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Depression is a common condition these days. Many of us experience it in varying degrees and fight with it on a regular basis. We have an arsenal of weapons to stave it off, ranging from exercise, meditation, spiritual practices, diet and other homeopathic strategies to prescription medication. What is important to know about this ailment is that it is not imagined: Depression is real and makes life very, very hard for some people. Understanding what depression is helps you know what coping strategies are best for you if you suffer from it.
What is depression?
In medical literature, depression is often described as an elevated sense of hopelessness or despair. It may become pervasive and affect every area of life. People suffering from depression tend to have less energy, have difficulty concentrating, feel uneasy or irritable for seemingly no reason and generally have difficulty getting up and going. Depression can be debilitating and serious.
What causes depression?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the exact cause of depression is unknown. Some studies indicate that depression may be hereditary. It may also be triggered by trauma, by extended periods of stress, by physical ailments that otherwise weaken the body or by another condition affecting brain chemistry such as alcoholism. Studies about depression have shown that, during the course of the illness, chemicals in the brain become imbalanced. Certain chemicals that maintain mood balance do not function as they should.
What about life factors?
We live in a world with increasing speed, increasing uncertainty and information overload. We are hit with literally thousands of advertisements a day. We worry, we hurry, we often neglect our health and we push hard when our bodies tell us not to. When we combine all of this with a chemical imbalance in the brain, considered the primary indication of depression, we often exacerbate an already unpleasant condition.
Anxiety and depression
Depression is often coupled with anxiety, creating a scared and nervous feeling in addition to depression-related feelings of sadness, discouragement and loneliness.
Symptoms of depression
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America states that a person is suffering from major depression if they experience five or more of these symptoms for a two-week or more period of time:
- Persistent sad, anxious feelings; feelings of emptiness
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, negativity
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness; not in control of anything
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including sex; feeling lethargic
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling like you are slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions, difficulty focusing
- Insomnia or oversleeping, waking too early in the morning
- Low appetite and weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability; crabby for no reason
- Lingering physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive problems and pain with no other diagnosis
Who does depression affect the most?
Research done by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline indicates these trends:
- Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression, largely due to hormonal changes.
- Men are less likely to become depressed but more likely to go untreated.
- Seniors may become depressed, especially after losing their mate, but they often do not seek treatment.
- Research on depression in children is on-going.
Recognizing childhood depression
Dr. Michael Sexton, a pediatric specialist, states that depression is uncommon in small children, affecting only about 3 percent of pre-teens. Also, children tend to exhibit irritability or anger as a sign of depression more than they display expressions of sadness. Depression in teens is higher and more closely resembles adult depression. It is estimated that depression may affect up to 10 percent of teens. Treatment options for teens are different than for adults because of the adverse effect of some medications on teens.
How long does depression last?
After beginning treatment, recovery takes time. There is no specific estimate: Recovery is an individual thing. Combining professional therapy and medication with a better diet, exercise and an effective stress management routine can shorten the amount of time medication is needed for some people.
Where do I go for help?
Have a depression chat with your physician and a counselor. Primary care physicians can prescribe medication and refer you to a depression clinician if needed. Work with a counselor to understand the contributing factors that are causing your depression.
If you are experiencing on-going depression, do no ignore it. It is serious but manageable with proper treatment. Take good care of yourself, and find a strategy that helps you overcome depression so you can enjoy your best possible quality of life.