What is depression?

People often say they’re depressed
when they feel, when they feel down but feeling down or having the blues only
temporarily is not depression. However when your feelings of sadness are so
intense and you feel helpless and hopeless and worthless for many days or
weeks and when these feelings make it difficult for you to function normally
then chances are you might have depression. Now depression can take on
different forms for example postpartum depression is a form of depression that
normally occurs three or so months sometimes up to a year after giving
birth. Seasonal affective disorder is another form of depression that is
associated with a decrease that we have in the natural light, normally in the
fall or winter. A third type of depression is persistent depressive
disorder which is also known as dysthymia which is when people have low
moods for a very long time, usually two or more years. Now of course there’s
major depression which is what most professionals refer to when they talk
about depression. Major depression is a serious condition that affects about 5%
of Canadians at any given moment in time and about 8% of us will experience
depression at one point or another in our life so depression is not uncommon
but once again although it’s not uncommon it is a serious condition for a
number of reasons. The first one being that it is highly associated with
suicide because of the intense sadness and the hurt and the suffering that is
associated with depression which is why incidentally the presence of depression
is as good as smoking when it comes to predicting mortality. That’s how serious
it is so the symptoms of depression can be
emotional, they can be behavioral, they can be cognitive and even physical. For
major depression you actually need a number of different symptoms to be
present almost all the time for a period of at least two weeks. According to the
DSM which is the handbook that mental health professionals use to diagnose
mental disorders, including depression, you need to have at least five symptoms
for major depression. At least one of these has to be either a depressed
mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that normally interest you
and then the other symptoms can include for example significant weight loss or a
decrease or an increase in appetite, insomnia so trouble falling asleep and
staying asleep, hypersomnia which is the opposite, psychomotor agitation which
simply means feeling agitated or anxious or restless, psychomotor retardation so
people who are depressed will often feel like they are moving in slow motion. Another symptom of depression may be fatigue, feeling tired, loss of energy
perhaps feelings of worthlessness, tremendous guilt or a low or a lower
than usual ability to think or concentrate or focus or to make
decisions and then of course there may be recurrent thoughts of death or
suicidal ideation. Now the most common perhaps symptom of depression is a lack
of motivation which affects about nine in ten people who suffer from
depression and about eight in ten people will lose their ability to enjoy
activities that they normally enjoyed, will have difficulty concentrating or will feel isolated and lonely even when other people are around. So how do you treat depression?Well over
a third of people will recover from depression without any treatment within
three or so months and about 80% of individuals who have depression will
recover from that depression within about a year again without treatment,
which is why you sometimes hear some people say that time heals all wounds
but that’s probably the worst thing that you can tell someone if they’re
depressed because of the strong link that exists between depression and
suicide and then there’s always that risk that the depression becomes chronic
or that it becomes recurrent. So after a first episode of major depression
for example there’s a 60% chance of having a second episode and after a
second episode there’s a 70% chance of having a third and after a third
episode there’s a 90% chance of having a fourth so depression definitely has to
be treated and it has to be treated fast and when you do treat, the outcome
is good. Roughly 8 in 10 people respond very well to treatment for
depression and let’s not forget that there are different treatment options
available including antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. Both
psychotherapy and antidepressants have generally been shown to be effective
although research suggests that psychotherapy has effects that are
longer lasting than antidepressants but frankly it’s up to you. What matters is
that you do get the help that you need.

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