Major depression is a mental disorder, characterized by a depressed
mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, that persists
for two weeks or longer. In addition, the presence of changes in some (or
many) of the following areas are noted in major depression:
Depression is a highly treatable disorder. In fact, the sooner depression is diagnosed and treatment begun, the brighter the long-term outlook. With appropriate treatment, as many as percent of those suffering with depression improve significantly within a few months.
TYPES OF MAJOR DEPRESSION:
Major depression can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Mild depression involves a minimum number of symptoms (five are required for diagnosis), and there is little interference with work or social functioning.
Moderate depression presents more symptoms and greater impairment of daily life.
In severe depression symptoms are increased both in number and severity and take a much greater toll on the ability to function socially and at work. In extreme cases depressives are unable to work, feed, clothe, or provide basic hygiene for themselves.
Major depression can be further divided into three forms, melancholic, atypical, and psychotic.
If your mood has been persistently depressed
(sad, blue, hopeless, down, irritable); if you have lost interest in all
or almost all usual activities and pastimes and have experienced at least
four of the following symptoms for at least two weeks, major depression
is a likely cause. Consultation with a professional is needed at this point.
At highest risk are individuals who have already experienced an episode of major depression, have close relatives with severe depression, or who abuse alcohol or drugs.
Depression may strike any age group, from young children to seniors, with an average onset in the mid-twenties.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 4.4 percent of Americans (or 9.4 million) will develop major depression at some point in their lives. Women are two to three times more likely to develop depression than men.
CAUSES OF DEPRESSION
Some individuals may be able to point at various life events and be certain they are the reasons for their depression. For others depression comes “out of the blue,” with no apparent reason.
Depression is an illness characterized by neurochemical abnormalities that can cause significant disability. The cause may be one or a combination of biological, genetic, chemical, psychological, social, developmental, and environmental factors. Heredity, brain chemistry, hormonal systems, and sleep-wake controls are included in biological factors. Cognitive disorders, behavioral disorders, stress, and the traumas of life are psychological factors.
TIME TO SEEK HELP
Many depressed individuals do not realize they are seriously ill. They choose to blame themselves and “tough it out.” They are not aware that depression may continue for many months or even years without proper treatment.
If the symptoms of depression have been present every day, for most of the days, for a period of two weeks, it is time to seek help without delay. If thoughts of suicide are present, it is an emergency. Seek help immediately.
RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS
Fifteen percent of those who are depressed kill themselves. Twice that many may attempt it. Suicide is a major and outstanding risk of major depression. Depression may also lead to or exacerbate substance abuse. Also, depression complicates and interferes with the treatment of many illnesses, from asthma and stroke to heart disease and cancer.
Treatment for major depression comes in many forms. For many, medication, psychotherapy, or both, are very effective. Psychotherapy alone is enough to relieve the symptoms in many cases of mild to moderate major depression. Individuals respond differently to different types of therapy. If one fails, they should not despair but go on to the next. One will work.
Antidepressant drugs are effective in more than half of the cases of moderate to severe depression. It may be necessary to try several different antidepressants before finding the one that works best for you.
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