Many people experience depression at some point in life. On the whole, women are about 50% more likely to have symptoms than men. This is most likely due in part to the significant hormonal changes women experience. Men do get this illness, but they often do not seek out treatment. Instead, they show their state of mind through anger and hostility. Men are 25% more likely to commit suicide than are women. The elderly are another population that often become despondent and who are, as a group, less likely to get help for it.
This is a real illness, not just a state of mind or something that someone can think themselves out of. There are several causes, including genetics, trauma history, physical illness (such as not making enough thyroid hormone), certain medications, chronic pain and grief.
Depression is a mood disorder in which signals are not passed between neurons normally. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that are in charge of passing the signals between neurons. Neurotransmitter signals may be too weak or there may not be enough of a particular neurotransmitter, similar to a phone line with a bad connection.
Symptoms include lack of energy, inability to sleep or sleeping too much, restlessness, weight loss or weight gain of more than 5% in one month, intrusive thoughts of suicide and death, guilt and feeling worthless and hopeless, general irritability, inability to concentrate, loss of enjoyment of favorite activities, self-imposed isolation, physical pain, headaches or even digestive upset that does not respond to any treatment. Any of these symptoms lasting more than two weeks is cause to see a doctor.
Some common forms of the illness include childhood and postpartum depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Children can be depressed and may not be able to tell you in words what they are feeling. Children most often express what they are feeling through their behavior. Be attentive to any changes in the behavior or your children. Postpartum depression occurs in the first year after giving birth. This manifestation of the illness can be very debilitating and guilt producing. The woman may feel that because she just had this wonderful child she should not be feeling the way she does. This is just not true. She needs to get help. Bipolar is characterized by extreme periods of extremely sad, hopeless moods and mania. It tends to run in families. Seasonal affective disorder most often occurs in people living in northern latitudes with short winter days and long nights.
Depression is treatable. Cognitive behavior therapy or psychotherapy in combination with medications is a more successful treatment than therapy or medication alone. Eating well and exercising, taking time to relax and regenerate and listening to your body can help ease symptoms and possibly even prevent the illness. Stress management and reduction techniques, such as visualization, meditation and yoga practice are other ways to help manage symptoms. Light therapy is often the treatment method of choice for seasonal affective disorder.
If you think you or someone you know is suffering from this illness and it has been going on for more than two weeks, seek the attention of a doctor. Depression is a real illness that can sometimes be fatal. Remember that it is not your fault. It is a chemical malfunction in the brain that you have no more control over than a diabetic has control over their own insulin production. Remember that depression is a very treatable illness and that there is no reason to suffer in silence.