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Three Keys to Recognizing and Understanding Depression
Depression is a common illness that we often hear about, yet ironically usually have difficulty recognizing, particularly in ourselves. Therefore, oftentimes too many people living with depression don’t seek proper treatment. However, by arming ourselves with the facts about the illness, we can learn to distinguish it from a simple case of the “blues,” understand the symptoms and underlying causes and therefore seek effective treatment. Remember, depression is common, it’s more than just feeling down and most importantly, depression is treatable!
1. Depression is common
Depression is a common, yet serious, illness that affects 21 million Americans each year. If you or someone you know is depressed, you are not alone. Nearly one person in five will have depression at least once in his or her life. Depression in its various forms (anxiety, stress, insomnia, fatigue, vague aches, and pains, etc.) is one of the most common problems seen by doctors.
Women experience depression at a rate that is nearly twice that of men. The reasons could be any number of things from hormonal changes to low self-esteem to genetics. Many women are also particularly vulnerable after the birth of a baby. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can be factors that lead to postpartum depression in some women. While transient “blues” are common in new mothers, a full-blown depressive episode is not a normal occurrence and requires active intervention.
Although men are less likely to suffer from depression than women, 6 million men in the United States are affected by the illness. In fact, the rate of suicide in men is nearly four times that of women. Depression may be more difficult to recognize in men because instead of feeling hopeless and helpless, men will exhibit irritability, anger, and discouragement. Additionally, men are less likely to admit to depression, and doctors are less likely to suspect it. Even if a man realizes that he is depressed, he may be less willing than a woman to seek help. Encouragement and support from concerned family members can make a difference.
2. Depression is not just feeling down
Depression is a mood disorder that causes you to feel sad or hopeless for an extended period of time. It is important to know the difference in clinical depression and having the blues. Depression is not just about feeling low or having a few bad days, a depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing bad mood, it is also not a sign of personal weakness. Many people with depression produce a higher-than-normal level of the stress hormone, cortisol which suppresses the immune system. People with poor health may seek medical attention from a doctor when the underlying cause may be depression.
There is also a link between stress and depression. There is a complex relationship among stressful situations, our mind and body’s reaction to stress and the onset of clinical depression. Some people may develop depression after a stressful event in their lives—the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or the end of a relationship. Stress can also occur as the result of a more positive event such as getting married, moving to a new city or starting a new job. Depression can be seasonal as well as situational with some finding the dreariness of winter months particularly tough, this is called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Below are some core signs and symptoms common with a variety of types of depression:
The Seven Symptoms of Depression:
- Feeling empty, lonely and isolated
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Lacking an interest in activities
- Feeling mentally and physically tired
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Experiencing physical pain that does not respond to treatment
- Having a greatly reduced or increased appetite
If you experience any of these distressing symptoms for more than two weeks you may want to contact your doctor for help. If you feel you can “no longer take it” or feel like ending your life and is the only option, call one of our crisis lines or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate assistance.
3. Depression is treatable
The good news is depression is treatable! Some people may feel some shame for having depression, which may prevent them from seeking treatment. However, depression is nothing to be ashamed of, as it is an illness. Appropriate treatment can be helpful for most people who suffer from depression.
The two main pillars of treatment for depression are natural and synthetic antidepressant medications for the brain, and psychotherapy for the mind.
Psychotherapy is a common type of counseling that primarily consists of talking through things with a therapist. Prescription antidepressant medications simply restore the brain’s levels of certain naturally produced neurotransmitters.
Some people may benefit from gathering with others going through similar experiences, those who are healing from depression are no exception. Support groups are an excellent place to share experiences, suggestions, and information. Perhaps the most important knowledge to be gained from support groups is that you are not alone.
Three ways you can begin the healing process:
- Talk to your doctor
- Learn more about depression
- Be gentle and patient with yourself, give yourself time to heal