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Approximately 15 million people in the United States alone suffer from depression, a mood disorder that affects how people feel, think, and behave. Depression may be a temporary sadness following a death, divorce, transition, or loss, or it may be a longer-lasting experience that interferes with relationships, school, and recreation. Depression can also seem t come "out of the blue" with no clear precipitant.
While depression can be a devastating and debilitating experience, the good news is that 80-90% of those who seek help can feel better! Understanding depression can often be the first step in recovery.
TYPES OF DEPRESSION
- prolonged sadness or depression for most of the day for a period of weeks or months. This may be in response to something that would normally cause sadness (a death) or it may seem to appear "out of the blue". The difference between depression and a "bad day" is that it is more intense and much harder for the person to experience happiness or non-depressed feelings.
- is a chronic type of depression that lasts for a period of years. It may be difficult for people with dysthymia to remember a time when they weren't depressed.
- Bipolar Disorder (formerly "manic depression):
- is characterized by episodes of both depression and intense highs or "mania". The swings between depression and mania are often abrupt and intense. Those with bipolar disorder are best treated with a combination of counseling and medication.
SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
- Feeling sad, depressed, or tearful for the majority of the day nearly every day;
- Difficulty functioning in various roles or daily activities (work, school, relationships);
- Increased/decreased appetite;
- Disrupted sleep (not being able to fall asleep, sleeping too much, waking up throughout the night, waking early in the morning before the alarm);
- Increased irritability;
- Fatigue, lethargy, or low energy;
- Intense feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt;
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing, or remembering;
- Weight loss or weight gain;
- Social withdrawal or isolation;
- Increased use of drugs/alcohol;
- Pessimism or worry;
- Inability to enjoy the activities or hobbies that you would normally enjoy;
- Recurring suicidal thoughts.
Remember that most people usually experience the above symptoms at various times throughout their lives, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they're depressed. It may be "depression" when many symptoms occur at the same time, when they last for a long period of time, and when they are frequent and intense.
CAUSES OF DEPRESSION
There is no one "cause" of depression, and it may in fact seem to appear from out of nowhere. There are, however, some triggers or contributors to depression:
- Unresolved feelings:
- past experiences such as negative family dynamics, grief, trauma, or abuse can contribute to depression if they are not resolved or explored.
- Holding feelings in:
- especially anger and sadness can often lead to depression. Holding in such feelings can cause them to "fester" and contribute to feeling depressed.
- Interpersonal difficulties:
- Feeling lonely, isolated, or socially anxious, or having intense interpersonal conflicts/difficulties can influence how someone feels and may lead to depression.
- Biological factors:
- Some people may have an "imbalance" in the chemical messengers in the brain (called neurotransmitters). This imbalance can lead to the disruptions in mood, sleep, energy, etc., often seen with depression.
THERE IS HOPE!
When depressed people seek treatment, 80-90% get better. There are a variety of treatments available for depression, ranging from group or individual counseling to medications. Counseling can be useful to help you understand and cope with depression, learn new ways to express your feelings, and explore past issues. If medications are used, they are most helpful when used in conjunction with on-going counseling. Depression is a very real illness, and those who suffer from it need not feel ashamed, embarrassed, or "weak" for seeking help.
MYTHS ABOUT DEPRESSION
||People who are depressed just need to get over it.
||People often feel depressed because they don't talk about things, talking about it can help them feel better and learn new ways to cope with their feelings.
||Depression will just go away by itself.
||While some depressive feelings are temporary, depression will not likely spontaneously go away. Counseling can help explore things an individual might be able to do to help cope with their depression.
||Depression isn't a real illness.
||Depression is a very real illness and it's OK to seek treatment. Those with a broken arm or diabetes seek medical treatment without judgment, and those with depression should have the right to feel equally comfortable getting help.
||Only weak or crazy people get depressed.
||15 million Americans can't be wrong: depression can happen to anyone.
||Only women get depressed.
||Men also experience depression, but may not seek help or report it for fear of being seen as "weak". Depression can happen to anyone regardless of gender, and feeling depressed doesn't mean that you are weak, ineffective, or less masculine.
||If I go for counseling I'll be put on medication.
||Many people experience relief through counseling alone and do not take medication. The choice to take medication is yours. If you decide to do so it's important to know that it's not "addictive", that it's not a "crutch", and you probably won't be on it for the rest of your life. Antidepressant medication is not an "upper" or false mood enhancer, but a way to help lift some of the symptoms of depression to help improve the quality of your functioning. Those with heart disease or high blood pressure take medication to help their symptoms; those with depression have the right to take medication to help theirs as well.