We all know what it’s like to feel sad, unhappy or lacking in self-esteem for a period of time. Usually this is due to an event, the loss of a relationship or some other trigger making these emotions transitory in nature. For other individuals however, these feelings along with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness last for a number of days to weeks and are so intense that they get in the way of an individual functioning properly. In this case, the individual is no longer experiencing normal, temporary unhappiness or sadness but instead a state of depression. While Major Depressive Disorder, involves episodes that may come and go, the severity of the episodes leads to additional problems in between, and can result is such despair that the individual may feel like harming or killing themselves. Even the most severe cases of depression are treatable however, and with the proper care, people can live healthy, happy lives.
The 12-month prevalence rate for adults with major depression has been estimated at 7%. Differences between age groups are significant however, with the rate for 18 to 29 year olds three times higher than the rate for individuals over 60 years old. Women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to experience major depression compared to men. This may be a reporting bias however, as men are less likely to report symptoms of depression than women.
Depression rarely occurs alone and most often co-occurs with anxiety. In addition, depression is likely to co-occur with:
- Substance related disorders in particular stimulants
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Borderline Personality Disorder
Causes of Depression
Genetics: It has long been recognized that depression runs in families. However, not all individuals with depression have a family history of the disorder. Researchers are looking into genes that may specifically contribute to the development of depression.
Brain Chemistry: There are certain chemicals in the brain responsible for communication including communication of emotion related messages. These chemicals called neurotransmitters, have been linked to depression when their levels are out of balance.
Physiological Predispositions: Studies suggest that individuals are born with predispositions to develop depression. However, whether they develop the disorder or not is dependent on the environmental influences and stressors they come into contact with over life.
- Mood/Psychological symptoms:
- Depressed mood almost all day nearly every day for at least two weeks
- Loss of pleasure in almost all previously pleasurable activities
- Feeling worthless
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt (may be delusional)
- Inability to concentrate or pay attention
- Inability to make decisions or problem solve
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Physical symptoms:
- Weight loss or gain without trying (5% loss or gain of body weight)
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Loss of energy
- Memory problems
- Social symptoms:
- Social withdrawal from even close friends and family
- Difficulty relating to the experiences of others
- Loss of important relationships
Effects of Depression
Given the variety of symptoms, the effects of depression on an individual’s life can vary widely. Some of the more frequent effects include:
- Increase in dangerous or impulsive behaviors that can result in harm to self or others
- Social problems leading to the loss of relationships and social support
- Difficulties at work or school due to lack of attention, concentration, memory problems, indecisiveness, lack of problem solving ability and overall lowered productivity
- Immune system depression resulting in physical illnesses
- Stomach aches and other GI problems
- Lack of interest in sex or sexual dysfunction
While the symptoms and effects of depression can lead to significant distress in an individual’s life, we are here to help.