter and ends in the spring or early summer.
Adjustment disorder is a short-term condition that occurs when a person is unable to cope with, or adjust to, a particular source of stress, such as a major life change, loss or event. Because people with adjustment disorders often have symptoms of depression, such as tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of interest in work or activities, adjustment disorder is sometimes called “situational depression.” Unlike major depression, however, an adjustment disorder is triggered by an outside stress and generally goes away once the person has adapted to the situation.
The good news for all of these types of depression is that there are very effective treatments available. Most of these treatments include antidepressant drugs, group therapy sessions, individualized counseling from a healthcare professional and self-help remedies. 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.