Saturday, November 2, 2013

Depression and What to Do About It

"I feel depressed today." We have all said this, at one time or another of our lives, or heard someone say it. But, what is depression? And, is there one form of depression or are there many?

Feeling blue and suffering from clinical depression are two very different things.

Clinical depression is a condition that affects our moods (we feel down most of the time; we have a bleak outlook of our future, we are not excited about anything, even things we used to enjoy) our thoughts (we tend to ruminate on the same, negative things, we cannot concentrate, we have difficulties making decisions) our behaviors (we find it difficult to be with people, we are not interested in anything) and our body (we may eat too much or too little; sleep too much or too little; have no energy, no libido, we feel tired most of the time even though we don't do anything to explain it.

Mental health professionals differentiate between various forms of clinical depression: Major Depression, Low grade, chronic depression, or Dysthymia, Bipolar Disorder and Adjustment Disorder with Depression. Each of them may be have specific treatments and may have different causes: situational, genetic, histories of trauma, and medical problems.

According to figures from the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20.9 million people in this country suffer from one form or another of clinical depression. This means 9.5% of all Americans age 18 or older suffer from depression! This is a staggering figure, and seems to be increasing. Major depressive disorder is the major leading cause of disability for ages 15-44, striking people in their most productive years. Of course, depression does not affect only people's ability to work, but also their social interactions and family lives, disrupting not only those who are depressed, but also people around them. Additionally, depressed people may have other problems as well, such as substance abuse, anxiety, and various medical conditions which may have been the cause or caused by the depression, or are co-occurring with it. Women are twice as vulnerable to depression as men.

According to, nearly two-thirds of depressed people do not get proper treatment. There are several reasons why this is so, but I will mention only two here:

1. Symptoms of depression do not develop overnight, but creep up gradually and at first unnoticeably, so people often do not realize they are depressed until they are in a lot of pain and unable to function as they previously did. And even then they may think there is something wrong with them physically, or blame their job, family situation, or other reasons for their symptoms.

2. There is still social stigma about depression. Some people, particularly men, may equate depression with weakness and failure, so they may resist acknowledging their symptoms for what they are and seek help.

What can be done?

The two most used forms of treatment are:

Psychotherapy. Providing support can reduce social and emotional isolation, reduce fears and hopelessness and helplessness and ease the pain. Also it helps reduce pessimistic thoughts and it facilitates the development of positive life goals. Furthermore, it helps assess which areas in a person's life may be contributing to the maintenance of negative feelings and stress and change them. 70-80% of people in therapy report improvement in 20-30 sessions.

Medication. There are many medications on the market today. You may want to consult with your family doctor or see a psychiatrist to discuss which one may be appropriate to alleviate your symptoms.

There are also things you can do to help yourself: do not see depression as a reflection of who you are. There should be no shame about suffering from depression. Depression affects people of all ages, educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Do not blame yourself. Examine what is going on in your life and make appropriate changes. Exercise, even if you don't feel like it. Be with other people, even if you want to be left alone. And give it time, as recovery from depression does not happen overnight, but over time. Focus on what makes you feel better and stick to it.

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