Understanding Depression

Depression is one of the most common illnesses in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 20% of all women and 8% of all men will experience at least one episode of major depression during their lifetime. These numbers, especially for men, are probably low, as many depressed people never seek help.

Depression is not a simple problem and is not the same as the everyday ups and downs that most people experience. Depression causes significant changes in the way the depressed person functions. He/she may have alterations in sleep, appetite, concentration and decision-making as well as changes in mood and self-image. People are most vulnerable to depression during times of change, even following exciting changes for the better.

Depression is thought to be caused by several factors. There is a known genetic predisposition to depression. This is related to the biochemical fluctuations in neurotransmitters in the brain as well as to hormonal changes. There are also environmental and social causes of depression. Factors such as financial problems, medical conditions, major life changes, traumas, interpersonal conflicts, and substance abuse may precipitate an episode of major depression. People who have both a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger are most likely to develop depression. People who tend to be pessimistic are more vulnerable to depression than more optimistic people. Of course this perpetuates itself, because being depressed leads to viewing the world in a more pessimistic manner.

Depression Symptoms

  1. Feeling sad hopeless or “down in the dumps”
  2. Feeling worthless, helpless, guilty and over-sensitive
  3. Decreased energy
  4. Decreased interest in activities and people previously enjoyed
  5. Decreased interest in sex
  6. A tendency to be more socially isolated
  7. A reluctance to talk to or to engage in social activates
  8. A change in usual eating or sleeping habits (increase or decrease)
  9. Thoughts that life is not worth living
  10. Diminished ability to concentrate
  11. Difficulty making decisions

These symptoms, especially if they persist for more than two weeks and are a change from usual functioning, suggest depression. Treatment for depression is available. If you think you or someone you know may have depression, you should seek professional attention as soon as possible. A professional will be able to evaluate the treatment that is most appropriate for each situation. Most likely this will include at least a few months of psychotherapy and may include medication as well.