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Depression: How To Overcome It

What Is Depression?

Last modified: 
09/01/2014 - 10:25

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Depression is a disorder that involves feelings of sadness lasting for two weeks or longer, often accompanied by a loss of interest in life, hopelessness, and decreased energy. Such distressing feelings can affect one's ability to perform the usual tasks and activities of daily living.

This is considered to be clinical depression. It is very different from a temporary case of "the blues " triggered by an unhappy event or stressful situation.

Depression affects the mind, but this doesn't mean "it's all in your head." Depression is a medical illness linked to changes in the biochemistry of the brain.

Depression is not a weakness of character. Being depressed does not mean that a person is inadequate. It means the person has a medical illness that is just as real as diabetes or ulcers. Like other medical disorders, clinical depression should not be ignored or dismissed. A clinically depressed person cannot simply "snap out of it" any more than a person with an ulcer could simply will it away.

  • But depression is highly treatable in the vast majority of cases. Up to 90% of depressed people respond positively to one treatment or another. Sometimes psychotherapy or counseling is all that is needed, but there is also a wide array of effective antidepressant medications and other alternatives. Sometimes, the first treatment will work well. At other times, a second or even a third treatment trial is required to find the best (most effective, most easily tolerated) treatment for the individual patient.

Clinical depression is an umbrella term used to describe the most common forms of depression, which include:

  • Major depression, also known as melancholia or unipolar depression, can last up to a year if not treated. A person experiencing an episode of major depression will experience some physical problems, such as headaches, other aches and pains, or digestive upset, for example, in addition to emotional difficulties.
  • Bipolar disorder, once called manic depressive illness, causes mood swings that soar to unusual elation, and then plummet to depression. A person with severe bipolar disorder may also see or hear things that are not there or experience paranoia (an incorrect feeling that they are in danger from others).
  • Dysthymia is a chronic (ongoing), low-grade depression. It often begins in childhood or adolescence and may last for many years in adulthood if not treated. It is a less severe form of clinical depression, but at times it can be almost as disabling as major depression.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression thought to be triggered by a decrease in exposure to sunlight. In the Northern Hemisphere, the condition usually occurs in late fall and winter, when daylight hours are short, and it is more common in geographical areas that have four clearly defined seasons.

Nice To Know:

Perhaps nowhere is the connection between mind, body, wellness, and illness more striking than in depression. It is clear that human emotions, including sadness, elation, and anxiousness, are governed by chemical reactions in the brain. That is only the beginning. Scientists have recently begun to unravel the complex interplay between factors that contribute to depression. Illness, heredity, psychological traits, and social environment all play a role.

Facts about depression

  • Depression affects nearly 19 million Americans.
  • It is the most common mental illness, yet fewer than half of depressed people seek help.
  • Depression affects one in five people at some point in their life.
  • It is the leading cause of suicide.
  • It afflicts twice as many women as men.
  • Depression affects people in all age groups.
  • Depression has affected countless accomplished people throughout history, including Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, Peter Tchaikovsky, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley, and Mike Wallace.
  • The number of people who experience depression has increased with every generation since World War II.

Nice To Know

Facts about the form of depression known as bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder occurs in about one in 10 people with clinical depression.
  • It usually begins before the age of 30.
  • It strikes men and women equally.
  • It is twice as likely as major depression to run in families.
  • Bipolar disorder triggers more frequent and severe episodes of illness than does major depression.
  • The most disabling part of bipolar disorder are the often prolonged depressive episodes.

 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.